A.M.'s Myth and Folklore Blog

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Category: Story

Week 14 StoryLab: Storybook Research

For this set of Storybook Research, I’m making an effort to find some materials to make my third and final story in my storybook a little more realistic.

In the story, I currently mention instances in the literature of exoplanets “disappearing.” In fact, this has happened before, in a sense, with exoplanets identified by extrapolating from sparse data not being predicted when more comprehensive observations are available.

In 2015, for example, it was established that the exoplanet thought to be closest to Earth was actually a mirage caused by “patchy data” and overzealous interpretation.

Similarly, two potentially “life-

Artist’s impression of an exoplanet. (Image from Slate.)

friendly alien worlds” orbiting Gliese 581 (or GJ 581 to its friends) were recently found to be artifacts of the star’s strong magnetic behavior.

In interesting but unrelated astrophysics, scientists have also found an exoplanet that is “disappearing” (at cosmic timescales of billions of years), giving off enormous quantities of mass.

In the story I also refer to a completely made up name for a star, so I thought I’d look into star naming. Most stars have many names, each from a different naming scheme. Most stars, outside of those like Sirius that have their own names, can be named based on their position in some star catalogue. There are many such catalogues, and they are often updated; Gliese 581 gets its name from being the 581st entry in the Gliese catalogue, which was first compiled by astronomer Wilhelm Gliese in 1957.

Week 13 Story: “Finally”

The young man was sweating profusely in the searing heat, thanks in no small part to the heavy woolen suit he was wearing. Despite this, the skin of the man beside him in the bright, well-tailored red suit was completely dry, and he showed no signs of discomfort.

Ringing the doorbell of the modest single-story house, he felt little remorse — only a mild irritation and the continued sense of unease that had accompanied his every move since the man in the red suit had joined their little criminal outfit.

A small, fierce-eyed old woman answered the door, whose body’s slow speed was clearly an impediment to the pace and energy of her character.

“Yes?”

“Good afternoon, ma’am.” He handed her a card.

Barnes, Cullum, and Smith, Attorneys at Law.

She looked unamused.

“Yes?”

“Ma’am, my colleague and I are here today to serve a court summons related to your property here. Due to improper filings, ownership is being disputed; you are needed in court to advocate your case.”

“That’s impossible! Why… I don’t see how… And in my condition!”

“We would, of course, be happy to appear in court to represent you.”

“I see.”

“We would require only a small fee and a number of the necessary documents.”

Ah. I see.”

Her eyes gleamed with an unconstrained and righteous malice.

“You impudent, predatory shit! Devil take you, devil take your ‘colleague,’ and devil take your little card of lies!”

For the first time, the man in the red suit spoke:

“You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for someone to say that.”

And with a snap of his fingers he, the scammer, and the business card disappeared, never to be seen again.

Plyesxale Red Suit Men 2018 Slim Fit Three Piece Wedding ...
The sort of terrible red suit I’m imagining. (Really, it’s painful to look at.)
(Image source: Plyesxale Clothes.)

Author’s Note: This story fairly closely follows the source; my only real change was making the old woman realize that she was being duped and pulling it into a modern setting. (Since our legal system and that of old England share a great deal of structure and terminology, it wasn’t very far to go anyway.)

Source: “The Friar’s Tale: The Story of the Summoner” in The Chaucer Story Book by Eva March Tappan, via the course UnTextbook.

Week 12 Story: So Much for That (Revised)

One time in a corner of the world, a goose and a mongoose walked along the bank of a raging river.

“Only a goose can swim in such turbulent waters,” said the goose.

The mongoose responded, puffing its chest and standing tall: “I am a mongoose, and so, being ‘mon’ more than a goose, I too can swim in such waters.”

And so the mongoose dove in, and, being more or less a sort of carnivorous rodent, drowned.

So much for the sin of delusion.


One time in a corner of the world, there was a foolish but kind king who delegated much of the work of ruling to his ministers. His counselors, however, were cruel, and passed many villainous acts on his behalf. Each day the ministers would bring their decrees to the absentminded king, who would stamp each in turn with his signet ring.

One day the cruelest of the ministers decided to simplify the process and steal the signet ring for himself. He planned with great care and eventually found himself standing before the signet ring, ripe for the taking, in the king’s private chambers. Upon taking it into his hand, a hole opened in the ceiling and deposited a quite enormous cucumber onto him, crushing him.

