A Life in Pictures
From my first hesitant steps in foreign lands to later travels across the globe, from my fascination with the first tale to reading over 50,000 tales, the road I’ve traveled and my love of stories stand firmly at the center of my life’s work and passion. Below is a selection of 18 pictures and stories that highlight my lifetime interests and connect to some of my favorite stories.
I grew up in prosaic Williamsport, Ohio, but I lived in an enchanted mansion and the public library was my castle. I pulled a thick book off the shelf.It fell open to a page with a delicate ink drawing of Scheherazade reclining on cushions.She told desperate and wonderful stories of screaming stones and glittering treasure caves and of tales within tales within tales.These are the first tales I remember of the over 50,000 tales I have read.
I was 17 and an exchange student.I rode my first, and last, runaway horse, saw the stars from the heights of the Andes. This was the first of the more than fifty countries I’ve visited. In, Outfoxing Fear I included a tale from the other side of the Andes, “The Outwitted Ghost of the Forest” from the Arawak people.
College: translating Beowulf: “The walker in shadows came in the darkness of night; the warriors slept…all but one.”One of my favorite tales from this part of the world is “The Flying Head” from the Iroquois people. (in Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters)
…A fairy tale castle in the foothills of the Alps.Germany: the magical world of German Märchen (fairy tales), reading the epic Niebelungenlied in Middle German, translating Hauff’s Märchen.Did you know that at the end of “Little Red Riding Hood” as it stands in the second edition, she goes into the forest a second time and defeats the wolf herself. Why don’t we see that part of the story? This question simmered in me for years and finally blossomed into Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters.
I found my father’s mother’s mother’s friend’s daughter in a small town called Hlboke. She had a picture of my grandmother and her children including my dad. Folktales exist in a strange interaction between past and present. There is a beautiful tale from the Arikara people of North America in which a woman from the past saves a village in the present: “The Woman of the Red Leggings.” (in Outfoxing Fear)
Greece! …Swimming above a sunken temple…Sitting at the foot of the Acropolis, on a low stone wall, discussing philosophy with a young man who said his name was Socrates. My Greek heroine was “The Child who was Poor and Good.” (in Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters)
In the library
Ecuador at the Equator
Upstate New York
A ferry between Korfu and the Greek mainland
Czechoslovakia before it was The Czech Republic and Slovakia
…Climbing the Great Pyramid -- which is not as easy as it might seem since the stones are huge, some were almost my shoulder height and I had to pull myself up each one. …Seeing the golden glories of Tutankhamun in dust-covered cases in the Egyptian Museum. It was a kind of preparation for the hours I would spend in the bowels of dusty libraries, rescuing tales from as-yet-unread books, over a century old, like the book from 1889 in which I found the Scottish tale, “The Death ‘Bree.’” (in Outfoxing Fear)
…Camping in the silence of the desert. One of my favorite stories from Egypt is “The Honeybee” told by a woman who lived in the City of the Dead outside Cairo. (in Why We Tell Stories)
…Sitting next to a Japanese ‘snow monkey.’ In Fearless Girls, I included a Japanese, Beauty and the Beast type of tale in which a girl was forced into marriage with a monkey, but devises an escape for herself, “The Monkey Bridegroom.”
…Traveling within the first decade that China was open, floating past precarious, river houses on the canal between Hangzhou and Suzhou, riding on a military transport from Nanking to Beijing, and speaking in writing – I had learned Chinese pictographs, Kanji, to read Japanese and even though I couldn’t speak Chinese, I could communicate using the written pictographs.One of my favorite Chinese tales is “A Polite Idiosyncrasy.” (in Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters)
…Doing lifts on a rock wall by the Mediterranean. As a dancer my heart leapt when I found a tale from Czechoslovakia in which a girl is rewarded because she loved to dance. (in Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters)
Sakyoku, Kyoto, Japan
My home, a ‘furui shakuya,’ an old row house, built around 1905. We stabilized the stilts under the living room floor, replastered the crumbling walls and planted both the plants in the picture. The thick, straw floormats, tatami, had a wonderful crisp smell. The staircase to the second floor was more like a ladder. One of my favorite Japanese tales included a good stepmother, “The Mirror of Matsuyama.” (in Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters)
…The oldest, driest continent…Living in a cul-de-sac in the Kuring-Gai Chase, a National forest, awaking each morning to the squawks of lorikeets, almost stepping on a yard long monitor lizard. Even a short hike in the Australian bush imparts the importance of water. My PhD thesis maintains that folktales are survival tools and contain important information. Indeed, Australian folktales operate as narrative maps marking where water is available on trails across the Aboriginal world. “I started off far away. Here the name of the place is Gun-gangin, where I put myself. I stand like a person and I keep standing here forever.” (“Biriwilg” in Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters)
There are some places in the world where the light is exceptionally beautiful among them is Bali. In a treasured book of tales from Asmat people of Indonesia, I found a female Noah, “The Creation of Lake Asbold.” (in Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters)
The United States
Arizona. …Viewing the petroglyphs and pictographs on the red rocks, under a brilliant blue sky. A beautiful Hopi story is “The Bee and the Ấsya.” (in Outfoxing Fear)
Rotarua, New Zealand
The rugged beauty of the country is reflected in its passionate tales of courage and romance, like the tale of Rau-Whato. (in Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters)
…Finding a village of thousand year old beehive huts in a farmer’s field, seeing the ghost of a girl in a black shawl in the cemetery of Muckross Abbey, and discovering a small circle of standing stones in a clearing in the woods… Once read, who could forget Yeats’ tale, “How Thomas Connolly Met the Banshee…” (in Outfoxing Fear)
Prehistoric caves, southern France and northern Spain
No pictures were allowed in the caves, but the scenes are incised in my memory, like the left-handed sculptress buried in front of her bas-relief horses at Cap Blanc. The folktale is a more ephemeral relic from our prehistoric past, but it has served as a potent survival tool for millennia. To be convinced of its ancient past, one need only read a tale like: “The Black Snake Man and his Wife, the Dove” from the Muŋkan people, Australia. (in Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters)