We here at Green Man have all listened to stories late into the night, in the Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room, spun by a storyteller as she stands by the fireplace illuminated only by the flickering glow of the flames . . .
So it shouldn't surprise any of you that Green Man staffers have a great love for fairy and folk tales. One night when the music from the Neverending Session seemed to be mostly Welsh tunes of a melancholy nature, I asked the staff and visitors still present in the Pub what their favourite folk and fairy tales were. Here are some of their comments . . .
All things Welsh often find favour with Kim Bates so her choice is apt: 'I like the story from The Mabinogion of Pwyll and Rhiannon. He sees her riding her horse past the gorsedd of Arberth and send several of his horsemen to catch her, but none can. After several days of this, he tries, but also fails to catch up to her so he calls out for her to wait -- she does, and she tells him that he should have asked her much earlier for the sake of the horse.'
Vonnie Carts-Powell has an interesting choice: 'Robin Hood! There's something about the outsider hero and subversion for a good cause that I really really like. He gets to be a rebel with the moral high ground. The tension between justice and power is also a recurring theme in my life. 'Oysterband, her favourite band, refers to Robin Hood when they cover the traditional song 'Hal-an-Tow'.
April Gutierrez, our resident expert on all things Japanese, not surprisingly picks a Japanese tale: 'Hm. As much myth as folk tale, I suppose, but the story of how the god Susana-o, wandering earth during his banishment from heaven, defeats the eight-headed snake/dragon Orochi (by getting each of the heads drunk on sake and chopping them off one by one) and thus obtains the hand of the princess Kushinada in marriage and brings forth the mythical blade Kusinagi no Tsurugi from Orochi's tail. Why? It was one of my first introductions to Japanese folklore/mythology (via anime) and it's stuck with me in its various incarnations. And I have a soft spot for the hard headed, violent, downright bratty at times Susana-o.'
Orla Melling says ' I love the tales of the Mabinogian. Especially the girl made of flowers and the birth of Dylan. I also loved the tale - I think Taliesen wrote it? - of Merlin going mad and living in a tree. The original version of the Mad Sweeney tale, I think. I'm pretty sure it was originally Welsh.'
Jessica Paige has a suggestion about seal folk: 'Duncan Williamson's Tales of the Seal People: Scottish Folk Tales. I actually have this book at home, but I've yet to look into it, so I can't vouch exactly. Duncan Williamson's a pretty good source himself, though . 'Lenora adds another: 'One other: The People of the Sea, by David Thompson. Less the stories than a study of the stories and the culture, but a handy little bo ok. 'She went on to say, 'When I started working on a novel with selkies, I also went for a 1950's book called The Saga of the Grey Seal by RM Lockley, a naturalist's diary about their study of seals on a Welsh shore. No folklore, but some biological details that can come in handy when trying to interpret the people.'
Lenora Rose said 'Several I like -- the Six-Swans and Seven Ravens stories, most versions of Beauty and the Beast -- but the one that, well, resonates, is Allerleirauh aka All-fur, and related to but not the same as Donkeyskin. A Cinderella variant where the princess saves herself from something rather worse than a stepmother, and does it before she goes on to win a prince and regain her rightful place. I don't know exactly why it resonates so much with me (I don't come from an abusive home), but that particular character haunted me enough that I did a retelling of it as a selkie story. I also had an idea for a screenplay based on a more straightforward adaptation, but I never did finish it.'
Robert Tilendis is a bit taken back by the question: 'Favorite? Gad! I don't know about that, but one set that I really enjoyed recently was Louise Erdrich's telling of the 'Potchikoo Stories 'in her collection Original Fire. They're a wonderful blend of serious stuff and bawdy humor told in the direct, unadorned way of the Native storyteller, following the career of Potchikoo in life and death. Busy little guy, he was. Other than that, I tend to favor Trickster stories -- Coyote/Raven/Rabbit, Anansi the Spider, Loki, Br'er Rabbit, that whole crew. They sort of bridge myth and folktale in a lot of instances, and the archetype is one that fascinates me, since he's both god and buffoon, perpetrator and victim. Come to think of it, Potchikoo is maybe the Trickster one step removed.'
Barb Truex also favours selkie tales: 'I've always been drawn to tales of, and related to, the silkie (selkie) for some reason. Always wanted to adapt one for the theater but they don't seem terribly easy to find v-- granted I haven't really gone out of my way on this but I would think versions of it would be more prevalent than seem to be. Any good sources?'
JoSelle Vanderhooft orders another Icelandic vodka from the bar. and as she is sipping appreciatively at her drink, she says: 'Are we counting more 'modern' fairy and folk tales too? If so, I'm a sucker for Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince and Other Tales, and 'The Selfish Giant 'in particular. Tears me up every time.
If that's not on then I'm going to pick the tale of Savitri from The Gita. I first encountered this when working as a dramaturge for Miami University of Ohio in early 2005. One of the graduate students had written the tale into an adaptation. For those unfamiliar with it, it's basically the story of a virtuous Hindu bride who's learning and devotion convinces Yama, the god of death, to return her the prana (soul) of her husband. I also love anything dealing with father/daughter issues. Hence, any permutation of the Electra myth resonates big time with me, as does Donkeyskin.'