The karmic cucumber (not to scale). Pairs well with cheese.
(Image from Wikipedia.)

So much for the sin of theft.


One time in a corner of the world, two old men, one kindhearted and one covetous, lived as neighbors. One day in the corner of his garden, the kindhearted man found an injured bird, which he nursed back to health. Later, the bird brought him a special seed that in time grew into an enormous squash, which the kind old man found to be made of solid gold.

The covetous neighbor, jealous of this fortune, asked where one gets such enormous golden squash. Receiving a truthful answer, he schemed to replicate the process: he shot down a bird into his garden, nursed it back to health, and did, eventually, receive a seed.

In time, the seed grew into an enormous squash. But when the greedy old man went to cut open the squash its hull parted, and, a fierce old man sprang from its insides.

The fierce old man produced a large measuring scale and preceded to aggressively measure the greedy man, finally proclaiming that he was of no use at all. He then cut off the greedy old man’s head.

So much for the sin of covetousness.

Story Source: “The Golden Squash,” from Albert Shelton’s book of Tibetan folk tales, via the course UnTextbook.

Author’s Note: This is a revision StoryLab of my Week 7 story of the same name. In short, I was inspired by the random and bizarre nature of the punishment meted out to the covetous old man. In particular, I was struck by the casual sound of the final sentence — “so much for the sin of covetousness” — and decided to make something of it.

My revisions mostly consisted of improvements in flow and diction.

The bookend phrases: “One time in a corner of the world” and “So much for the sin of ____” are both taken directly from the source story. And the “fierce old man” is straight from the source as well.

Week 11 Story: Red Threads

Grandmother always weaved from the top, bringing line over line and thread through thread, starting in the heavens and descending towards Earth.

She always kept the top high up too, never turning the weaving to ease her approach.

“If I turn the weaving upside down, why, then the sky will be at the ground and the ground in the sky, and we should all fall towards the Sun, dear child.”

First she wove the sky and the sun and the clouds of the highest reaches of the light. The she moved down, and the top of the rainbow was finally seen.

That year, the hunting was good and the winds warm; my sister was born and big brother went to hunt for the first time. The rainbow was bright and strong and curved downwards in beauty and control.

As the weaving grew downwards I grew up towards. One day, we met in the middle as the highest hills in the background first showed their tops, and still the rainbow curved down.

But then the rainbow began to droop, heavy under its own weight. Grandmother too began to stoop, her movements slower, her speech more careful.

The rainbow no longer curved to the side, but grew down, down towards the ground. Towards what, I did not know.

I hunted for the first time that year. I tripped in a crag of the rock and slammed my arm into a cactus, its thorns piercing my skin and drawing blood. Grandmother added the final inches of the weaving that year: the rainbow, unable to move for weariness, coming down to meet the cacti on the ground, as they hungrily drew red color from it.

Grandmother died that winter.


The camp is surrounded by cacti and their flowers glow like flames. Today, my son was born.


Author’s Note: I was inspired by the image above, from the course textbook entry for the story I adapted, which is a Tejas legend from the book When the Storm God Rides: Tejas and Other Indian Legends. (Via the course blog.)

In the original story, the tale is told of how the Cactus flower got its color by robbing the rainbow, who, after a hard rain, was too waterlogged to maneuver to avoid its touch.

There are details I wish I could have gotten right — I had a very hard time finding details about the Tejas way of life or their language, since I have very limited knowledge in these things and the answers weren’t trivially accessible. Still, I hope the essence of the story is worth the reading.

Week 7 Story: So Much for That

One time in a corner of the world, a goose and a mongoose walked along the bank of a raging river.

“Only a goose can swim in such turbulent waters” said the goose.

“I am a mongoose, and so, being more than a goose, I too can swim in such waters” said the mongoose.

And so the mongoose dove in, and, being more or less a sort of carnivorous rodent, drowned.

So much for the sin of delusion.


One time in a corner of the world, there was a foolish but kind king who delegated much of the work of ruling to his ministers. His ministers, however, were cruel, and passed many villainous acts on his behalf. Each day the ministers would bring their decrees to the absentminded king, who would stamp each in turn with his signet ring.

One day the cruelest of the ministers decided to remove the middleman and steal the signet ring for himself. He planned with great care and eventually found himself before the signet ring, unguarded, in the king’s private chambers. Upon taking it into his hand, a hole opened in the ceiling and deposited a quite enormous cucumber onto him, crushing him.

