I've been on a fairy research track recently, mainly going through my "Little Folk" page and trying to fact-check and add citations. That's going to be a long process.
On the way, I came across the book Strange Terrain: The Fairy World in Newfoundland, by Barbara Rieti. It took a while to get a copy through Interlibrary Loan, but I really enjoyed it.
It's Rieti's research, and a lot of the text is from recordings of interviews she had with locals. It's a great look into the folklore of Newfoundland, with meticulous sources and connections to previously recorded folklore.
There are also some interesting points about how folklore starts. It's easy to think of traditional stories as being hundreds of years old, off in some forgotten time, but Rieti mentions some real people, community figures whose oddities passed into local legends. Some of these cases were very recent.
In one case, Rieti was tracking down the source of a tale about a little girl named Lucy Harris who had been stolen away by fairies. To her shock, it turned out that the little girl was not only still alive, but only in her sixties, and rather offended by people bothering her about the story. In reality, she had been lost in the woods for more than a week, unable to move due to hypothermia, and eating snow to survive. Her legs had to be amputated. Rieti calls it "the most embarrassing episode in my fieldwork" but it is really enlightening. She also quotes some of the contemporary news articles, where miscommunications and misquotes are rampant, contributing to the spread of the local legend.
If you're interested in Newfoundland folklore or just how academic research is conducted, check out this book. It was hard for me to find a copy, but it was worth the hassle.
A while back, I set out to investigate pillywiggins - an obscure type of fairy that was oddly lacking in source material. After months of searching through bibliographies and ordering books through Interlibrary Loan, I gave up. I was at a dead end. I published my blog post and let it be.
Now I'm coming back to pillywiggins again.
Bunny wrote in to say: “My late grandmother, originally from Wimborne, Dorset, would bemoan those pesky Pillywiggins whenever something went missing or awry.” (Thanks, Bunny!)
Another thing I found, but that I didn't fully break down in the original post, was a My Little Pony comic. Evidently, the UK comic took "story requests;" the story "Pinwheel and the Pillywiggins," published May 1986, was requested for Wayne and Claire Cookson of Hanham, Bristol. The pillywiggins are never explained. They appear as small women with flowers on their heads (and no wings). That lack of explanation indicates that the author expected people to already understand what these creatures were. At the very least, Wayne and Claire knew what they were. This is also one of the earliest sources I have for pillywiggins, which makes it a vital piece of evidence.
More recently, I bought a copy of Dark Dorset Fairies by Robert J. Newland (2006). Newland describes pillywiggins as small flower fairies with golden hair and blue wings. Despite their pretty appearance, they can be mischievous and untrustworthy. (There's no resemblance here to Dubois' insect fairies or McCoy's Queen Ariel! But it does tie in with pillywiggins being pesky troublemakers...)
In one tale, a woman finds a group of tiny pillywiggins dancing upon her newly baked cake. When she tries to speak to them, they disappear into mist.
(Compare Keightley, The Fairy Mythology, p.305: "as for the adjoining Somerset, all we have to say is, that a good woman from that county, with whom we were acquainted, used, when making a cake, always to draw a cross upon it. This, she said, was in order to prevent the Vairies [Fairies] from dancing on it. . . . if a new-made cake be not duly crossed, they imprint on it in their capers the marks of their heels.")
In another tale, the "vearies in the honeyzuck" (vearies being a Dorset term for fairies) give gold to a pair of children, but the gold disappears as soon as the children tell how they got it.
In the third story, we learn that Pillywiggins love hawthorn trees and will protect them by pinching encroachers or tangling their hair into fairy-locks. Two girls who fall asleep under a hawthorn tree wake up to find that the fairies have knotted their hair so badly that it must be cut off.
The concept of fairy-locks or elflocks goes back at least to the 1590s with Romeo and Juliet. Hawthorn trees are often liminal places where humans and faeries can interact, as in the tale of Thomas the Rhymer. Newland's story takes place at May Day, a time during which the hawthorn would be blooming.
In a final note, pillywiggins like to ring bluebells, and the chime of a bluebell - or fairy's death bells - is an omen of doom.
