- STORIES, MYTHS AND FOLKLORE
(If you want to use any of the material listed below, be sure
to obtain permission from the copyright holder if the material
is not in the public domain)
of you know any sources for myths about time?
1) When I was researching tales parallel to science fiction themes,
I found quite a few about TIME TRAVEL -- but only into the future.
Compared with the other characters in the story, the protagonist's
time progression is much faster (years in the blink of an eye)
or much slower (a week = 300 years). But I found no traditional
stories about travelling into the past -- the sort where you meet
your own grandfather as a boy, etc. What do you suppose that says
about our ancestors' ideas of time?
2) It suddenly dawned on me that there is an excellent example
of time passage. Washington Irving's classic, Rip
Van Winkle, where our hero, after partying with a group
of gnomes, bowling and drinking (whatever you call those earth
elemental entities in this story), Rip Van Winkle passes out and
wakes up to find that time has passed, many, many years in fact.
He finds that his shrewish wife has died and that he is no longer
young but an extremely old man. No one in the village recognizes
him and he lives out the rest of his days. Vague I know, but it's
been years since I read the story, but that's it in a nutshell.
Also, ther are several Celtic myths about people going to visit
the Sidhe (the Ancient Shining Ones--the Tuatha de Danaan) who
think only a few days have passed and several years have passed
(sometimes centuries). Everything around the person has changed
and in one story, a man journeys to Tir Na Nog, the Island of
teh Ever-Young, wants to return home, is given a magic horse,
andis told not to get off it for any reason. The hero returns,
falls off the horse because ofa faulty tie around the saddle,
falls off and immediately ages to a withered old man. The horse
returns to the island and the old man is give final rites before
he crumbles away into dust.
3) And then there's the Japanese story of Urashima
Taro or Urashima the Fisherman,
who is taken to an undersea kingdom by a large sea turtle he befriends.
I'm weak on the details there, but I believe the turtle changes
into a princess from the undersea kingdom. Urashima marries her,
but after awhile longs to visit his home. She gives him a box
and tells him not to open it, but he does and finds that a hundred
years have passed and no one remembers him. Very reminiscent of
Rip Van Winkle.
My handy little paperback by Stuart Gordon, The
Encyclopedia of Myths and Legends, has an entry under Time
and another under Dimensions that
mentions the story of Oisin in the land
of Tir nan Og as well as stories of those who enter fairy
mounds, Bran MacFebal and his crew when they return from the Blessed
Isles. Scotland's True Thomas (how
could we forget True?) and Sleeping Beauty.
Sounds like there is, indeed a rich lode of time stories in several
cultures around the world.
4) While we are searching for stories about time, we might want
to refresh our memories of Shangrila.
That's so far back, I can't come up with the plot at the moment,
but I do remember that a person would be young until he/she left
5) In Sleeping Beauty, Oisin, Urashima Taro
and Rip Van Winkle the protagonist's
subjective time was brief, but years/centuries passed in the rest
of the world.
In Wulgaroo the Storyteller (Australian
aborigini) the protagonist experiences a subjective lifetime (grows
up, becomes a hunter, marries, etc) but awakens under a tree still
a child who has been lost in the forest just 3 days. (But he remembers
the hunting lore the Little People taught him; and he remembers
the stories he heard). There are other "it was only a dream
-- or was it?" stories like this. Both involve traveling
into the future, just at different rates. I have never found a
traditional story in which the protagonist travels into the past.
Do you know of any? When did literary stories about traveling
into the past start to appear?
6) There is a children's picture book entitled The
Boy Who Stopped Time. Your friend might want to take a
look at. It's not a myth, but an authored tale, but my grandsons
7) I'd suggested some of Fionn mac Cumhaill's (Finn McCoul) stories
and now you've suggested Fionn's own son's, Oisin's,
story. Oisin has returned to Ireland after the Fianna warriors
are long gone, but in time to meet up with St. Patrick. So it
is that St. Patrick was able to write down all the stories that
the poet Oisin told of the brave warriors of old. The tales you
describe might be found in: Sadhbh/Oisín, Tír na
nÓg, Oisín and Saint Patrick.
8) There's Chronos, the Titan (or
was he the father of Titans, sorry I forget), which is a hint
about how important time was... there's actual histories of time-keeping
devices... the thing that first popped into my head, though, was
that so many stories are *set* in the past "Once Upon a Time,
long long ago..." Which is kinda cool. not necessarily specifically
helpful, but cool.
