Departments

About Works In Progress

Robert's Raves
Robert Rodriguez's popular series examining story elements and themes in tales from around the world.

The European Scene
Sam Cannarozzi's articles on European feativals and happenings.

Story Types
Articles on specific stories, genres, and types of telling.

Tips and Programs
How-to articles.

Festivals
Reports on some of the best.

Reviews
Of recordings, books, games, and other stuff.

Panel Reviews
Listen in as a group of reviewers debate and discuss their reactions to the latest releases.

Joe's Page
Contributions by and about the late storyteller Joe Healy

Our Contributors

Submissions
We know you'd like to write for WIP! Here's how to do it.

 

 

 

Book Review

The Fish Bride and Other Gypsy Folktales
Retold by Jean Russel Larson
Linett Books (a division of Shoe-string Press)
North Haven, Connecticut, 2000
Reviewed by Robert Rodriquez

A bean in liberty is preferable to a cake in prison--a traditional Gypsy proverb.

The story of how this collection of tales came into being is itself a worthy tale for the telling. As a child, Larson encountered a caravan of gypsies in her rural Iowa hometown at the end of the 1930s and was fascinated with their traditional folk stories and legends.

This fascination stayed with her throughout her life. Years later she would make the acquaintance of a Welsh collector and storyteller named Jack Welsh, and he would further add to her stock of gypsy tales with stories he himself had heard throughout Wales and Britain. The collection therefore represents a true collaboration between both Larson and Welsh and stories from their experiences are contained within the pages of this fine volume. The folk who call themselves the Roma, known to the outside world as gypsies, have told tales for centuries.

Their oral culture and traditions cover the four corners of the world. As one of their tellers is said to have once uttered, the Roma are in this world, but not of this world. The Roma have faced many hardships and travails from the outside world, ranging from mistrust and suspicion to outright hostility, persecution, and near annihilation during World War Two at the hands of the Nazis. Often misunderstood and ridiculed for their life style, the Roma nonetheless have survived by their cleverness, individuality and skill in such arts as craft work, fortune telling, and horse handling, while their skills in music and dance are nearly legendary.

Several major characteristics dominate the folktales of the Roma: their love of freedom and individuality, their joyous acceptance of their place in the world, and their ability to adapt to local conditions and skillfully blend their own culture in with that of the folk in those realms they inhabit. Several of the tales in the collection, specifically the first and last stories, speak to the love and importance of music and dance to the cultural endurance of the Roma from their ancestral homeland in northern India through their centuries-long migrations into Europe and even into modern times. Even a simple animal fable such as the tale of the lion, fox, and bird is a disguised Roma allegory as to how physical strength can be overcome through clever wit and use of one's mental faculties.
Gypsy tales come in many diverse varieties and types: tall tales and stories about noodleheads, tales of fantastic marvels and magical transformations, trickster tales and historical legends, cautionary tales and stories of travel and adventure, plus much more. Several of the tales involve a beloved Roma character known as Marko, who may be a roguish trickster, a loveable dupe, or a heroic figure on a quest to gain a kingdom, but who discovers that his kingdom is nothing less than the very moon itself. Not all Roma tales are filled with gloom and sadness as evidenced by the humorous story of how Marko and the Gluck sisters try to outdo one another in trickery and deception, only to discover in the end that both parties had been winners and losers at the same time.

Several of the Roma tales, specifically from Britain, involve no less a folk personage than Jack himself, who may encounter everything from demonic ghost dogs to the very realm of Faerie itself in a complex quest of fantasy and adventure. Larson has generously sprinkled traditional Roma proverbs throughout the stories, as well as ending each tale with an appropriate saying or maxim. This is a collection well worth the reading, and thanks to Jean Russel Larson, a window has been opened into a cultural landscape that, till recent times, was closed to all save for hardy cultural scholars and folklore types and those intrepid anthropologists interested in the history and lore of the Roma people. Perhaps the very best way to sum up this wonderful gypsy anthology of tales is with another Roma proverb: the best is soonest gone.A bean in liberty is preferable to a cake in prison--a traditional Gypsy proverb.
The story of how this collection of tales came into being is itself a worthy tale for the telling. As a child, Larson encountered a caravan of gypsies in her rural Iowa hometown at the end of the 1930s and was fascinated with their traditional folk stories and legends.

This fascination stayed with her throughout her life. Years later she would make the acquaintance of a Welsh collector and storyteller named Jack Welsh, and he would further add to her stock of gypsy tales with stories he himself had heard throughout Wales and Britain. The collection therefore represents a true collaboration between both Larson and Welsh and stories from their experiences are contained within the pages of this fine volume. The folk who call themselves the Roma, known to the outside world as gypsies, have told tales for centuries.

Their oral culture and traditions cover the four corners of the world. As one of their tellers is said to have once uttered, the Roma are in this world, but not of this world. The Roma have faced many hardships and travails from the outside world, ranging from mistrust and suspicion to outright hostility, persecution, and near annihilation during World War Two at the hands of the Nazis. Often misunderstood and ridiculed for their life style, the Roma nonetheless have survived by their cleverness, individuality and skill in such arts as craft work, fortune telling, and horse handling, while their skills in music and dance are nearly legendary.

Several major characteristics dominate the folktales of the Roma: their love of freedom and individuality, their joyous acceptance of their place in the world, and their ability to adapt to local conditions and skillfully blend their own culture in with that of the folk in those realms they inhabit. Several of the tales in the collection, specifically the first and last stories, speak to the love and importance of music and dance to the cultural endurance of the Roma from their ancestral homeland in northern India through their centuries-long migrations into Europe and even into modern times. Even a simple animal fable such as the tale of the lion, fox, and bird is a disguised Roma allegory as to how physical strength can be overcome through clever wit and use of one's mental faculties.
Gypsy tales come in many diverse varieties and types: tall tales and stories about noodleheads, tales of fantastic marvels and magical transformations, trickster tales and historical legends, cautionary tales and stories of travel and adventure, plus much more. Several of the tales involve a beloved Roma character known as Marko, who may be a roguish trickster, a loveable dupe, or a heroic figure on a quest to gain a kingdom, but who discovers that his kingdom is nothing less than the very moon itself. Not all Roma tales are filled with gloom and sadness as evidenced by the humorous story of how Marko and the Gluck sisters try to outdo one another in trickery and deception, only to discover in the end that both parties had been winners and losers at the same time.

Several of the Roma tales, specifically from Britain, involve no less a folk personage than Jack himself, who may encounter everything from demonic ghost dogs to the very realm of Faerie itself in a complex quest of fantasy and adventure. Larson has generously sprinkled traditional Roma proverbs throughout the stories, as well as ending each tale with an appropriate saying or maxim. This is a collection well worth the reading, and thanks to Jean Russel Larson, a window has been opened into a cultural landscape that, till recent times, was closed to all save for hardy cultural scholars and folklore types and those intrepid anthropologists interested in the history and lore of the Roma people. Perhaps the very best way to sum up this wonderful gypsy anthology of tales is with another Roma proverb: the best is soonest gone.

—posted September 2003

 

Special Features

Why I Hate Lady Ragnell Alan Irvine's article and the rebuttal it engendered.

The Disney Stories Debate

What Are the Rules?

Variations on Storycrafting: Thomas the Rymer