Library Blog

Running, Spinning, or Sword-Swinging: Books on Women in Folklore

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Recently, I have been asked if there were any stories of women and girls going on their own adventures in various folklore narratives.

Short answer: Absolutely YES! You can find many stories of women and girls that have this exact theme, from wonder tales and myths to ballads. One of my favorites is Tam Lin, an old Scottish ballad about a young woman who releases her true love (the titular character) from the Queen of the Faeries through pure determination.

Something that I defend passionately is that strong female characters don’t have to be swinging a sword or be ancient witches. They can be quiet and crafty like the Odyssey’s Penelope or like the universal archetype of the helper-maidens, typically beautiful young women with secret knowledge, who help the hero out of love.

Or what about the Cinderella-like types (the persecuted heroine  - type 510A from the Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index) who just want to live a soft life (to go to a ball, in the well-known version)? My point is there are many kinds of adventures and heroines. Strength and rage are subjective, and I find quiet to be underrated. (Plus, there’s nothing wrong with doing something out of love, regardless whether it’s for family or romantic bonds. A story for another time…)

Here are book recommendations for your reading pleasure - perfect anytime, not just for Women’s History Month - some are classics!

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Women Writers Explore Their Favorite Fairy Tales, edited by Kate Bernheimer (Stack 9)

Women Who Run With The Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs (Stack 3)

Spinning Straw Into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal About the Transformations in a Woman's Life by Joan Gould (Stack 3)

Folklore, Memoirs, and Other Writings by Zora Neale Hurston; edited by Cheryl A. Wall (Stack 7)

Scheherazade's Sisters: Trickster Heroines And Their Stories in World Literature by Marilyn Jurich (Stack 9)

Fearless Girls, Wise Women, And Beloved Sisters: Heroines In Folktales From Around The World edited by Kathleen Ragan (Stack 3)

The Heroine with 1,001 Faces by Maria Tatar (Stack 9)

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