Response: To be pedantic, Cronos
(or Kronos), the Titan, is not actually the same Greek word as "chronos", time (kappa v. chi), but his Roman equivalent
Saturn did metamorphose into Old Father Time.
9) I am reading a great book of the stories of Patrick and Osian
called I am of Irelaunde. It is good
10) Since this topic came up, I;ve been looking for a story about
a man who was given a ball of yarn which could speed up time for
him. Of course, the man played out time too quickly, so near the
end of his life, he realized how much he'd missed by bypassing
some of the tougher times. I searched my files for yarn, ball,
etc. No luck, but today I was looking through a group of files
for a senior telling, and found the story that Judy had sent in
2001. I had the story idea right, but it was a "magic thread." (It was a silver ball with magic gold thread.)
Judy sites two sources:
1) Jim Trelease's Hey, Listen to This; Stories
to Read Aloud. French folk tale. The
2) The Thread of Life retold by Domenico
Vittorini, Crown publishers, 1958, 1995. is an Italian version
in book The Thread of Life.
11) Also the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus,
and sleeping kings. There is a story of a Welsh monk who was entranced
by listening to the Birds of Rhiannon, and when he returned to
his monastery found everything changed, and that he had disappeared
hundreds of years before. Stepping into a fairy ring was a favourite
way for Welshmen and women to disappear - they might be rescued
exactly a year later, and would complain of being dragged away
just as they were beginning to enjoy themselves.
12) Didn't someone once post a story here, in which a magician
gave a great future to a sea-captain, on condition he feasted
him once a year? When the captain broke his promise, he found
himself back on his ship.
A Scottish version of The Man who Had no
Story (as told by many storytellers here), features not
only a period of years in a different life, but a sex change too.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ends with the children restored
to their original ages, and no time elapsed at all.
13) I couldn't come up with any time travel before HG Wells' The
Time Machine (1895), but someone else pointed out Mark
Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's
Court (1889). E. Nesbit's The Story
of the Amulet (1906)was no doubt influenced by Wells -
they were both members of the Fabian Society, and the book includes
a character named after him, in the future. Travel into the past
has become a staple of children's literature in particular; travel
into the future mainly features utopias or dystopias, or both
(as does The Time Machine itself,
and the Welsh Wythnos yng Nghymru Fydd (A Week in the Wales to Come - except I don't think it has been
translated). Prophetic visions of the future, without physical
movement, have a long and distinguished history, including Virgil
and Shakespeare.But forgetting about time travel, one folktale
involving time is that about Friar Bacon who makes a brass head,
and conjures the Devil to make it speak and answer and prophesy.
Growing tired, he sets his servant to watch and listen, commanding
him to wake him when it speaks. At last it does, "Time is",
but the servant thinks this is nothing to disturb his master's
for; a while later, it says "Time was" but still the
servant waits. Finally the head says "Time is past",
and shatters itself into pieces, which does wake Bacon, but too
14) You immediately reminded me of all the fairy tales where someone
spends a night dancing with fairies, or passes into the magic
mountain to talk with the little folk and hundreds of years have
passed in the outside world--Rip Van Winkle
also comes to mind--shoot, even Sleeping
Beauty! It seems to me that our ancestors' ideas of time
would be-- if you chose to sleep away your life, or let your fancies
carry you away, then your life will pass you by, and all those
that you care about will pass with it.
15) Truly, a site regarding "myths about time" ...
16) I have a further query: years ago someone told me about a
time travel science fiction story, where a man travels back to
his own childhood during WW1. He meets his parents, who are shocked
and disappointed that a healthy young man has not enlisted, and
because of the eternal need to gain parental approval, he does
enlist, and dies on the fields of France. Does anyone know the
author, and where I could track down the oriiginal?
You may want to look at Time Enough For
Love by Robert A. Heinlein first published in 1973. Part
of the book has Lazarus Long going back in time where he meets
his mother. He then takes part in World War I.