In other recorded folklore, bluebells or harebells (which were often confused) were also known as witch's bells, Devil's bells, dead men's bells, or fairies' thimbles. (See this blog post at Hypnogoria.)
As for an analysis of these stories:
Many of the elements here, such as the fairy gold, are familiar. The cake story is one I recognize from an older source. However, I've never seen them associated with pillywiggins before.
Newland's pillywiggins love honeysuckle, hawthorn, and bluebells. Each of these plants appeared in the Folklore Society's "Survey of Unlucky Plants," and were said to bring ill fortune if taken inside a house. In addition, hawthorn and bluebells have well-known connections in folklore to fairies.
The word pillywiggin is mainly used in narration. At one point when it would be natural for a character to say the word "pillywiggin," she instead says "vearies." The impression I got was that the word pillywiggin was being applied to various stories of tiny plant-loving fairies, and may not originally have been associated with these tales.
Some of the stories throw in names, locations, or ballpark dates, but there are no sources. There's nothing to indicate who told the story, or where or when it was told. For a book with a back cover calling it "essential for all serious scholars of fairy lore," that's a problem.
The blue wings are a modern touch. Ancient fairies are not winged.
I want to note that pillywiggin does hearken back to other words, such as pigwiggen or pigwidgeon for a tiny being. There is also piggy-whidden, a runt piglet. (Specimens of Cornish Provincial Dialect). Pirlie-winkie and peerie-winkie are words for the little finger, and peerie-weerie-winkie for something excessively small. (Transactions of the Philological Society)
I'm still looking for more information, so if you've heard something about pillywiggins that I haven't mentioned, let me know!
I've been thinking about how in several different tales, a Thumbling figure becomes a favored servant of a king.
Tom Thumb becomes King Arthur's dwarf and one of his favored knights. (In later versions, he runs afoul of the queen.)
Issun-boshi acts as a samurai for a daimyo, or feudal lord.
The Hazel-nut Child, in a tale from the Armenian people of Romania, Transylvania and the Ukraine, makes his way to the palace of an African king. Like Tom Thumb carrying home a coin for his parents, the Hazel-nut Child brings home a diamond given to him by the king.
Karoline Stahl (the same woman who wrote the first version of Snow White and Rose Red) wrote a story called Däumling. Daumling goes to live in the palace, where he serves the king and several times defends him from assassination attempts. The story was probably inspired by the British Tom Thumb.
Both stories have an emphasis on the main character's clothing and needle- or pin-sized sword, as well as an evil queen.
Sometimes the thumbling's encounter with the king isn't quite so pleasant. In numerous tales, the thumbling is out in the field with his father, when a rich man, sometimes a noble or king, sees him and asks to buy him. The thumbling sells himself and then runs away, cheating the rich man.
In one version, Neghinitsa, the main character does not run away, but ends up working as a king's royal spy until his death.
In other stories, like the German "Thumbling as Journeyman," or the Augur folktale "The Ear-like Boy," the Thumbling becomes a robber and a king is one of his victims. In a tale from Nepal (printed in German), the thumbling steals items from the king's palace and eventually wins the hand of one of the princesses.
Also in "Thumbling as Journeyman," the little thief takes a single kreuzer, stolen from the king's treasury, to give to his parents back home. Here again is the same motif as Tom Thumb, where the tiny knight asks King Arthur for permission to take one small coin to his parents.
In other stories, Thumbling marries the king's daughter - a common ending for fairytales.
Issun-boshi marries the daimyo's daughter.
In the Philippines, Little Shell and similar characters pursue the daughter of a chief. (See blog post.)
In India, Der Angule completes many tasks for a king and finally marries the princess.
Some retellings of Tom Thumb, such as Henry Fielding's play, have him woo a princess.
I worked a little bit on a chart comparing some of these stories. I included the Grimms' Thumbling among "trickster tales." EDIT: Now with new and improved chart!
The Greatest Showman is a shiny, sugar-coated musical version of P. T. Barnum’s rise to fame.
I’ve written a couple of times about Charles Stratton, who used the stage name General Tom Thumb. Although there's been a documentary about him and he's been depicted in a few plays or movies about Barnum, this is the first time I've seen his story told onscreen.
