Saturday, September 6, 2008

Mongolian Folktales and Legends

How far to you need to travel to find a book without an ISBN?

I found mine at the bookshop of the National Museum of Mongolian History in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Mongolian Folktales and Legends, translated by D Altangerel and illustrated by D Boldgarav, is an mixture of pourquoi stories, stories of clever people, and other folktales and legends.

Whenever I travel, I look for local legends. This collection had some old favorites retold and a selection of new ones.

Why the Bat Lives in the Dark

A long time ago a terrible war broke out between the birds and the beasts of the land. When the birds seemed to be winning the bats joined them, saying "I am a bird too!" But when the tide turned and the beasts of the land seemed to be winning the bats joined them, saying "I am a mouse!" When the fighting ended no one trusted the bats and they had to live alone in the dark.

The Fox, the Lion and the Old Lady

Two variants of the this story were included. The old lady fooled the lion that she is stronger and would eat him. This was accomplished by the trick of squeezing a white stone until water came out of it. (The old lady used an egg instead of a stone.) Eventually the fox showed up to take advantage of the situation. He explained how the old lady fooled the lion and enlisted the lion's aid to eat the old lady. However, when the old lady saw the fox approach with the lion, she said, "Good work fox, I see you've brought me another lion to eat."

Did the Khan Have a Head?

When Khan (king) died, the servants couldn't find his head. They interviewed everyone asking, "Did the Khan have a head?" But no one had ever seen his head. The palace servants remembered a crown with a big ruby, but never dared look at his face. His wife remembered his mustache, but never dared to open her eyes when she kissed him. The story ends with, "What do you think?"

What do you think?

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