17) While we are searching for stories about time, we might want
to refresh our memories of Shangri-la. That's so far back, I can't
come up with the plot at the moment, but I do remember that a
person would be young until he/she left Shangri-la.
was Lost Horizon, by James Hilton
The movie version starred Ronald Colman, Jane Wyatt, Margo, Thomas
Mitchell, Edward Everett Horton, and Sam Jaffe as the High Lama
(looking, in make-up, remarkably as he would years later on Ben
Casey, "man, woman, birth, death, infinity").
18) Bran, a sort of Irish Odysseus, finally escaped from the Island
of Women. They warn him not to set foot on land when he returns
to Ireland, and, as usual, what do they do? Again, the turning-to-dust
thing. There's also a Welsh story of finding Arthur's knights
sleeping inside a mountain, waiting until Wales has need of them
19) Query: If any of you have run across any thing that stands for "time," I would appreciate your sending it my way. I am also interested in "magical" things that stand-in for the measurement of time but are not our typical modern devices for time telling. I've done research on this and know of the typical early ways of measuring time - I'm looking for the magical here.
Response: Do you know that the "third eye" actually exists, as a triangle with the 2 outer eyes. It's the Pineal gland which serves in birds as a compass related to the stars, so it's an astronomical clock. Dvora
Response: What about that Jack tale, in which Jack captures Death and put him in a sack, and all sorts of bad things happen as a result. Jack realizes that he has to let Death out of the sack, and that he'll be the first person to die. But, he does it. Death takes him to a cave filled with candles. Some candles are brand new, barely singeing the wick, and some are sputtering out, some are out, some are mid-way through their burn. Death tells Jack that each candle represents a life, some of babies, some of children, some of adults, and some of the old, ready to let go. Where's my candle, asks Jack...and death points to a candle that is just...about...to...go...out. (or something like that -- I think the motif turns up in other stories).
Response: There are the stories where someone visits a different land and returns, only
to find out that generations have passed while he was gone:
Rip Van Winkle - literary, of course,
Urashima Taro - Japanese story
Oisin - Celtic myth
I suspect there are many more, but that's all I can think of at the moment.
Response: There is the Irish ending of a story that I tack onto a Basque-Spanish tale called The Doctor and Death, in which the doctor outwits Death several times, culminating in an agreement that Death will allow him time to make out his will and the doctor will go along peacefully as soon as the candle he has lit to see to write has finished burning to the end. As soon as Death agrees, the doctor blows out the candle, and since he keeps it locked in a safe place he is still living happily ever after, as far as I know.
In Jack London's Call of the Wild, the dog Buck is described as being older than the breaths he had drawn and the sights he had seen.
Response: I think you might mean the Tale of King Satavahana, which I heard Joan Sutton tell this summer at Laura Simms Residency.
Here are some sources:
Tales from the Kathasaritsagara by Somadeva, translated by Arshia Sattar, Penguin Books India, 1994 and
The Ocean of Story, translated by C. H. Tawney, Volume 1, London, 1926.
Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and Sister Nivedita, Dover Publications, New York, 1967.
Hindu Myths, A Sourcebook Translated from the Sanskrit, Penguin Books, London, 1975.
20) I was thinking of the story of The Girl in the Bell, and offhand I can't remember where I first read it, maybe in Tales of a Chinese Grandmother. Ko Ai's Lost Shoe is another title you might find it under.
The story begins by telling about the two towers built in the new capital of
Peking by the Emperor Yung Lo. In one tower was a drum which was beat each hour so that the people could set their time sticks. In the second was a bell that would be used to call the people in from the fields around the "Forbidden City" at the end of the workday or in case of an emergency. When that bell is rung even today (in Beijing's Forbidden City), it has a strange sound:
(here, I swing my arm like a clapper and say:) Ai-i-i-i-Chi!
(Kids always laugh here! I just can't do justice to that bell sound!)
Now that strange sound? that little "chi" at the end? They say it is the sound of the gentle Ko-Ai, calling and calling for her lost shoe, for you see, the Chinese word for "shoe" is "chi."
Now Yung Lo had searched all over China for a bell-maker to create the bell, and finally selected Kuan Yu, who moved to Peking with his lovely daughter, Ko-Ai, whom he loved more than his life.
The emperor told him that the bell should contain iron, so that its sound would be strong; gold, so that its sound would be rich; and silver so that its sound would be sweet.