Stratton is played by Sam Humphrey, who has skeletal dysplasia and actually stands 4’2”. (The real Stratton was a little over two feet tall when he began performing as a child, and eventually reached 3.25 feet.) Also, Humphrey’s voice is much higher in interviews. In the movie, he’s been dubbed with a different, deeper voice. I did think his face bore a pretty good resemblance to the real Stratton's and I liked his performance overall.
I had a feeling that his role might be little more than a cameo. The movie is about Barnum, not Stratton, after all. However, it turns out that General Tom Thumb is instrumental to the plot at a couple of points.
P. T. Barnum lives in poverty with his wife and two children until he comes up with the idea of opening his own museum. While at the bank seeking a loan, Barnum notices Charles, a sharp-tongued young man only two feet tall. (Here, he’s twenty-two years old, but in real life he was only four when he met Barnum.) Barnum then goes home and notices his daughter’s picture book about Tom Thumb, which gives him the rest of his inspiration. Instead of a museum full of wax figures and stuffed animals, he needs something living. Out to the street he goes, posting advertisements for human “oddities." He also pays a visit to the Stratton home, where he wins Charles over.
Out of the crowd of performers, Charles Stratton and the bearded lady Lettie Lutz have the most lines and the most screen time. (There’s also Zendaya as an acrobat who falls in love with Zac Efron.) The group quickly bonds and comes to see each other as family, as well as rediscover their self-worth and confidence. I would have liked to see more of their performances, but it’s mainly people dancing around with an occasional CGI lion or elephant thrown in.
In reality, when Barnum took five-year-old Stratton on tour through England, his shows consisted of acting, singing, telling jokes, and doing impressions. (Again - five years old.) After a lot of work, Barnum managed to get them an audience with Queen Victoria. This allowed them to come back to America and start advertising with more gusto than ever.
The movie has a brief, creative adaptation of this. After the circus finds success in America, Zac Efron’s character obtains the invitation offscreen, and the whole circus family just bops over the Atlantic to visit the queen. When they have their audience, Queen Victoria specifically mentions having heard of General Tom Thumb. In turn, he manages to make her laugh with an irreverent comment. The visit is a success, and while at court, Barnum meets the opera singer Jenny Lind. This launches the movie into its next act.
I’d recommend this movie if you’re looking for a fun family film with lots of singing and dancing. My mom went with me to the theater and she loved it. Personally I liked the actors and the music. It’s not historically accurate and doesn’t try to be, but I don’t mind that. From the trailers, I expected that it would gloss over the reality in favor of feel-good follow-your-dreams be-yourself Hollywood glitter. It met my expectations there.
I do mind that it wipes away anything uncomfortable. Rather than exploitation, Barnum’s work is “a celebration of humanity.” Plus, other than lying to get a loan from the bank, Barnum doesn’t do much hoaxing. We see him exaggerating things, such as putting an already tall man on stilts, but we never see him fabricate anything. There are no Fiji mermaids here. There's certainly no Joice Heth (an elderly slave woman whom Barnum advertised as George Washington's 160-year-old "mammy"). So when Barnum talks about wanting to do something ‘real’ for once, or embraces his title as the Prince of Humbug, it’s a little confusing. His performers may be exaggerated, but they’re still genuine.
I would love to see something that delves more into the historical events and lets Barnum be his real, problematic self. I’d especially love to see a movie devoted to Charles Stratton or his wife Lavinia Warren.
Pictured: a pixie. (Also known as pixy, piskie, piksy, pexy, pigsey, or pigsnye.)
Pixie was originally just the Cornish term for a fairy. The exact etymology is unclear. It's been connected to everything from Picts to Puck. Anna Eliza Bray's A Peep at the Pixies (1854) uses the word for all sorts of fairy beings of varying size and appearance: will o' the wisps, fairy godmothers, brownie-style house elves, and ghostly phantoms.
In modern times, pixie is frequently used for the cute, winged flower-type fairy (like pillywiggins). Disney uses "pixie" and "fairy" interchangeably to describe Tinker Bell's species. Marvel comics has a winged, pink-haired heroine named Pixie. However, I have found some websites and posts passionately declaring that pixies are not meant to have wings.
