Not One Damsel in Distress: Heroic Girls from World Folklore

Not One Damsel in Distress: Heroic Girls from World Folklore

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Overview


From celebrated author Jane Yolen comes this inspiring collection of folktales from around the world, all featuring strong female heroes.

These fifteen folktales have one thing in common: brainy, bold, brave women—and not one damsel in distress! There is Bradamante, the fierce medieval knight; Li Chi, the Chinese girl who slays a dreaded serpent and saves her town; Makhta, a female warrior who leads her Sioux tribe into battle; and many more women who use their cunning, wisdom, and strength to succeed.

Drawing from diverse cultures around the world, renowned author Jane Yolen celebrates the female heroes of legend and lore in a collection that will empower every reader. This new edition features two brand-new stories from Azerbaijan and Indonesia, and enhanced illustrations.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781328900203
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 07/10/2018
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 334,122
Product dimensions: 8.10(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 7 - 10 Years

About the Author


Jane Yolen is the acclaimed author of hundreds of books for children and adults. She divides her time between Massachusetts and Scotland. Visit her at janeyolen.com and on Twitter at @JaneYolen.

Susan Guevara received the Pura Belpré Award for Chato’s Kitchen by Gary Soto. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Visit her online at susanguevara.com.

Read an Excerpt

An Open Letter to My Daughter and Granddaughters

THIS BOOK IS FOR YOU. It’s for you because I never had this book when I was growing up. In those days, I played in New York City’s Central Park with my brother Steve and my best friend, Diane. We acted out our own version of Camelot. I was always King Arthur or Merlin or sometimes Lancelot because I’d never heard of Bradamante, and Guinevere was no fun at all—​just kissing and sneaking around. Or we played at Sherwood Forest, and I was Robin Hood because Maid Marian wasn’t much of an archer.
     This book is for you because for the longest time I didn’t know that girls could be heroes too. Not heroines. Not sheroes (a word Maya Angelou made up). Besides, heroines and sheroes sound like lesser or minor heroes, just as poetess and authoress and aviatrix sound as if they aren’t as good as their male counterparts.
     This book is for you because in it are folktales about regular sword-wielding, spear-throwing, villain-stomping, rescuer-type heroes who also just happen to be female. About women who use weapons or their wits or a combination of both to get away from danger or disaster. Stories that range from the medieval armored knight Bradamante to the magic-wielding African Nana Miriam, from the Jewish pirate princess to the serpent-slaying daughter of a Japanese samurai.
     Female heroes existed well before Wonder Woman, or Bat Girl, or Raven. Before Princess Leia Organa, Katniss Everdeen, or Storm. But they lay hidden in the back storeroom of folklore, put away by retellers and bookmakers who thought girls should be . . . well, girls.
     So the tales were disguised. Mutilated. Truncated. The female heroes’ feet bound as surely as the Chinese bound the feet of young noblewomen even as late as the last century.
     This book is for you because the stories were not only waiting there to be rediscovered in folklore, but in real life, too. For once upon a real time, there were actually young women who—​sometimes in full disguise, and other times in no disguise at all—​went off to battle as often as young women do who are in the armed forces now.
     For example, there were the Amazons—​goddess-worshiping all-female tribes in Greece and North Africa. These women warriors were said to have been the first to tame horses, which made them invincible in battle. They were known as founders of cities and sanctuaries.
     According to David E. Jones in Women Warriors: A History, the Amazons wore long trousers, midthigh-length coats, leather boots, and Phrygian hats. Sometimes they used war spears and bows. One group of Amazons called the Scythians wouldn’t let their girls be married until they’d killed three enemies in battle.
     More than a few barbarian armies in the long ago included women warriors and battle queens. If you look in the Bible, you will find the seeress and judge Deborah leading troops into battle. Jael and Judith, who slew enemy generals. Or in Arabic texts you can read about Queen Bat Zabbai, who hunted with the best of the men and, well-armored, led her armies against Egypt. Ancient texts are full of such tough-minded women.
     So too are the European histories: Graine or Grania O’Malley, the Irish pirate queen who lived in the Elizabethan era. Joan of Arc. Queen Maud, who led an army against her usurping cousin in Britain in the twelfth century. The Celtic Queen Boudica who led an uprising against the Roman overlords in 60–61 CE.
     There was even a fabulous hidden history from the fourteenth century, about noble English women who fought in their own tournaments alongside the knights. A chronicle from that time states, “When the tournaments were held, in every place a company of ladies appeared in the diverse and marvelous dress of a man, to number sometimes about forty, sometimes fifty ladies.” Though the chronicle quickly adds, rather bitterly, “And in such manner they spent and wasted their riches and injured their bodies with abuses and ludicrous wantoness.” It must be pointed out that the men were not equally shamed by the chronicles for doing the exact same thing!
     In China lived Asia’s most famous woman warrior, the fifth-century Hua Mu-Lan, who replaced her ill father in the emperor’s army. Likewise, Madame Ching, the nineteenth-century pirate, commanded two thousand ships and seventy thousand sailors after her husband died.
     In the Beja tribe of Africa, there was a corps of women lancers, and in the 1840s, a battalion of spear women who protected the king of Behr. The African Yoruba people have a long tradition of female military heroes.
     Native American tribal histories are full of similar stories. There was a secret society of Cheyenne women warriors and the famed Crow warrior Woman Chief, who battled their traditional enemy, the Blackfoot tribe. Meanwhile, the Blackfoot people had their own Brown Weasel, later called Running Eagle, who learned hunting and warfare from her brother.
     I never knew their names or their stories when I was your age. Not in real life, not in folklore. But I do now. And so do you.
     This book is for you because I believe that the tongue is mightier than the sword. As is the pen.
     Most of the time.
     But this book is also for you because it’s important to know that anyone can be a hero if they have to be. To right wrongs. To help those in need. To fight for justice.
     Even girls.
     Especially girls.
     Especially you.

