my interest in folklore started early in my life, with an encyclopedia called kinders van die w√™reld - children of the world. unable to recall most of it’s contents, i realize however that it was those 8 volumes that provided my escape and nurtured my worldly compassions. each country’s chapter started with a visit to a child of that country and its everyday life, then after some historical and touristy info came the bit that fascinated me most; the folktales. so different, yet so similar; folktales contain the precious knowledge that makes us understand our own and other cultures, it is storytelling in some of the most basic forms of language - that of love and fear; pointing to our commonalities and celebrating our differences. the manifestation of spirit, whether human or not, in naturalistic forms - going about life and death transforming themselves and the world around them… there are countless examples of this in the creation myth genre, more colloquial lore may be fraught with perilous warnings and caution, seasons and spells or tales of heroes and rewards. there is scarcely an aspect of human existence that has not been translated into storytelling before the middle ages. sometimes i look at the legends we are making and wonder if we are really contributing.
i’ve tried to teach some of it to my children, it went quite smoothly until they passed the fairy stage, and how can a small turtle princess ever compete with the x-men’s laser beams… i reluctantly altered the stories to include more updated versions like the warrior-hand-art-princess arachnida with her titanium spinning wheel that shoots sparks and weaves electrified nets that can stun and even hold the incredible hulk, she also has a force field and is the famous original designer of spiderman’s outfit.
as a child i didn’t have access to all the wonders my children grow up with and had to rely on my imagination for special effects. the japanese tale of urashima is one that was particularly memorable to me as a child, probably since i’d never seen a turtle and had a particular fondness for the sea. the references around the world associates it with strength, wisdom and longevity. it is this kind of personifying of nature that maintained the lessons of generations before and each time a villager chanced upon a turtle, he viewed it with reverence and recalled all the stories associated with it. possibly returning home that evening to tell his children the story; a living guidebook for generations that we have archived and confined to libraries. the sad side-effect is that in our scientific search for understanding history, we have unwittingly condemned its symbolic wisdom to the past…