Anyway, I decided to take a look at the earliest mentions I could find, to try to nail down as much as I can what a pixie was supposed to look like in folklore.
Another creature from English folklore, the colt pixie, takes horse form to lead people astray like a will o' the wisp. "I shall be ready at thine elbow to plaie the parte of Hobgoblin or Collepixie" (The Apophthegmes of Erasmus; trans. Nicolas Udal, c.1564)
As early as 1746, in An Exmoor Scolding, "ye teeheeing pixy!" was used as an insult.(Gentleman's Magazine, vol. 16)
In 1787, in A provincial glossary: with a collection of local proverbs, and popular superstitions, pixy was simply defined as "fairy" and sourced to Exmoor. It also mentioned the Hampshire term "colt-pixy."
The print references to pixies really started to spread in the 1800s. I've mentioned A Peep at the Pixies; there was the English Dialect Dictionary in 1880 and in more detail in 1902; Thomas Keightley's Fairy Mythology (1892); Tales of the Dartmoor Pixies (1890); Brand's popular antiquities of Great Britain (1905).
But even as they grew popular in literature, writers were already lamenting that "the age of piskays, like that of chivalry, is gone" (Drew, The History of Cornwall, 1824) "Beautiful fictions of our fathers . . . They are flown before the wand of Science!" (Cabinet of Modern Art, 1829).
The general consensus seemed to be that the pixies were little people or elves. In Malvern, as I found it by Timothy Pounce (1858) a character declares that a winged being "could not have been a pixie" (p85). By this period in time, though, people certainly had a concept of winged fairies. In 1867, there is a description of a "pixie court" with wings, in 1921 a poem with a reference to pixie wings, in 1927 a design for a pixie with wings. In 1953, Disney's Peter Pan brought with it Tinker Bell's "pixie dust." It was fairy dust in the original novel.
Going back to the older resources on pixies, in Brand's Popular Antiquities, a pixy child is "human in appearance, though dwarfish in size." Other accounts called them "invisibly small." Many were strange-looking, hairy or animal-like, or dressed in rags, though they had a strong affinity with the color green. They sometimes stole children, and loved dancing and music.
Pixies were laughing and mischievous; they might have been the souls of unbaptized infants. They liked to tangle horses' manes. Pixy-stools were a kind of mushroom - i.e., the pixies used mushrooms as chairs. Similar fungi were pixy-puffs and pisgy-pows (pixies' feet). To be pixy-led was to be led astray by mischievous spirits. To pixy was to glean leftover apples and walnuts after the harvest. (Report and Transactions - The Devonshire Association, 1875)
All together, these descriptions paint an interesting picture. Really, to ask whether pixies should be shown with wings, is to ask whether fairies in general should be winged. I don't think anyone has nailed down the actual point at which people actually began to think of fairies as winged. Right now the earliest I know of is the illustrations for the 1798 edition of The Rape of the Lock. (See also Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog.)
This incomprehensible phrase is most famous for appearing in "Jack the Giant Killer." Most versions adhere to basically the same model:
I smell the blood of an Englishman.
Be he alive or be he dead
I'll grind his bones to make my bread.
What does "fee-fi-fo-fum" actually mean? Nobody knows. Although there have been theories. (Does fie mean a cry of disapproval, as in "Fie! Fie!"? Or does it come from the Gaelic word for "tasty"? I'm leaning towards "neither, just a nonsense phrase.")
When Thomas Nashe mentioned it in Have with you to Saffron-walden (1596), it was already an old saying of obscure origin.
"O, tis a precious apothegmatical Pedant, who will find matter enough to dilate a whole day of the first invention of Fy, fa, fum, I smell the blood of an English-man".
(I have to say, I love that paragraph.)
It also appears in King Lear (1605):
Child Roland to the dark tower came,
His word was still, Fie, foh, and fum,
I smell the blood of a British man.
In 1814, Robert Jamieson's version of Childe Rowland in Illustrations of Northern Antiquities had the Elf-king proclaim,
"With fi, fi, fo, and fum!
I smell the blood of a Christian man!