So much for the sin of theft.


One time in a corner of the world, two old men, one kindhearted and one covetous, lived as neighbors. One day, the kindhearted man found an injured bird in his garden, and nursed it back to health. Later, the bird brought him a special seed that in time grew into an enormous squash, which the kind old man found to be made of solid gold.

The covetous neighbor, jealous of this fortune, asked how it was acquired and schemed to replicate the process: he shot down a bird into his garden, nursed it back to health, and did, eventually, receive a seed.

In time, the seed grew, as before, into an enormous squash. But when the greedy old man went to cut open the squash it parted, and, from its insides sprang a fierce old man.

The fierce old man produced a large measuring scale and preceded to violently measure the greedy man, finally proclaiming that he was of no use at all. He then cut off the greedy old man’s head.

So much for the sin of covetousness.

Quite important to ethics, as far as I can tell. (Image from Wikipedia.)

Story Source: “The Golden Squash,” from Albert Shelton’s book of Tibetan folk tales, via the course UnTextbook.

Author’s Note: This story was inspired by the rather strange (to my mind) about-face turn in tone in the translation of one of the Tibetan folk tales. (Which inspired the third segment of this story.) The random and bizarre form of the punishment metered out on the tale’s antagonist — a greedy old man who tries to scheme his way into supernatural rewards — inspired me to make some gentle fun of the often ridiculous, random, and even silly ways the punishment is delivered in many moral tales. (While at the same time emphasizing the age-old tropes and forms that often set up those same stories.)

The bookend phrases: “One time in a corner of the world” and “So much for the sin of ____” are both taken directly from the source story. And the “fierce old man” is straight from the source as well.

Week 5 Story: Buried for Forgetting

A Photo Essay on the Great Depression

Land oughta be green, Joseph thought.

It wasn’t. No matter which way he looked across the flat plains all he saw was brown, dead dirt. Just brown, far as the eye could see.

I’m like an ant on a massive oak table. Now Joseph, that sounds like somethin’ they’d read out of a book by the fire way back when. At least when I can’t fill Mary’s stomach with nothin’ I can fill her head with worthless little bits of philosophohfizin’.

He’d long given up on the fields or selling anything in town — the ground was too dead and barren to even hope. But Joseph had found a patch of ground less abused than the rest and had planted a small garden; it was something, maybe enough to get through the winter what with the hard tack and preserves they had saved. Or at least something to eat on the road when they left.

Humming tunelessly, he thrust the hoe again into the ground, turning up soil that looked almost dark, almost wet, almost like life hadn’t quite given up here yet.

Up and down went the hoe, sinking its teeth into the softer soil. Until… clank.

Startled from the meditative state his repetitive work had brought on, Joseph reached down and saw a corner of dark, burnished metal. Pushing dirt away with his hands, he quickly enough found himself holding a small canister, no more than a foot around, made of heavy, rough lead and weighing more than it had any right to.

That’s right odd.

Usually folks bury things for a reason. Sometimes to forget ’em, sometimes to keep ’em.

Let’s hope thisun was buried for keepin’.

Joseph pried against the seal, trying to get a purchase when, with a sudden crack, the lid gave way. Jumping back, he watched as the canister hit the ground. It was silent all around and for a moment it looked as if the thing was empty.

Then dark blue smoke began to curl, then pour, from the opening of the canister. Joseph just stood, dumbstruck.

The smoke, at first seeming to billow outwards without form, cleared as quickly as it came and left a translucent human form, no less than some eight feet tall, looming over the staring man.

Hell’s bells.

“Four hundred years!” cried the spirit.

And it talks too… Lord in Heaven, judge me kindly.

“Four. Hundred. Years.” it spat, ephemeral flames licking up its legs with each word. “Trapped all that time.”

“Well, you’re out now,” Joseph said.

Idiot. Damned fool, you always had too quick a tongue.

“Anything else you wish to say before I kill you, blathering fool?”

Its eyes bored into him.

“Hold on now, hold on — kill me? Me? What’d I ever do to you? I just let you out!”

“I will grant you the choice of the manner of your death. Speak!”

