When Pop Culture and Mythology Collide: Vodnik Chapter Eight

A big ol’ mish mash of material ended up in this week’s chapter. You’ve got the Roma elements–Tomas seeing some of the poorer Roma in town, and then talking to his mother about them. Then you have the pool scene and another flashback to Lesana. So much to discuss, and so little time. So I’ll pick something I’ve been wanting to write about for quite some time.

One of the things I wanted to touch base on was a last minute minor crisis that arose in the writing of the book. Back when I was researching Vodnik, I had a big brainstorming session with my wife, and we went over all the different mythological Slovak creatures she could think of. One of my favorites (other than the Vodnik, of course), was Zubata. According to my wife, she was death personified. Sometimes she appeared as an old woman, sometimes as a young lady. Sometimes she had gold teeth. That was just crazy wacky cool, and I decided right away to put her in the book, after confirming some details about her with my brother in law.

I didn’t think any more about it, until we were in the final stages of getting the book ready for print. I was trying to nail down exactly what Zubata looked like, and I started doing some research (sometimes a dangerous thing, for a librarian). I found out through that process that . . .

Zubata doesn’t exist in Slovak folklore. As I mention later in the current book, she’s actually a character from Perinbaba (aka Frau Holle), a super well-known (in Slovakia–and East Germany at the very least) fairy tale movie from 1985. Let me try to put this in perspective. Imagine someone was writing a book based on American folktales (assuming we had a slew), and he threw in a character called Indiana Jones, who’s well known to be a whip slinging archaeologist who saves lost historical treasures.

How would that go over?

Um . . . yeah.

I want to be clear here–it’s not the fault of my wife or her brother that this goof happened. I think it’s just a natural part of the creation of fairy tales and folklore. Lots of creatures have entered the folklore cannon (in my opinion): Rudolph, Frankenstein, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Jedi, Scrooge–you name it. People tell each other stories all the time. Some of those stories catch on in the collective conscious. Over time, those stories evolve. Hundreds of years from now, who knows what will be viewed as folktales? Growing up, it’s not like kids distinguish between stories: there aren’t “Modern Stories” and “Folktales.” It’s all just stories.

So it makes sense that, when asked what Death was like in Slovakia, my wife fell back on the most popular depiction of Death that she knew of: Zubata.

Luckily for me, I was drawing on a universal trope. Death is kind of everywhere, and all cultures have some form of depicting it. Also lucky for me, the traditional Slovak goddess of death is Morena. (I found this out through a whole ton of last minute searching. Gotta love them library skillz.) So the crisis was averted, and I even threw in some of this into the book, by starting to call Morena by the name Zubata, and having her be frustrated with that later on in the story.

Crisis averted.

As for the rest of the chapter, I did want to touch base on the poorer Roma. One my biggest objections to the situation in Europe as regards to the Roma is that people say “Roma are like _________ because they are Roma.” That just goes against everything I believe in. People behave the way they behave for any number of reasons. Upbringing certainly has something to do with it. So does the environment they’re raised in. And just their inherent identity–the whole nature vs. nurture debate. It’s complex as all get out, and it certainly isn’t due to some inherent racially-set desire to steal or cheat or do whatever.

Are there Roma who steal and cheat and do whatever? Yes. Lots. But do they do it because they are Roma? Please. There are plenty of people in this world who steal and cheat and do whatever. Humanity does that well. In my experience, people are all people. And it’s always easier to blame the Other Guy for all your troubles. That happens in practically every society. Find someone Different, and stick them with the bill for all your woes. Absolve yourself of any wrong doing. They do the bad things because they’re different. You would never do those things.

The sooner was as a global community can recognize that this happens on an individual, community, and national level, the better.

And now I’ll get off my soap box, and you can resume your normally scheduled Monday activities.

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