Kuan Yu began working on the bell, and when it was ready, he consulted a fortune teller to find a lucky day when the bell should be cast. That day, everyone came to the foundry; musicians played, dancers danced, poets read, the Emperor himself made a speech, and then a great cauldron containing the searing hot metal was rolled to the mold and poured in. Then everyone left; only Kuan Yu remained, waiting for the bell to cool so that he could remove the mold.
But alas! When the mold was removed, the bell was filled with thousands of tiny holes!
When he told the emperor, he was ordered to make another bell.
Same thing happened.
The emperor told him to make another bell, and this time, if he failed, he would pay with his life.
Each day Ko-Ai watched her father anxiously go off to the foundry. Each night, she prepared a fine dinner for him, she wrote poetry, she showed him her embroidery, but she could find no way to lift his spirits. At last, she herself went to a fortune teller, who said to her "Gold and silver will not wed/nor bronze and iron share a bed/unless with maiden's blood they're blended./Your father's life will soon be ended!
Maiden's blood? What maiden other than herself would be willing to give her life for her father? Yet she knew he would never hear of such a thing, and so she laid a plan of her own. She said nothing to him, but asked only if she and her old nursemaid could accompany him on to the foundry on the day that the mold was poured.
The day arrived, big ceremony, with even more attendees, as everyone had heard about the previous attempts and the threat. Everyone watched as the great cauldron of searing hot metal was rolled over to the mold and tipped, and the flow of metal began. No one noticed as Ko-Ai said quietly, "It is for thee, oh my father," and then she flung herself into the stream of searing hot metal. Steam arose in many colors. Everyone ran to help, but it was too late! Only her old nursemaid, in her attempt to save Ko-Ai, was able to grasp one small shoe.
They say her father went mad on the spot. They say he had to be tied to a bamboo pole and carried home, yet the words of the fortune-teller were true. When that bell was rung it was the sweetest, the richest, the strongest sound in all of China: Ai-i-i-i chi!
And if it is indeed the sound of the gentle Ko-Ai, calling and calling for her lost shoe, then surely her spirit is happy. It was said that so fine a daughter as she would surely be blessed by the Jade Emperor of Heaven.
(I like to also add some kind of disclaimer at the end. "Don't try this at home," I say after we've relaxed, and ask people to think about whether a daughter who committed suicide for her father would be considered "fine" in these days. This is a good story for 5th or 6th grade, but no younger.)
20) Query: I've just visited the museum of modern arts (or whatever it is called in English...). They would like me to participate in their weekend programs. They invite a storyteller/writer/poet/teacher every Saturday for an interactive storytelling programme for children between 3 and 6 years old. The task is to make up a story including the paintings/things in the museum. This is rather difficult because most paintings doesn't show anything coherent... (yeah, well, I'm not a fan of modern arts...).
I spent an hour walking around rather desperate, and at last I noticed that in every hall there were some photos about church towers without clocks. They have the round place for a clock, but there are no clocks. Some photo artist made them all throughout Hungary, and the collection is called Timeless. I decided I'll work with that.
So, now I need to make up a story about those pictures. I definitely need audience participation (not only because this is what they asked me to do, but even because those small children won't sit and listen, I know that much). And they even want me to tie the storytelling with some creative occupation, the children should make/draw something connected to the story.
Response: There's always Cinderella (clock strikes midnight) and Rip Van Winkle (slept 100 years)
There's also Urashima Taro (passing of 400 years)
http://www.story-lovers.com/grandmaskneeurashima.html (full text)
A Ukrainian folktale: The Princess's Ring
A Mayan folktale: The Disobedient Son
Did you look at this SOS category?
Especially The Boy Who Stopped Time
From Publishers Weekly
When Julian interrupts the pendulum in the hall clock just before 7:30 p.m., he unwittingly brings to life a fantasy of kids who have felt hampered by an imposed bedtime: he stops time, freezing everything and everyone else in their tracks, thus freeing himself up to explore, unhindered by the hour. Giving his still-as-a-statue mother "a secret kiss good-bye," Julian bikes into town, past a frozen array of familiar faces and events, until "his feeling of silence started to become a feeling of sadness, and he knew that he wanted to go home." Despite such attempts to impart emotion to his scenario, Taber's prose falls curiously flat, devoid of the thrill and fear that might accompany such an illicit adventure. In addition, some of the activities the pajama-clad Julian witnesses (the town librarian reading to a youngster, children cavorting on a playground, a car mechanic at work) seem inconsistent with the evening hour. Taber's finely crafted, detailed black-and-white pencil drawings reproduce the stillness of the images with photographic crispness, although the boy's features and haircut seem to vary on different spreads. While visually engaging, the book's staid, matter-of-fact tone seems more a missed opportunity than a flight of fancy. Ages 4-8.