Be he dead, be he living, wi' my brand
I'll clash his harns frae his harn-pan! " [I'll dash his brains from his brain-pan]
And in Tom Thumb (1621) - on this blog you know it's always going to come back to Tom Thumb - the hero encounters a giant who says,
Now fi, fee, fau, fan,
I feele smell of a dangerous man,
Be he alive, or be he dead,
He grind his bones to make me bread.
So, by 1621, the rhyme was already associated with giants, and the colorfully gruesome idea of bone-meal bread was in existence.
(Tom Thumb, as well as being the first fairytale printed in English, has lots of common fairy tale tropes, such as the fairy godmother.)
So the phrase fee-fi-fo-fum has been around a long time. It first appeared in print in combination with Jack the Giant Killer when that story was printed in 1711.
Regarding Childe Rowland, Jamieson recalled hearing a version in his childhood from a tailor: "the tailor curled up his nose, and sniffed all about, to imitate the action which "fi, fi, fo, fum!" is intended to represent."
So maybe "fee fi fo fum" is meant to be some kind of onomatopoeia for smelling? I don't know how that would work, but I do find the different variations interesting. It looks like it was once more common to have only three syllables instead of four.
Although this phrase is English, there are parallels to monsters detecting people by the smell of their blood in other countries. In Perrault's Popular Tales, Andrew Lang connects this theme to the Furies in Aseschylus' Eumenides.
I found a new Thumbelina! Baratxuri is one of several Basque characters, the only girl among them. She has the typical Thumbling adventures, which is, ironically enough, rare for a female thumbling. She takes food to her father in the field, rides ina donkey's ear, and frightens off thieves.
I found it interesting that her name means "garlic." In that respect, she's the same as Maria como un Ajo, or "Mary like Garlic," from Cantabria in Spain. She has exactly the same adventure as Maria, too.
Here is a quick list of the notable thumbelinas I found:
Draganka or Katsmatsura (Bulgaria)
Doll i' the Grass (Norway)
Nàng Út (Vietnam)
The Little First Man and the Little First Woman (Dakota)
The Daughter of the Laurel Tree (Barcelona)
Ditu Migniulellu (Corsica)
Katanya (a Jewish tale from Turkey)
In comparison to the vast list of male thumblings, this is very short. Finding thumbelinas was part of the reason I started this project. This is why I get so excited when I find a new one.
Thumbelinas are much more likely to fall into other tale types, like the Animal Bride tale type. I think their scarcity says something about these cultures; when the childless couple prays for a child it is quite often specifically a son that they ask for. Female thumblings are also more likely to grow to full size, like the Japanese Kaguya-hime.
If you're a fan of King Lindworm and other beastly bridegroom tales, check out Jenny Prater's blog Halfway to Fairyland. I've been enjoying it.
Now, on to the analysis!
Little Shell is a tale from the people of the Visayan Islands, one of the three main divisions of the Philippines. Retold by Elizabeth Hough Sechrist, it's a unique variation on the Thumbling tale, but still has many recognizable elements.
The story begins like many thumbling stories. A man and a woman, after many prayers, have a son no bigger than a seashell. When he grows a little older, the boy - known as Little Shell - begs his mother to allow him to go out on his own and work.
He crawls into a woman's fish basket and shouts, "Run! Run!" Thinking that her fish have been bewitched, the frightened woman runs off, allowing Little Shell to make his exit with one of her fish, which he takes home to his mother. He plays a similar trick on an old man carrying a cow's head (cow's heads have good meat on them). Hearing Little Shell shouting, the old man thinks that the cow's spirit has returned to haunt him, and flees.
Little Shell asks his mother to go to the chief or headman, and request the hand of his daughter in marriage. Although the headman immediately refuses, his daughter agrees to the union. Shell's mother is astonished; the headman is furious, and Shell and the princess are forced to flee. They live together, but are unhappy in exile.
However, after one week, Little Shell grows to normal size. It turns out he was enchanted by an evil spirit at birth, and the princess's love has broken the spell. They return home, the headman is ashamed of his behavior, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Sechrist drew this story from "The Enchanted Shell," which appeared in Visayan Folk-tales, II, in the Journal of American Folk-Lore in 1907. These folktales were prepared by researchers Berton L. Maxfield and W. H. Millington during their stay in the Visayan Islands. They collected them in Spring 1904, on the island of Panay. Teachers and students at schools in Iloilo and Mandurriao contributed stories.
