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Mongoose mutates into dog...

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 11, 2014 9:52 pm    Post subject: Mongoose mutates into dog... Reply with quote

A lot of our traditional stories in the west came from the east along the trade routes. No wonder the prince was excited by Cinderella's tiny foot. The story comes from China where a frankly perverted fetish for minute feet led to the literal crippling of millions of women over the centuries.

Chaucer's 'Pardoner's Tale' is supposed to have evolved from Buddhist roots. There might be an echo of its origin where the cruel youths demand of an old man why he is not dead yet. Why does he live so long in his old age? He replies because, although he walks 'into Ynde' [India] he cannot find anyone who will exchange their youth for his age. This was a quite eerie badge of its origin at a time when communications were so slow that information was passed on like Chinese whispers, and Europeans had only the vaguest idea where India was.

Some of our folklore in Wales is definitely Indian in origin. Rudyard Kipling's story in the First Jungle Book about The mongoose Rikki Tikki Tavi was definitely not his own invention although he put it into English verse. It was an ancient tale. What he might not have known is that it had been taken to Europe already, relay style, centuries earlier by traders.

In the original story, the brave mongoose -it's like a trainable stoat, weasel or polecat - protects its owner's house by fighting off a horrible predatory poisonous snake in a balletic rhythmic way. As the story spread from country to country, the animals changed species. The story took on local colour.

Our version in Wales is that Prince Llewelyn's dog saves his owner's baby from a wolf. This shows that the folktale reached us before wolves went extinct in Wales. We added a tragic dimension. Gelert was not praised. He had the blame when his owner saw the blood on his jaws, an overturned cradle, and no baby in sight. So the prince drew his sword and slew his noble hound who deserved nothing but the best. Maybe locals still show tourists Beddgelert and tell them it is the grave of Gelert the dog. The incumbent corpse was a two legged mammal and a bishop when he was alive, but why let that get in the way of a good story?

I've even heard that Sosban Fach - minus the chorus about Dai Bach which is no older than 1911-comes from the east too. It's not just a nonsense song. It might sound as asinine as 'Hickory Dickory Dock' but it's really a bit of Buddhist wisdom about how everything mutates with time.Meri-ann's finger was hurt but now it's better, the baby was crying but now it's grown, the cat was a nuisance but now it's sleeping in eternal peace.Why worry about transient things? Everything's changing but every thing remains the same. Well, maybe.

There is one ingenious mutation in the song at least - a soft mutation:'Dafydd y gwas yn y fedd.' Is 'fedd' mutated from 'medd' -he is drunk or 'bedd' - he is in his grave? There is no right answer. It's a deliberate ambiguity not a conundrum. It could only happen in a Celtic language. Does the linguistic mutation embody the theme that everything in life mutates? It seems highly unlikely. It's a folk song, not a scrap of Buddhist literature with a cryptic encoded message.The song itself evolved over time in a random sort of way.

There's not much doubt that the red dragon on our flag has some cultural continuity with Chinese dragons. But folklore is always going of at a tangent, sometimes through misunderstanding. My son Andantom had a great fascination with dragons as a child. He believed that their natural habitat was castles. He saw the red dragon standard paraded on a day associated with Dewi Sant. He deduced that the dragon was called Dewi, not that it was the name of the species but that the dragon's personal name was Dewi. If this misunderstanding had become general, that would have become another mutation in our memes.

Our cultural boundaries are porous. Even at a time when we didn't know that Buddhism or Hinduism let alone Taoism existed, our lives were enriched by the alleged wisdom of the east. We can't keep foreign ideas and people out and, unless they are malign, we shouldn't try. Diversity makes life more interesting.
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 31, 2016 9:06 pm    Post subject: The Blood of an Englshman Reply with quote

I had never thought that the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm and Perrault were just a few hundred years old. It was obvious that they had ancient, murky, primitive elements. They were grim all right.

We didn't suspect that they went back about 5,000 years in the case of 'Jack and the Beanstalk.' It is older than the Illiad and the Odyssey.

Using techniques borrowed from biological research, Jamie Tehrani and Sara Graca Da Silva have found that these stories spread out horizontally from culture to culture as well as vertically from generation to generation.
I had always thought so as my previous post shows but I don't understand how they can confidently trace them back before writing.

There are possible allusions to these fairy tales in classical literature and that is a marker we can have some faith in. 'Jack and the Beanstalk' is much older than English, even older than Welsh. It was first told in an extinct Indo-European language, just as these languages were splitting up into Eastern and Western groups.

At that time, Europeans might or might not have evolved white skin as a defence against rickets. They had probably not developed the ability to digest milk after infancy.

'Jack and the Beanstalk' may go back to the Bronze Age. I suspect our fairy tales in Wales may be a little younger. My partner tells me they feature little people, fairies, who are scared of iron or can't touch iron and live.

We were in the Iron Age but only just. Iron was - literally - cutting edge. It was new and scary.

Of course 'Jack and the Beanstalk' did update slightly. As late as Dickens' time, it was called 'Jack the Giant killer.' Our ancestors were less squeamish. But we don't want to scare our kids.

Also the giant alludes in rhyme to Jack as 'an Englishman' which he can't have done in the original. I've heard that the incantation, 'Fee Fi Fo Fum' has Welsh origins but I have some doubts. 'Fi' and 'fo' are both personal pronouns, I admit.

Perhaps Serbo-Croat was a language that the story passed by. Our eldest son proudly recited for his Croatian father the timeless words:

'Fee Fi Fo Fum / I smell the blood of an Englishman / Be he alive or be he dead/ I'll grind his bones to make my bread!'

This didn't ring any bells with my husband. He took it completely out of context.

He thought it was a racist anti-English rhyme that was chanted by children in Wales. He was disgusted that I was teaching our son this filth. He said he was going to tell his teacher.

I thought, ''Yes, you do that! Go and make a total fool of yourself.'' But I don't know if he did.

Dafydd ap Geler Thomas told me of an academic who had assessed the works of Charlotte, Emily and Anne using a biological paradigm. He had built it up by computer modelling.

I listened to this seriously. Then he said, ''It's the Bronte- saurus!'' It was a joke.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2016 8:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Rolling Eyes

We just have to coax Daf out to play : but what has happened to everybody else ?
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2016 9:55 pm    Post subject: Joyful Wales Reply with quote

And here is a totally original piece of literature written on St David's day circa 2010:

Every valley, every street makes Wales complete
O Wales, Wales lovely Wales

The castles, the buildings, the joy of the people
The world wouldn't be complete without Wales
O joyful Wales, happy Wales I love it.

I'll spare the poet's blushes by not revealing his name but he has a very proud mother.
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