Source of the Day#2: Schwimmer’s introduction to Tisza Tales

Stories from Hungary

Retold for American Children

The capricious moods of Hungarian songs, the rich tastiness of Hungarian food and the glowing colors of Hungarian peasant art are well known and highly appreciated all over the world, because they are understood through the senses, independent of language.

But the treasures of Hungarian literature and poetry, the glittering wealth of Hungarian folk-stories must be interpreted to the world in its own languages, because Magyar, the language of the Hungarians is spoken and understood only by a few million people.

This volume of “Stories from Hungary” contains a representative selection of the themes most popular wherever Hungarians tell or listen to stories. A few of the stories are chiefly free translations of classic legends, with but little additions and embellishments by the author. Amongst these is Mihály Fazekas’ “Ludas Matyi”. It has delighted generations of children, and is to this day one of the most popular plays in children’s theatres in Hungary. Another is Sandor Petofi’s “Hary Janos”. The magniloquent braggart is a brother under the skin of the immortal Gascon. His magnificent lied brought mirth and joy to children and adults alike. Zoltan Kodaly, one of the brilliant modern composers of Hungary has recently spun a delightful opera round the aimable liar. In this group is also “The Legend of St. Elisabeth”. The story of Hungary’s most famous saint, the miracle of her bread turning into roses has inspired the greatest Hungarian musician, Franz Liszt to one of his immortal compositions, known wherever music is appreciated.

With most of the other stories the author has taken greater liberties. From the magnificent collections of legends by Michael Tompa, from the wistful and pathetic poems of János Arany, the broad humored poems of Sandor Petofi and other classics and from the abundance of plain folk-tales she borrowed themes and enlarged them in the vein in which such stories would be told to children round the fireplace in the twilight hour or in the resting pauses during walks in fields and woods.

The volume contains transcriptions of stories about “Mathias the Rightous” and King Bela, the monarchs who appealed more to the imagination of Hungarians, than any other of their kings. King Mathias’ incorruptible sense of righteousness and his mostly humorous way of moving out justice are immortalized in stories that fill volumes.

The pageant of “The Golden Fleeced Lamd”, the adventures of “The Dog Market in Buda”, and other stories move like animated motion reels. The idyll of “The Resonant Cave” may easily inspire dramatically inclined children to spontaneous acting of the story. The lucky rascals “Bluebottle and Mohacsi” and “The Brava Tailor” who had nothing but “a rusty needle, a pair of dull scissors, a toothless wife and a lot of children” are great favorites of Hungarian youth. In “Chasing the Rainbow” the author enfolded Arany’s immortal “The Child of the Rainbow”.

Historic castles and ruins on high mountain peaks, unfathomable lakes in deep valleys, the rivers and the endless lowland are the objects of stories told to countless generations of Hungarian children and retold in this volume. The author has enfolded several groups of the stories in characteristic folk-scenes. An unconventional traveler in Hungary, who tried to get near to the intimate life of people, might find a night rest in a fisher-hut of the Tisza and hear stories much like those the author relates in “The Fishermen on the Tisza.” A winter night in a snow-covered village might give the foreigner a chance to witness a Corn-husking gathering or a Spanning Feast. At summer-wandering in the puszta the evening would bring him inevitably to one of the myriads of shepherd’s fires. All these are great story-telling occasions. And with stories go singing, eating, flute-playing, and spitting. That is why you find so much of all that in “Stories from Hungary” to bring as much of genuine atmosphere to the American children. Professor Arpad Steiner, Dean of the Faculty of Modern Languages at the Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisc., whose criticism I invited for my own satisfaction wrote:

“Your English style is charming. The atmosphere is perfectly Hungarian, – you know I am a »tough guy«, a hard boiled Westerner who does not get easily sentimental, but indeed while reading your stories I all of a sudden got a fit of home-sickness, a nostalgia of crystalline, sunny and keen mornings on the banks of the Tisza, a craving for lordly leisures, for the slow, for the slow and measured rhythm of life,- things which I have not enjoyed since four years and which I have almost forgotten. Once more, your English style is thrilling”.

As a title for the book I suggest: Stories from Hungary. Retold for American Children.

As a dedication I wish:

To “my best friend”

Georgia Lloyd

an American child.

March 6, 1928. New York Public Library Manuscripts and Archives Division.Rosika Schwimmer Papers, Box 177.

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