The stories told are plot-oriented, the characters are depicted without much depth, and rarely do twists of events take place that are unexpected. Yet, listening to the well known can be wonderfully gratifying, and the stories do send messages, some nicely consoling, some unsettling; those who listened to the stories received knowledge of the world. The magic tale strongly makes the point that young people must grow up. In some stories, one sees the consequences of tests not being passed successfully. In “The Seven Foals,” three brothers seek to raise their dirt-poor family out of poverty, but the two older brothers fail by giving in to temptation. The third son, the ne’er-do-well, the underdog—a common formulaic character—rises to the occasion and wins the princess and half the kingdom. In “East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon,” a young girl is offered by her family in marriage to a bear; she is unhappy with her matrimonial state. Corrupted by her mother’s wishes, she fails a test and loses her husband to a distant witch. At that point, she realizes that the bear is an accursed prince, knows that she loves him, and overcomes all obstacles to regain him. A passive woman becomes an active, resilient heroine. The point at which a person must mature and go through a rite of passage is stressed through this trial-and-error pattern.
These seemingly sweet and harmonious stories can be used as a means for social criticism. One powerful story is “Mastermaid,” in which a young man is assisted so well by his magical helper—his future spouse—that they...
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