GREECE

Atalanta the Huntress

Hail Artemis, goddess of the hunt, patron of young women warriors

THERE WAS A KING named Iasus, a cruel, unfeeling man who took his newborn daughter into the Calydonian forest on the far borders of his kingdom. There he put her down on the forest floor saying, “I wished for a boy, and this is what I got. I will not have you.”
     Then he turned and left.
     The child lay under the canopy of leaves and after a while, growing hungry, she began to cry. It was the high wail of an infant who wants only one thing.
     A mother bear happened to pass by. Curious about that strange yet familiar cry, she came over and snuffled at the child—​great furry head against the smooth one. Unafraid, the child reached up and touched the bear’s nose. In return the bear began to lick her with a rough, tickly tongue.
     For a moment the child forgot her hunger and cooed with delight. And the bear, charmed by the cooing sound, lay down heavily by the baby’s side.
     The bear had just weaned her own cubs, but here was a cub of another sort. So without quite understanding the why of it, she offered her milk to the human cub.
     The baby drank, slept, woke, cooed, drank again.
     And lived.

EVENTUALLY THE BEAR was ready to wean the human cub, but the human cub would not let her go, trotting through the woods after the bear with incredible speed.
     And so a year went by, and then a second. In the third year the bear went missing—​the child never knew why—​and a passing hunter heard the child weeping, picked her up, and brought her home to his childless wife.
     “We shall call this little girl Atalanta,” the hunter said. “And she will be a blessing to us in this, our old age.”
     “We will give honor to Artemis, goddess of the hunt,” added his wife, “who preserved her in the forest until you could find her.”
     And so they took Atalanta in and taught her woodcraft and house craft, hunting and cooking. She was as easy in the woods at thirteen as she had been at three: swift, eagle-eyed, and strong.

NOW, WHEN ATALANTA was thirteen, her stepparents died. She went at once to Artemis’s shrine in the forest and knelt down. If she had no mother, Artemis would be her mother. If she had no father, Artemis would watch over her.
     “Tell me, goddess,” she whispered, “what I must do now.”
     “Disaster will follow the men you meet,” came the reply.
     “Then I shall stay away from the company of men,” said Atalanta.

BUT IT WAS EASIER to say this than to do it, for the Calydonian forest was home to a great red-eyed boar. That monster had been set down by Artemis, who was angered that King Oeneus of Calydon had neglected to give her honor.
     The boar tore down the grapevines, ate the olives from the trees, trampled the green corn, and slaughtered sheep in their pens. Neither shepherd nor sheepdog nor farmer could stand against the beast. Soon the storehouses of Calydon stood empty and the country-people fled to the safety of the cities.
     “What shall we do?” cried the people of Calydon.
     “What shall I do?” cried the king.
     The king’s son, Meleager, the fairest prince in twenty kingdoms, who had sailed with the hero Jason on the Argo after the Golden Fleece, said, “I will hunt this boar, Father.” But though he tried, this mighty spear-thrower, he had no success. So he called his friends to come and help.
     The most famous heroes and the most famous hounds came to the chase. They stayed many days getting ready to hunt, spending their nights feasting and drinking red wine, their days boasting about past feats.

