100 Armenian Tales and their folkloristic relevance
Collected and Edited by Susie Hoogasian-Villa
These tales from the ancient land of Noah are the largest known collection of Armenian folktales to appear in book form in the American language. Although particularly rich in the hekiat or fairytale, the collection also contains moralistic tales, stories of trickery and wit, anti-feminine tales, legends, and cumulative stories.
The author, who is of Armenian parentage, collected the stories from friends and relatives in an Armenian community in Detroit, Michigan. In translating the tales told by Armenian immigrants in their native language, Mrs. Villa attempted to maintain the folk flavor and to avoid revising the tales into literary works.
These stories of an ancient people derive from pre-Christian millenia when cannibalism, human sacrifice, and sun worship were common. Sisters of the Armenian Cinderella kill and devour their mother; adored sons are murdered so that their blood can be used to cure an ailing family friend; a hero curses the sun who in return condemns him to live only at night.
In standard folktale tradition brave heroes surmount great obstacles with the aid of superhuman companions of magic objects. Beautiful maidens marry snakes and bears or perhaps devote years to caring tenderly for enchanted heroes.
Readers will learn of a seven-headed giant who lives at the top of Mt. Ararat, of a saber dashee which bursts when it cannot bear to hear the sorrows told to it, of a man-eating dev, of a giantess who craves the flesh of her human daughter-in- law, of a princess who has collected ninety-nine heads of suitors who failed to answer her riddles.
But among the tales are many less monstrous such as those of Mundig, the irrepressibly naughty chick-pea child; of the poor Armenian who changes places with a dead pasha and thereby inherits the Turk's wealth and wife; of the traveler who tricks the devil into carrying him on a long journey; and of a desperate man who disposes of a chattering, nagging wife by dropping her into a deep well. And at a palace gala is a hero who slyly transforms the celebrants into braying donkeys.
Armenia, a Christianized Indo- European land, has been regarded as a crossroads between East and West in the transmission of folklore. Because insufficient material has been available to scholars, to the present collection are added a brief summary of Armenian history,
an examination of the ways in which the tales and lore have been handed down, a study of the major motifs in the tales, and a comparative study of the tales with variants from other Armenian collections scattered throughout the world and from tales of countries related historically and geographically to Armenia.
The influence of migrations into Armenia and by Armenians to other lands are considered as they have influenced the distribution of the tales. Full data are given about the collecting activity and the informants.
The 100 Armenian Tales will be of particular interest to folklorists, to students of Armenian and American culture, to those interested in the process of assimilation of foreign-language-speaking groups, as well as to those who will enjoy the tales as a part of Indo-European lore.
Wayne State University Press (1966)