The World’s Strangest Folktales

Posted on Oct 30 2013 - 3:16am by Amy Labbadia

Paul Bunyan

Whether it was your classmates proclaiming to have seen Bloody Mary in the school’s bathroom mirror or the ring of mushrooms in your garden which your mother swore had supernatural properties, you are bound to have heard a strange folktale or two in your time. These sorts of stories, accrued over thousands of years, exist all over the world and can be as equally strange as each other. Whether you choose to take stock from them is up to you, but they sure make for an interesting read!

Paul Bunyan

Paul Bunyan is a well-known American folk figure, usually depicted as an oversized lumberjack. As the stories go, Paul Bunyan was carried by several storks to his parents’ house and grew to be so large that his clapping could be heard reverberating through the surrounding mountains. He is said to have carved the Grand Canyon by dragging his axe along the ground and created Mount Hood by piling rocks on top of each other. Usually accompanied by Babe the Blue Ox, a creature of great strength, Bunyan is depicted as the creator of many American landmarks. Did a man similar to Paul Bunyan truly exist? Perhaps, but it’s probably safe to say he wasn’t three hundred feet tall. Today Paul Bunyan is present in a variety of modern media, including an episode of The Simpsons and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

Captain Van Hunks

The South African folktale of Captain Van Hunks is a countrywide legend, enjoyed by many. The 18th century sea captain Van Hunks made the decision to retire and live on Table Mountain with his wife. Each day he would scale the mountain to smoke his pipe and admire the scenery. One day, as Van Hunks was climbing the mountain, he spied a strange man already sat there, also smoking a pie. The stranger challenged Van Hunks to a smoking contest, which he gladly agreed to. The mighty sea captain was victorious, much to the stranger’s anger – who promptly revealed his identity as the devil. Furious for having lost, the devil vanished, taking Van Hunks with him. Today, it is said that the leftover smoke from their competition still hangs over Table Mountain.

Oranges and Lemons

The English folksong “Oranges and Lemons” has a variety of sinister interpretations, making it one of the most unusual folktales in generations. Although it appears to be a harmless nursery rhyme about churches (albeit ending with the lyrics, “Here comes a candle to light you to bed, and here comes a chopper to chop off your head!”), many theorists have suggested the song’s origins have disturbing roots. A common theory is that the song is actually about child sacrifice or public executions; however, earlier versions of the song exist without some of the disturbing lyrics, suggesting that it’s really just about church festivities. Of course, the version of the song which has stood the test of time is the more gruesome variant, probably saying more about us than whoever invented the rhyme.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia/S Carpenter

About the Author

Amy Labbadia is a travel writer for the luxury tour operator Wanderforth