The world of folktales

The world of folktales

Donald A. MacKenzie: Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend (first published in 1917, Edinburgh)

Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov (edited by: Robert Chandler) (Penguin Books Ltd. 2013)

Jacob Grimm – Wilhelm Grimm: Grimms’ Fairy Tales (HarperCollins Publishers 2019)

I find it remarkably interesting how many common motifs are present in the tales of different cultures and countries: the luck of the youngest brother, the three trials, the talking animals can all be familiar to us. What is even more interesting is that full tales also appear with different details but the same structure and moral lesson. One of the best examples of this is the story in which a heroine is married to or taken by an enchanted prince and the task is waiting for the girl to break the curse on the man after several trials. The most famous retelling of the tale is The Beauty and the Beast.

Donald A. MacKenzie’s collection of tales was published in Hungarian on the 100th anniversary of its first Scottish edition. In addition to fairies and other magical creatures, the main characters in the tales are the legends woven from the islands, and the sea itself is also a central character. MacKenzie, who, like Duncan MacLeod, was born in the Scottish Highlands, has collected many tales in this book that until then had only spread through oral tradition. In connection with the Grimm tales, I have written before about the importance of the work of the Grimm brothers in preserving traditions.

Russian tales also have European and Asian roots yet bear a strong resemblance to Grimms’ fairy tales. Their first collections were created at the same time. One of the recurring characters in the tales is the witch Baba Yaga, who can help the protagonists but also harm them. The figure of Baba Yaga has inspired many writers and artists already. Among other things, she appears in Sophie Anderson’s middle grade novels (The House with Chicken Legs). A better-known character is the (water) spirit of Rusalka/rusalki with magical powers, who is often translated as mermaid or siren. Its Greek counterparts are nymphs, while their East/South Slavic name is vila, which most of us know from Harry Potter.