Old Tales Retold: Here Be Dragons


The second volume of Old Tales Retold is out! As with Sprites and Goblins, I didn't feel the book itself was the place for notes on the background of the stories: so I'm putting them here instead.

The Dragons of Lake Biwa

This story was published by Yei Theodora Ozaki in Japanese Fairy Tales in 1908. Ozaki freely retold the traditional stories she collected; this one, interestingly, is about an historical figure - Fujiwara no Hidesato lived in the tenth century, travelling to Kyoto in the 930s, and I've added some details of his real career to Ozaki's story.

The Enchanted City

This story was collected in Slovenian Carinthia by the Czech folklorist Karel Jaromír Erben, and first published in 1865.

Li Chi and the Serpent

This story is very ancient. It was recorded in A Record of Researches into Spirits by Kan Pao in C.E. 317, and has been retold and embellished many times over the centuries. It's set in the last days of the Kingdom of Tung-Yuë, around 150 B.C.E.

Basil and the Were-Dragons

This story was translated by E. B. Mawr from a written Romanian source in 1881. She doesn't record who wrote the original or when, and I've not been able to find out.

I've Anglicised the hero's name from Vasilica to Basil, partly for the alliteration of Basil the Brave, but mostly because I'm considering including the story of the Russian heroine Vasilissa (who's sometimes called "the Brave" as well) in a future volume, and the names are just too similar. The concept of the dragons as an invading foe is interesting - of course Romania has been invaded many times, but I like to imagine the context for this story as an analogue to the Mongol invasions in the thirteenth century.

Although I've crystallised the concept of "were-dragons" in my retelling, it's present in the original. "Dragon" in southeastern Europe is sometimes a loosely used or mistranslated term better rendered as "giant" or "ogre", but Vasilica's enemies are clearly capable of taking two different forms, human and monstrous. (In the illustrations to Mawr's version, they appear as dragons of the familiar Western type.)

The Bunyip's Eye

C. W. Peck published this story in Australian Legends in 1925. Peck, an amateur enthusiast for Aboriginal lore, may well have elaborated on the version he heard - he was no scientific ethnographer, even by early Australian standards, which were not high. I've retold it respectfully and hope I haven't violated Koori tradition in any way.

The only small addition I've made is in describing the "time of monsters" - I've included real megafauna from the Australian Pleistocene as well as ones from Aboriginal mythologies. I hope this adds both to the strangeness and to the plausibility of the setting - rooting it in a time alien to us, but resembling early human prehistory.

Princess Puregold and the Snake King

The story of Altyn-Aryg is considered one of the national epics of the Khakassian people. There's no English translation available; it's difficult even to find a comprehensive synopsis. Speaking as I do no Khakassian and about three words of Russian, I had to scour several different books to piece together the details of the story. (I did find a partial German translation in an old book on comparative mythology by Leo Frobenius, but not a full one.)

The Kingdom of Cock-a-doodle-doo

Howard T. Wheeler collected this story in Jalisco and published it under the auspices of the American Folklore Society in 1943.

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