Remember those good times of your life when your Mom told you stories of Aladdin, Akbar-Birbal, Robin Hood and other figures you adored while putting you to bed! Hardly anything can match up to those times of joy. Stories, particularly the folk tales featuring kings, knights, witches, good and bad people, talking animals among others, fascinate children and grown-ups alike. These stories are ancient and few can be traced back to their roots. They form a rich oral tradition of the country where they originated as they were documented at a very later stage and were earlier passed down the generations by word of mouth. The beauty of these folk stories lies in their simplicity and their vivid presentation of the culture prevalent at that time. We bring to you a list of ten countries that have a treasure of folklore, waiting to see the light of the world.
The folk stories of Egypt generally remain in effacement due to other popular aspects of its culture that steals the limelight. However, these underrated stories are a rich legacy of knowledge about ancient Egypt mindset and culture. Only recently have scholars penetrated into the folklore of ancient Egypt to study extra-folkloric things. The stories have a variety of themes like fantasy, philosophy of life, religion, etiological beliefs, stories of saints, animal tales and even humor. The Prince and his three fates remains a popular Egyptian folk tale.
Few tales of Japan fit perfectly in the stencil of folk stories. Most of them were not oral traditions, and were proper written pieces. However, some folk tales have been documented from the oral traditions. This includes the story of the Peach Boy, which is a well-known story and the five great fairy-tales, most famous of them being the narration of the battle between The Crab and the Monkey. The pseudo-folk tales of Japan (the written pieces) are sometimes considered folk stories because of their other similarities. The most famous in this category is the legend of the Straw Millionaire.
The folklore of England has connections with the Germanic, Celtic and Christian sources with many brave human characters, magical beings and monsters. Elves, dwarfs, goblins, dragons and boggarts are found very often in English folk tales. Other folk tales, generally ballads of heroism of Robin Hood and King Arthur are well known among the stories of Saxon-Norman conflicts. Fairy tales like the Jack and the Beanstalk and The Wise Fools of Gotham are very popular.
It is natural for a civilization as old as China to have a rich literature. The folk tales of China show deep influences of spiritual thought, particularly Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. These tales take the form of myths, legends and allegories and are based on so many themes like human nature, love, supernatural, travel and historical events. Pu Songling’s Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio is a popular book comprising many folk stories of China. Tales such as The Empty Pot and A Magic Paintbrush are well-known outside China as well.
6. The Low Countries
The Low Countries comprise Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. The folk tales of the Low Countries is more popularly known as Dutch folklore as, traditionally, this folklore is written and spoken in Dutch. The folk tales here mostly include legends and fairly tales and have inspired many other writers. Like many other occasions, the Christianization of the folk tales overpowered the Dutch mythology aspect present in the stories. The legend of Kinderdijk and the tale of The Mermaid of Westenschouwen are popular folk stories.
5. The Arab Countries
The folk stories of the Arab countries constitute one of the greatest gifts of stories to humankind namely the One Thousand and One Nights or more commonly known as the Arabian Nights. They comprise folk tales from different parts of the Arabia woven into a single story of Sheherzade narrating stories to her husband, Shahryar (who is a wife-killer) and her sister. This goes on for one thousand and one nights and the smart wife escapes death at the hands of her husband. The most famous stories within this anthology are the tales of Aladdin and Ali Baba, known to almost everyone.
The composite culture of India gives rise to a prolific number of folk tales across the religions and regions. However, the Hindu folklore dominates other tales as it has been present since times immemorial. The folk tales are generally ballads of heroism in Sanskrit and other regional languages, particularly Rajasthani. The most famous anthology of folk tales is the quintessential Panchtantra ki Kathayein, compiled by Pt Vishnu Sharma. Other famous folklore includes the Hitopadesha Tales, stories of Akbar-Birbal and the Jataka Tales.
Due to their origins in a common Germanic mythology, the folk stories of Germany bear striking similarities to those of the Scandinavian countries. It is motley of Christian ideas and pre-Christian Norse mythology. Some of the famous folk tales of Germany are The Pied Piper of Hamlin (which has been retold so many times in different forms and languages), the legend of Faust (a scholarly man who was dissatisfied with life and sold his soul to the devil. the legend was dramatised by Christopher Marlowe in his play Dr Faustus) and tales that inspired Washington Irving to write Rip Van Winkle and The legend of Sleepy Hollow.
The folklore of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland and the Faroe Islands is collectively known as the Scandinavian folklore. All these countries share a common oral tradition of folktales better known as Folkesagn here. The folktales of these countries include mostly mythical creatures and rarely focus on humans. Most scholars identify Scandinavian folklore with the huge, paranormal creatures that come up so often in the tales. There is Nisser (analogous to Santa Claus), Huldra (who has a long cow-tail), dwarves, elves, the Kraken (the notorious octopus-like monster) and ofcourse the ubiquitous Trolls, who appear in almost every Scandinavian folk tale. These stories represent the Norse mythology of Scandinavia and were later Christianized to suit Christian beliefs. The Three Billy Goats Gruff is the popular Scandinavian folktale, read throughout the world.
The folk tales of Russia, after going through a lot of metamorphosis in terms of dilution of violence and cruelty, are quite popular throughout the world, especially Brothers Grimm’s works. Russian folklore mainly constitutes fairy tales that stem from the beliefs of paganism in the ancient Slavic state. The study of Russian folklore became central to the study of Humanities in the 1920s Soviet Union. Both the artistic forms, poetic devices as well as the classical legends to which these tales alluded to were studied at great depth. Brothers Grimm and Alexander Afanasyev were instrumental in popularizing the folklore of Russia. Grimm’s Cinderella, Rapunzel, Rumplestiltskin and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves are among the most popular fairly tales in the world, with hardly anyone who does not know about them.