ATALANTA CAME, TOO, for the boar had ruined all the paths she had loved in the forest and had torn up the trees under which she had played as a child. Yet, try as she might, she, too, had had no success in tracking the boar and killing it, which was strange since she knew every inch of the woods.
     “This is some game of the gods,” Atalanta said to herself. “I will ask the king of Calydon for help.”
     She marched to Oeneus’s palace and mounted the great marble steps that were worn down from the passage of many feet. Her golden hair was pulled tightly back in a knot, and her face looked now like a girl’s, now like a boy’s. Over her left shoulder she carried an ivory quiver. There was a mighty hunting bow of ash in her left hand.
     “I am Atalanta of the woods,” she announced. “I need help with a fierce red-eyed boar.”
     The heroes congregating on the steps ignored her. They continued with their boasting tales, their voices raw and deep from the late-night feasts, the red wine, the telling of tales.
     Atalanta said again, “I have come for help. Will no one go with me to hunt this boar?”
     “Who is this mere girl who would hunt with heroes?” cried Castor, and his twin, Polydeuces, echoed him, “She cannot be allowed on a hunt.”
     But, standing to one side, Prince Meleager had been considering the hunters, deciding who was fit. When he saw Atalanta, he remembered hearing stories of a young woman living alone in the forest, and thought, Happy the husband who wins this girl. He said, “Welcome to the chase, Atalanta, huntress daughter of Artemis.”

SO, THE HUNT in the Calydonian forest began.
     Atalanta knew the forest better than all. Therefore it was she who led them to the latest tracks of the great boar. And there some of the heroes set out snares, and some sent off the hounds, but most took up the trail.
     At last they came to a great gorge where reeds and swamp grass and osier grew thick and wild. The hounds—​gray and black and tan—​began to bay at the brush, and the thicket boiled with their short, sharp attacks.
     Rushing forward, spears held before them, the heroes made a great half circle around the place. They called out to one another, lending courage with their voices.
     “Ho!” cried Castor.
     “Here,” Polydeuces answered.
     “Stand fast,” Meleager called.
     Only Atalanta was silent, intent on the bending willow, the smooth sedge, the tangled reeds.
     Suddenly the boar—​his rough knotted neck, bristles like sharp spikes, tusks as big as battle-axes—​charged forward from the thicket. His head slashed right, then left, then right again. A storm of blood rained down.
     When it was over, three men and three hounds lay dead on the ground, and a fourth—​great Nestor—​using his spear as a vaulting pole, leaped into the branches of a tree.
     Then the boar broke free and fled into another thicket, this one wilder and more impenetrable than the last.
     “He has gone to ground,” shouted Meleager. “We shall not get him now.”
     But no sooner had he spoken than the boar—​having got a next wind—​charged out again, scattering men, dogs, spears.
     Only Atalanta stood her ground, aimed her arrow, and let it go. It pierced the red-eyed boar behind the ear, and the great beast, foaming at the mouth, fell to its knees.
     At that the heroes rushed forward, each clamoring to deliver the deathblow. Still, the great boar was not done with them. It raised its head and, with its reddened tusks, caught the nearest man—​Ancaeus—​in the groin, killing him with a single slash. Then another hero tried and was slain. And another. The monster, in its own death throes, looked to slay them all.
     At last Meleager stepped up behind the boar and plunged his spear into the great humped back. The spearhead missed bone and hit heart, and finally the monster died. But four more heroes and six more hounds lay dead at its feet.
     “They died well,” said Castor. And his twin echoed, “Well indeed.”
     “No death is a good one that comes too early,” said Meleager. Then he cut off the boar’s tusks with his knife and skinned the beast. He offered these to Atalanta, saying, “Though they are by rights mine who dealt the deathblow, you deserve to share in the honor.”
     Atalanta took the prizes with a nod of her head.
     “Why give the girl what was bought with heroes’ blood?” asked Plexippus, Meleager’s uncle.
     “Yes,” his uncle Toxeus added, “you slew the boar with your spear. Keep the hide and tusks yourself, Meleager.”
     But the prince shook his head. “She is the one who stopped the boar with an arrow. I could not have speared it had she not brought it to its knees.”
     “A prize to a girl? You lovesick pup!” cried Plexippus.
     Toxeus, a man only a bit older than Meleager himself, grabbed up the hide and tusks from Atalanta and held them out.
     Furious to be so thwarted, Meleager cried, “You shall know the difference between threat and deed.” And before anyone could stop him, he took his sword and thrust it first into the side of Toxeus and then into the heart of Plexippus, killing them both.
     Atalanta fell to her knees. “O Artemis!” she cried. “Is this what you meant when you told me that disaster follows the men I meet?” She left the heroes standing there, counting their dead, and ran swiftly into the depths of the woods, alone. She was not to know that fair Meleager would die within days, of a fierce magic, and the house of Calydon would be brought to ruin, for she never went to that side of the forest again.