From School Library Journal
PreSchool-3-- No matter how much fun he is having, Julian has to go to bed when the clock chimes 7:30. So he stops it, making everyone and everything else frozen and motionless in time. This is quite a sophisticated concept, yet the boy's simple reasoning allows readers to slide over the deeper questions and simply enjoy, with the hero, the novelty of the moment. He sits on a stag's back, touches a fox's soft ears, rides his bike down the main highway, and explores a toy department, until he knows that he wants to go home. Taber's black-and-white illustrations are startlingly similar to the early work of Chris Van Allsburg. There is the same photographic reality and the shifting perspectives that highlight and enhance the fantasy. This story is in the tradition of Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are (HarperCollins, 1988), in which a young child briefly exults in controlling his world. While not as exciting as Sendak's classic, it's still a satisfying vicarious adventure. --Karen James, Louisville Free Public Library, KY
Response: For some reason the "Every Day is Christmas" story,
came to mind... I haven't used it, but I did look at it this year with the idea of making it interactive as kids could suggest what would happen as they ran out of turkeys... how Easter eggs would have to be maybe candy canes, etc.
Ina V.D. 2/1/07
Response: How about The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber? It's a short literary tale - offbeat and delightful - a fairy tale.
Wendy G. 2/1/07
Response: Allan Ahlberg [British] wrote a story about a woman who saves time in packages to be used later and what happens when she does. It is called 'Life Savings' and was published in the US in his collection The Clothes Horse and Other Stories now out of print.
Tom F. 2/1/07
Note: This book is available used through amazon.com from as low as $.32—yep, that's right, 32 cents.
The Clothes Horse and Other Stories (Puffin Books) by Allan Ahlberg.
Response: The story that popped into my head was The Christmas Apple by Ruth Sawyer. Although the title suggests Chrstmas you could adapt it to fit the occasion. I have used it in Kids' programme in which I handed out clock faces and each child designed their own clock. I think you can find the story in Sawyer's book The Way of the Storyteller.
Mabel K. Australia 2/1/07
Note: The full text of The Christmas Apple by Ruth Sawyer may be found at:
Response: Here's a delightful tale about how fairies tell time...
Response: How about using the Nursery Rhyme
Hickory Dickory Dock,
The Mouse Ran Up the Clock.
The Clock Struck One
And Down he ran.
Hickory, Dickory Dock.
Have children help you clap the times on the clock. Have children try to move hands like the hands on the clock. Say "Stop". Ask a child what time he has made his hands say. What does he do at that time.
Do improvisation. Why did the Mouse Run Up the Clock? Where did he come from? What was he planning to do? Why did he run when the clock struck one? Was he there when the clock struck twelve? Why didn't he run down then?
Art activity: Draw storyboard of the story you made up as a group. Or draw a picture of the mouse in his clock house.
Movement activity: Be a figure on one of those clocks with figures that come out when the hour is struck. Give children the name of a figure and let them show you how it looks when the clock strikes the hour: for
example, you might use a soldier, a king, a queen, a duck, etc.
This could be fun!
Rose the story lady 2/2/07
Response: For a number of years I have been telling stories in a large State Art Gallery with a family program. The age group is similar. Like you I was asked as a storyteller to engage the childrens' interest in the paintings hanging throughout the gallery.. or sculptures..etc...so I don't go with any set stories but make them up with the children and then tell the newly created story. Audience participation is a key element. First we look at the painting / photograph/sculpture/artifact and name what we can see. If there is a person or people in the picture we give them a name. ... We let the imagination play!! In your situation with the clock towers we would ask the question -Was there a clock there that has now gone? ..where? ... or is there one yet to be placed in that position?... Through observation and questioning ....who? what? why? when?.. we would develop a story that may end up being "The Mystery of the Missing Clock". Whatever the children offer, I add into the story. Perhaps you may wish to have a mixture of set stories and ones you create with the audience.
Christine C. 2/2/07
web page updated 11/17/04; 2/2/07)