"The Enchanted Shell" has some minor differences. Rather than telling the woman to "Run! Run!" Shell tells her "Rain! Rain!" There is also a specific location named - "a desert place called Cahana-an." Specific location names are always interesting.
The phrasing is a little confusing; Maxfield and Millington's Shell is "very small, and just like a shell," and at some points he's referred to simply as "the shell." It seems Sechrist adapted this as she felt best. However, thumbling characters can be small animals or objects. The enchanted shell does several things typical to a thumbling story. He's born as the result of a hasty wish; he goes out to do work despite his small size; he's a trickster; he climbs into an animal's ear. It's possible some aspects of this story came from European colonizers. I do think it's important to note that Maxfield and Millington say that all of the stories they published were very widespread in the Visayan islands, and everyone seemed to know them.
The revelation about an enchantment seems to come from nowhere, almost as if there's a part of the tale which has been lost. The romance plot, on the other hand, reminds me of Issun-Boshi and the Japanese family of thumbling tales. Japan and the Philippines have had relations for centuries, with trading going back at least to the 1600s and to the Muromachi period. Issun-Boshi and Little Shell could perhaps share roots.
The Living Head, another Visayan tale, is very similar - at least at the beginning. Here, the childless couple produces not a shell or a tiny baby, but a disembodied head. The head, imaginatively named Head, sees the chief's daughter and falls in love with her. He sends his mother to ask for the princess's hand in marriage. Like Little Shell and his mother, they argue back and forth, but the mother finally goes to ask the chief. However, in this case, she gets a solid no. When Head hears the news, he begins to sink into the ground. His mother calls him to dinner, but he only cries, "Sink! Sink! Sink!" He disappears into the ground, and from that spot grows the first orange tree.
A final relevant tale from the Philippines is the Bagobo tale "The Woman and the Squirrel." The Bagobo people live in southeastern Mindanao. This story was collected in 1907; collector Laura Watson Benedict noted that the myths were specifically those that hadn't been recorded yet, they were told in mixed English and Bagobo, and they were collected from "Mount Merar in the district of Talun, and at Santa Cruz on the coast."
A woman drinks some water from a leaf. She goes home and falls asleep for nine days, and when she wakes up and begins to comb her hair, a baby squirrel emerges from it. This type of unusual conception is not unusual in fairytales (see Nang Ut and the Miraculous Birth).
The squirrel grows to maturity and a week, and tells his mother that he wants to marry the chief's daughter. Despite her protests, he sends her off to the chief's house with nine necklaces and nine rings as a dowry. She chickens out and comes back without asking, so the squirrel bites her (!). Finally, she makes her request. In response, the chief tells her that he wants his entire house turned to gold. She relays this to her son the squirrel.
That night, the squirrel goes out and calls to his brother, the Mouse. The "great Mouse" has golden fur, and his eyes are glass. He gives the squirrel a bit of his fur, which the squirrel uses to turn the sultan's house and possessions completely into gold. When the chief wakes up and sees that his impossible request has been granted, he dies of shock. The squirrel then marries the princess, and after a year, he takes off his skin and becomes a handsome young man.
"The Enchanted Shell," "The Living Head," and "The Woman and the Squirrel" form a tale family of their own, with a romantic aspect that runs through all three stories. A woman gives birth to a small and monstrous son, who sets out to marry the daughter of a chief. Whether he succeeds or not - that's another story.
Another thumbling figure from the Philippines is Carancal, a Young Giant-type character who is born only one span tall. That, however, is a very different tale.
Niraidak is a tale from Siberia, told by the Evenks. This is probably one of my favorite Thumbling tales. The main character is actually larger than a thumb, but the word "thumbling" can be used for small characters in general, including characters who are one span high, or the size of a bird, or what have you. "Tough Little Niraidak" is included in Margaret Read MacDonald's Tom Thumb book and in Irina Zheleznova's folktale collection Northern Lights.
The story takes place at the beginning of time, when the sky was still being woven. On the island lives a tiny man named Niraidak. Where he came from, the tale doesn't explain.
