Mudcat Café message #4016470 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #166858   Message #4016470
Posted By: Raedwulf
31-Oct-19 - 07:02 PM
Thread Name: Folklore: Rumpelstiltskin, thousands of years old?
Subject: RE: Folklore: Rumpelstiltskin, thousands of years old?
*shrug* I can only say this is "olds", not news, in the sense of "what did you expect?"

The whole basis of a folk tale is that it is a thread that has been handed down. If a thread gets broken occasionally, it gets knotted up again & continues at some point. I used to be something of a storyteller i.e. out loud to an audience. Believe me, I've read / heard plenty of stories, and there's this version in England, that version in Scotland & Ireland, in Germany it's such & such, in Japan something else...

You didn't really think they got lost, did you, Keb? Not if you actually stop to think about it?

I cannot remember where I read it; probably as an intro to a collection of SF short's; but it was Robert Silverberg (I am fairly sure) who wrote that there are only 7 stories in the world. I don't recall that he actually listed the 7 basic themes (and I don't suppose he originated the notion either), but the premise is that any & every story you ever read can be reduced to one of, or a combination of, those 7 basic themes. If that is a reasonable theory, of course you're going to be able to trace the theme back, and the detail as well, if you're willing to "interpret" a bit.

Off the top of my (slightly inebriated) head, I'll give you two examples. I think I've mentioned "Half a Blanket" before on Mudcat; that's the Irish version. Grandad is old & useless, contributes nothing, so son & wife decide to put him out on the road to fend for himself. They're going to give him a blanket, but grandson pipes up, "No, don't give him a whole blanket, only give him half a blanket. I'll need the other half for when you get old..." Grandad gets brought back into the family.

The Scand / German version is Grandad is old & wobbly, spills his food, etc, which annoys son's wife. Then he drops the pottery bowl, which breaks. So wife in future gives him a wooden bowl & makes him eat at the fire away from the family so they don't have to see him slobbering. Grandson is sat playing in the yard with several bits of wood which he can't make stand up together; son i.e. his dad "Son, son, what are you trying to make?" Grandson: "I'm trying to make a wooden bowl for when you get old". Grandad is brought back to the family table, etc. The Japanese version, closer to the Irish, is that Grandad is to be taken away to the place where old people die; Grandson: "Don't forget to bring the wheelbarrow back"; Son: "Why?"; Grandson: "Because I'll need it when you're old..."

Now, either that is a tale that resonated around the world in a relatively few centuries & been adapted to local 'colour' or, given the massive divergence in language between inflected & non-inflected languages (Japanese vs European, in other words), that's a story that goes way back into a pre-history. It's a bit of both, I suspect.

The second example is The Ash Lad. The Ash Lad is mostly a Scand hero. As so often in folk tales (common thread already), he's the more fortunate, better looking third son (hey! I'm a third son... Gods help the other two is all I can say! ;-) ). And he gets out of various familiar scrapes that his elders are caught or frightened off by by means of his wits and/or a certain amount of luck. More than one of the tales explains his name as being because he sits very close the fire i.e. with his feet in the ashes, telling tell tales that no-one believes.

Here's the linguistic twist. Ash is the name of the æ diphthong that has fallen out of use in most Germanic languages (I think Icelandic still has it, at the least). Æsc (the original spelling; sc was originally "sh" rather than "sk"; scip would be ship or sheep depending how long the I vowel was!) is a name element. This is a purely personal theory, but I think the The Ash Lad isn't The Ash Lad because he sits with his feet in the ashes; that's a later explanation / obfuscation; but because originally his name would have been something built on the Æsc syllable, Æscwine, Æscbert, etc. And if I'm right, then those tales automatically go back to the Proto-Germanic BCE era...