Fumbling, delaying, and still unbelieving, Joseph did, indeed, speak:

“Now, uh, mister — sir — uh, well, I don’t quite understand, you see? Who — what — who are you? And, uh, how’d you find yourself in that ugly old milkcan in the first place? Now I know…”

He put me there. Oh, how I would rend him limb from limb. King of my kind, tyrant of us all — I had him! But, betrayed in the final moment, I was taken, punished, and confined to that awful vessel. For a hundred years I raged. For another hundred I swore any wish and any boon to him that would rescue me. For another hundred I swore myself in eternal servitude to my eventual rescuer. For another hundred, rotting in my prison, I swore death on him that had waited so long to find me. You.

“What, me? I didn’t wait, I don’t even —”

Now hold on.

“How’d you even fit in that there thing anyway?”

“What?”

“I don’t believe that… what a load of hogwash. Ain’t no way all of you fit in that tiny little thing there for four hundred years.”

Joseph let out a forced laugh.

Indignant, the spirit spiraled down into the vessel, crying out:

“Fool! My forms are endless, there is no limit to my abilities.”

The last of these words were muffled as Joseph slapped the cover of the canister back on and quickly closed the latches. A muffled screaming could be heard from inside, slowly growing fainter…

Dusk came and found Joseph sitting on the ground, hoe in hand, slowly regaining his calm. Eventually a small smile crept over his face.

You clever bastard, you. Just wait till Mary hears this!

Author’s Note: I thought I’d transpose the story of the poor fisherman and the genie out into the dustbowl. I don’t quite know how or why I thought of that, but here it is. I don’t know if there’s anything in Native American folklore analogous to a genie, which is why I just called it a spirit and left it at that.

(And yes, the spelling of “philosophohfizin‘” is intentional, sound it out.)

Story Source: “The Story of the Fisherman” from Arabian Nights, sourced from the course UnTextbook.

Image Source: University of Illinois Department of English, “A Photo Essay on the Great Depression.”

Week 4 StoryLab: Advice to Writers

Jon Winokur’s “Advice to Writers” blog has a wealth of fun, insightful, and very useful tips, tricks, and reflections about writing, and in browsing it I found many things I had thought about writing before staring back up at me from the page, so to speak.

Two quotes in particular stood out to me. The first, from Emmanuel Carrère, says that “everything is worth writing” and attacks the self-censorship and shame that so often accompanies the prospect of making a half-formed idea “official” by putting it to paper. As has so often been said, “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” and I think that nowhere does this apply so much as writing.

It’s true that writing is, from one angle, a process of communication and transfer of ideas, but from another perspective, it is really an exercise in the development, crystallization, and structuring of ideas. Communication is just an accidental side effect. Ever since I learned to be less afraid of putting pen to paper, I have been able to develop my ideas with so much more ease, even if those notes are never seen, never read, and never referred to again.

The second quote that struck me was from Elizabeth Gilbert writing in opposition to the “German, romantic idea that if you’re not in pain, and if you’re not causing pain by making your art, then you’re not really doing it right.” This Germanic concept and its centrality to current notions of intellectualism have always bothered me deeply. The notion that pain and distress are necessary or sufficient to make art, I believe, is nonsense. Suffering in the making or the experiencing does not make something art, though it can be an important part of making and experiencing some — but not all! — art.

The Bohemian. The term is these days often celebrated by people who tend to share in the idea that art is pain, and vice versa. (Painting by Renoir, image from Wikipedia — incidentally the painting is currently in Germany.)

This is a great blog full of great quotes, and I’m bookmarking it to keep coming back!

Week 3 Story: My Bonnie Lies O’er the Pond, My Bonnie Lies Through the Looking Puddle

Echo looks on as Narcissus loves in vain, vainly.

“My love and my lover, why will you not spend the night with me?”

With me. With me…. Night.

“Every day as Helios drives his chariot to the horizon, leaving the sky dark and bereft…”

Bereft.

“…you too fade and leave me behind as cold as the air and as lonesome as the moon and as weak as the dimmest star.”

“To where do you retreat in your watery abode? You return with such faith and consistently each morning to light my spirit as all morning’s light never could; why, then, must you leave me lonesome”

Lonesome. Lonesome.

“in the night?”

Night.


Night falls, the curtain drawn across the heaven and Helios retreats to deserved rest. Narcissus laments and Echo repeats, responds, and laments in turn, trapped each in their torment and prison without walls.

Day breaks, and Helios returns followed soon by Narcissus’ beloved, brought back by the bright light reflecting on the calm pond.


“Why are we thus separated, my joy and light? What celestial force is so set against our love, feels it is so dangerous, and is so committed to that delusion?”