"A squirrel to him was as big as a fox to an ordinary man, a doe as big as a moose, and the tiniest bird as big as an eagle."
It seems like he's closer to the size of a baby than the size of a thumb. In this respect, he's more similar to the Native American child-sized heroes Boy-Man and Tshakapesh (see blog posts here and here). However, his small size is a major part of the story and there are many descriptions of his clothes and so on. This is one of my benchmarks for whether a tale is a thumbling story or not. His tent is made of rose willow twigs and squirrel skins, his gloves are made from mouse skin, his hat from a mole skin, and his coat from two sable skins. For reference, sables are 15-22 inches long.
Niraidak is totally alone except for his steed, a small hornless deer. He survives by hunting. Hunting was the traditional livelihood of the Evenki people, as well as herding reindeers for riding, carrying packs, and milking. I believe Niraidak's deer is a Siberian musk deer, which grows tusks instead of antlers. Musk deers are an endangered species, and adults weigh from 15 to 37 pounds and stand 20-28 inches at the shoulder.
Since Niraidak has no one to compare himself to, he gradually begins to believe that he must be the biggest and strongest person in the world. Eventually, he decides to do three things: see how other people live, fight a giant, and marry the most beautiful woman in the world. He summons the deer and tells it to turn into a flying, fire-breathing boar.
Apparently it can do this.
So he rides off on his flying boar (formerly a deer). First, they set out to see how other people live. In Zheleznova's version, the boar tramples everyone they come across, while Niraidak takes no notice; MacDonald leaves this out. Eventually, they come across a massive giant named Dioloni, or "man of stone." (The Evenk word for stone is d'olo.) When this happens, you might expect a fight similar to that in David and Goliath or Jack the Giant Killer. Niraidak certainly does.
However, when the giant notices Niraidak (whose stealthy approach has been impeded by tripping on a twig), he picks him up. The giant seems fairly benevolent, but Niraidak is ready to fight.
“I am the great Niraidak,” the little man squeaked. “I have no fear of you, Dioloni the Giant. Beware, for I am going to slay you.”
He then begins screaming and jumping up and down in order to intimidate his foe. The giant, understandably, just thinks this is hilarious, and puts Niraidak in his pocket. Niraidak decides to cut his losses, crawls out, and flies off on his boar again with a final boast: “Take care, Dioloni the Giant, next time I’ll skin you and crush your bones to dust!”
They travel on to a camp "where the most beautiful women in the world lived." Apparently all the women hear Niraidak's bragging (or maybe see his magic boar) and are quite impressed, because they quickly line up to take their chances.
Niraidak picks out the most beautiful one and takes her home on his boar. However, he immediately realizes that his tent (made of three squirrel skins, remember) is far too small for his new wife, a normal-sized woman. He builds a new one that will fit her (which to him, of course, is incredibly spacious). Then he goes to fish, and comes back bearing a massive load of twenty-five fishes, so much that he can't carry them all and has to ask his wife for help. She's excited at first, but when she actually sees his catch, is outraged. They're nothing but minnows!
She eats them, but still feels hungry and begins to scream at Niraidak. In response, he tells her to lie down, puts a rock on her belly so she won't feel hungry, and heads into the woods.
While he's gone, the wife starts reconsidering her life choices. So: "off she went to a village where there lived strong and considerate men who did not refuse their wives anything they asked."
For his part, Niraidak isn't particularly upset to find his wife gone; now he has a big tent all to himself, and no one's screaming at him about food. So he lives happily ever after.
This short, straightforward tale is full of parody. I particularly like the bit about the "strong and considerate men."
Niraidak is both perpetually cheerful and filled with delusions of grandeur. He is a fierce hunter in his own mind, unable to grasp that he is really the weakest person around. His feats are impressive only from his own skewed perspective. (Well, except for the transforming fire-breathing boar.)
Niraidak sets out to complete three tasks, but none of them go quite the way he expects. They turn out more as embarrassments than triumphs. He remains upbeat, but never seems to mature or gain any self-awareness. As he sneaks off from Dioloni, he still boldly threatens him. After his wife leaves, he happily takes up his old life again. He doesn't change.
This website is based on my research into folklore.