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Monday, November 24, 2014

Not One Damsel in Distress

Why bother preserving and perpetuating outdated folktales that have little relevance to our lives today? Why read stories that are imagined in their most bizarre form and tailored to highlight a moral or a societal value?

The answer of course is, being old, these stories have been whetted and polished through the centuries, arriving at our doorstep sharp and full of wisdom.

The charm of  traditional tales lies in the outlandishness sometimes. The sheer impossibility of events and characters we encounter in such stories help us stay safely in our present protected world and explore the imaginary realm of evil and disaster with an ear cocked for advice and an eye focused on seeking justice.

Folk tales take us to another world, a slightly off-kilter one, where we can see the exaggerated realities of our own world and take away lessons that will change us for the better.

Growing up with a healthy dose of folk tales, these stories have a special place in my heart. I seek out anthologies today to help my children carry the torch forward. Of particular interest to me at this time are stories showing strong women protagonists. Not just for my daughter, but for my son as well; to celebrate smart, confident, fearless women who have always been in the shadows, never stepping forward to take their rightful place of equality.

Not One Damsel in Distress
World Folktales for Strong Girls
By Jane Yolen

Master storyteller, Jane Yolen, has written many books that are a pleasure to read and a treasure to house in our bookshelf.

What's not to love about strong, brave women who are quick-witted and self-sufficient? Thirteen folktales from around the world are retold in Yolen's expert words that remain true to the folk tale narration style and does not sugarcoat the harsh truths.

When faced with certain death or worse, should the girl wait for a chivalrous knight to swing by and save her? Or should she rely on her emotional intelligence and clever wit to extricate herself somehow and move on with her life? It is through such tales of unlikely happenings, some quite horrifying in today's context, that young girls can begin to grasp the complexity of the humankind and realize their own strengths and capabilities.

Not a book for the very young, the stories can get graphic and frightening for the uninitiated. However, the resident nine year old  loved each and every one of the stories, from Burd Janet to Li Chia, Fitcher's Bird to The Girl and the Puma...

Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters (1998)
by Kathleen Ragan
foreword by Jane Yolen
Outfoxing Fear, Folktales From Around the World
edited by Kathleen Ragan
with an introduction by Jack Zipes

Courageous mothers and warrior women abound in stories. We just need to know where to look, and how to see. Fearless Girls... celebrates 100 stories about such strong women who teach us to value all kinds of courage, not just the sword-fighting enemy-vanquishing kind.

Post 9/11, Ms.Ragan found herself seeking out stories to conquer fear, to face up to such evils in the world that was unimaginable until then. So, she sought out a virtual campfire to share folktales that, as the title says, outfox fear itself. While this book did seem insipid and disjointed, with the commentaries rather naive, there are a handful of stories that makes the reader sit up and think.

[image source:, google books]

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