Delusion, delusion, delusion!

“I care not! I will visit you my beloved, yes, I will breech the wall placed between us by the gods and come to you if you will not come to me!”

“For my love for you knows no bound and no force can oppose it; no wall, no god, nay — not even death!”

And Narcissus dove into the water, pushing deeper and deeper, searching for the beautiful man in the glistening prison without success, the world growing darker and darker as he went down, and down, and down.

Death, death, death… death.

Bibliography: The tale of Echo and Narcissus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Books 1-4, Part B from the UnTextbook, translated by Tony Kline.

Image Source: Echo and Narcissus, a painting by John William Waterhouse. (Image from Wikipedia.)

Author’s Note: This isn’t strictly an retelling of Echo and Narcissus from the reading, but it takes the idea and goes in a different direction with it. I liked the possibilities of Echo only being able to repeat what Narcissus says last, and I wanted to present more of a dialogue with as little narration as possible.

The title is an out-of-place amalgam of Through the Looking Glass and an old Scottish folk song, “My Bonnie Lies O’er the Ocean.”

Week 2 Story: A Ghost, He Knows

On the first day, the voice was borne by a hot, heavy midday breeze with the sun beating overhead.

The young warrior, wary and remembering all the devils and demons and spirits of the world, heard the faint sound with trepidation. It was something between a human voice and an animal cry, yet there was nothing near but a silent owl and a skittish hare.

On the second dusk, the voice was borne by a cooling evening breeze, one that rustles leaves and shifts twigs and hastens the encroaching night.

An old woman, with a face like death and a step too light for one of flesh and bone, stepped into the campground.

“My son! My son!” she sobbed.

The warrior watched from the edge of his camp, silent and wary, as the old woman shuffled around his fire and rummaged through his belongings. She turned away, and the warrior shifted, too quiet for any living thing to hear. But the woman turned in an instant and looking straight at him through the trees.

Taking a rusted old knife from her belt, she sprung with a sudden agility, running towards him and brandishing the notched and ugly blade. He dodged nimbly to the side and she came to an abrupt stop, turning again to look at him.

A moment passed, and as suddenly as she came, the old woman fled into the woods barking a strange cry: “Yun! Yun! Yun! Yun!”

On the third night, the voice was borne by a cold and bitter wind, tendrils of song and glimpses of melody carried by the unending winds of the plain.

The warrior called out to the singer, walking to the edge of his camp in the direction from which the voice was coming.

Suddenly, from behind him, a voice — calm, deep, and strong — spoke as the singing cut off.

“May I have a meal?”

The form before the warrior had the shape of a man but the bulk of air; the voice of a chief but the blood of a stone. The warrior’s response was firm, he had none.

“Not so! You have wasna, I know. You have tobacco, I know. You have wild cherries, I know.”

The ghost sat down and took, without further speech, from the warriors pack and, after a moment, beckoned to the warrior to join him.

After finishing his meal, the ghost spoke.

“Ah! Now I will share with you a gift as you have shared with me your wasna, your tobacco, and your cherries. We will wrestle, and if you defeat me, you will become a great warrior, I know.”

The ghost launched himself at the warrior and pinned him to the ground, and they wrestled in the depth of the night and the glow of the fire; life against death, darkness against light, champions of one and the other.

On the fourth dawn, the sun rose, and with each beam of light the grip of the ghost weakened until the warrior found himself grasping at air, the ghost defeated and gone.

And it came to pass that the warrior become great and bested all of his future foes, for a ghost, he knows.

Author’s Note: I modified the time of the warriors encounter with the woman — which occurs at midnight in the original text — and added a third day at the beginning to emphasize the theme of encroaching darkness and the increasing danger that comes with it. Certainly that is a common and well-explored theme in folklore — being wary of darkness and night is a basic human survival trait — but I thought it might be interesting to emphasize even more.

According to the original text, wasna is a mixture of ground buffalo and meat fat. Wasna, I found, is also called pemmican. I was curious, and here’s a picture:

A ball of pemmican. (Image by Jen Arrr, from Wikipedia.)

I also altered the prophecy and the stake of the fight; it’s not a very faithful adaptation, but it seemed to make my version work better.

Bibliography: “The Indian Who Wrestled with a Ghost” in an anthology by Katharine Berry Judson (1913). Text from the class Myth-Folklore Anthology site.

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