ATALANTA’S FAME IN the Calydonian hunt and her ability to run finally brought her to the attention of King Iasus, the father who had first left her in the forest. When he heard the story of how she had been brought up first by a bear and then by a huntsman, he realized that she was his abandoned daughter.
     With a troop of soldiers, he scoured the forest until he found her. Descending from the litter that carried him, he knelt before her. “I was wrong to have left you, but Artemis watched over you,” he said. “Will you forgive this poor old man who has no sons and only now a daughter?” There were tears in his eyes.
     She forgave him, for that was in her nature, though by rights she could have hated him.
     But no sooner had she gone to live in the palace, feasting on dainty dishes and listening to the serenading of lyre and harp, than her father said, “You must marry, my daughter. You must give this poor old man grandsons.”
     “Disaster follows the men I meet,” Atalanta said, “and so it will be if I wed.”
     But King Iasus would not be satisfied. “After the virgin Artemis, one must honor Aphrodite, goddess of love, and Hestia, goddess of hearth and home.”
     Day after day he said the same. At last Atalanta could not stand it any longer. To be left in peace, she declared to her father, “I will marry only a man who can beat me in a footrace.”
     “Is that all?” asked her father, and he decreed that it be so.
     But Atalanta, guided by Artemis, won race after race. No man came even close to winning.
     So her father further declared, “Anyone who races and loses will likewise lose his head.” In this way, he thought to stop so many rash and unprepared men from challenging Atalanta.
     Now, one young prince, Melanion—​fairer than the dawn—​came to the court of King Iasus. He saw the lovely Atalanta and fell hopelessly in love with her. But he did not want to lose his head, and he knew that he could not outrun her. So he went at once to the temple of Aphrodite, goddess of love, and knelt all night in prayer.
     In the morning he found three golden apples by his side and knew that Aphrodite had answered him.
     Going to the king, he said, “I am ready for the racing challenge, Your Majesty. I love your daughter.”
     King Iasus shook his head. “Are you certain, Prince Melanion? For if you do not beat her in the race, you will die.”
     “I will win,” said Melanion. “Aphrodite has told me so.”

SO, THE RACE BEGAN.
     For the first hundred yards they kept pace, for Atalanta liked this young man with his fair brow and long dark hair.
     But then, remembering what Artemis had told her about disaster following the men near her, she started to race away from him.
     Melanion took out one of the golden apples and tossed it in front of the speeding girl.
     The apple sparkled in the sun. As it rolled, little flickers of sunlight on the apple’s skin burst into tiny flames. Atalanta could not take her eyes off the golden fruit. She desired it above all things. Stooping down, she picked it up.
     And Melanion passed her by.
     Putting the apple into a leather pocket hanging on her belt, Atalanta stood up and began to run. By the second hundred yards she had caught up with Melanion. And then she began to pass him.
     He tossed the second golden apple into her path. Again, the sparkle of the rolling apple, igniting sunlight into flames, fascinated her. She desired that second apple above all things. She stopped, stooped, picked it up.
     And Melanion was gone on ahead once more.
     Atalanta put the second apple in the leather pocket and started running again, this time catching up with Melanion before the third hundred yards were gone.
     But just before the finish line, he tossed the third golden apple off to the side. It, too, sparkled and flamed, and Atalanta—​not even realizing what she was doing—​chased after it.
     Melanion crossed the finish line first. Then, turning to Atalanta, he went down on his knees. “I have won the race but would have you wed me for love, not for a promise.”
     With the three golden apples safe in her pocket, Atalanta smiled at him. “I see that if I do not marry you, more young men will meet disaster because of me. Perhaps that is what Artemis meant.” She gave him her hand and raised him up, vowing for the good of her people never to race again.
     Then, side by side, they stood before the priests and made their marriage vows. They lived many happy years, always remembering to honor both Artemis and Aphrodite, who had brought them together.

Table of Contents

An Open Letter to My Daughter and Granddaughters vii

Atalanta the Huntress (Greece) 1

Nana Miriam (Niger) 11

Fitcher's Bird (Germany) 17

The Girl and the Puma (Argentina) 27

Li Chi Slays the Serpent (China) 33

Brave Woman Counts Coup (United States/White River Sioux) 38

Pretty Penny (United States/Ozark Mountains) 44

Burd Janet (Scotland) 48

Mizilca (Romania) 57

The Pirate Princess (Poland/Jewish) 64

The Samurai Maiden (Japan) 78

Bradamante (France) 84

Molly Whuppie (England) 95

The Princess Kemang (Indonesia) 103

Masha and the Bear (Azerbaijan) 109

An Open Letter to Nana 116

Notes on the Stories 117

Bibliography 129

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