Tales of Superhuman Powers

55 Traditional Stories from Around the World

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About the Book

Csenge Virág Zalka, a Hungarian storyteller, has collected 55 folktales from around the world about supernatural abilities like superhuman strength, invulnerability, flying, heightened senses, speed, invisibility, healing, agility, precognition, telepathy, fire manipulation, teleportation, water powers, and shifting. These tales represent powers that people have dreamed of, conjured up and strived for through the ages. Many of the powers are present in popular culture, making the superheroes who wield them the direct descendants of characters such as the princess who could see through walls or the invulnerable Isfandiyar. Zalka excluded stories about magic or about gods with divine powers, and focused on less well-known stories. She included information on similar heroes, the ability in the story, sources of the powers, the origin of the story, teachings in it, the recommended age group, sources, variants, and comments.

About the Author(s)

Csenge Virág Zalka is a professional storyteller and researcher from Budapest, Hungary. Her interests focus on role-playing games as a form of storytelling, historical fiction, oral traditions and popular culture.

Bibliographic Details

Csenge Virág Zalka

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 240
Bibliographic Info: appendix, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2013
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7704-3
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1289-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments v

Introduction: Greetings, Dreamer 1


Part I: Physical Powers—Also Known as the Classics

Superhuman Strength 9

János and Rózsa 9

Alderblock 16

Invulnerability 20

Isfandiyar 21

The Fellow with the Goat Skin 27

Flight 31

The Winged Prince 32

People Who Could Fly 34

Heightened Senses 36

Green Péter 37

The Tale of Sir James Ramsay of Bamff 40

Finn MacCool and the Giants 43

Three Critical Men 49

Speed 52

Princess Szélike 53

The Giant’s Ankle (or, Betcha You Didn’t Know This About Achilles) 57

Invisibility 59

The Gold­Spitting Prince 59

The Tengu’s Magic Cloak 64

King Laurin’s Rose Garden 66

Color Changing 72

The Queen of Many Colors 72

Healing Factor, Healing Others, or Not Healing at All 75

The Prince with the Two Hearts 76

Anne Jefferies and the Fairies 78

Growth, Elasticity and Body Shaping 80

Longshanks, Girth and Keen 81

A Is for Agility and Archers 86

Ekalavya, the Archer 86

Camilla 89

Eye Beams (Yes, Really) 91

The Unfinished Story of Princess Greenleaf 91

Sonic Blast 93

The Robber Called Nightingale 93

Poison Secretion 95

The Poison Maiden 96


Part II: It’s All in Your Head—Mind Games, Mental Prowess, and the Power of Knowledge

Precognition, Also Known as Fortune-Telling, Future Sight, Clairvoyance and Other Fancy Words 99

Aicha, the Demon-Hunter 99

Astral Projection and Other Out­of­Body Experiences 104

Quiet Girl Becomes a Goddess 105

The Dream House 107

Telepathy 108

János Carnation­Hair 109

Michael Scott 114

Telekinesis 116

The Man Who Had No Story 117

Infinite Knowledge 119

The Serpent Wife 120

Illusion 122

The Rooster Beam 123

Technomancy 124

The Ebony Horse 124

Animal Speech 130

The ­Gold-­Spinners 130


Part III: At the Mercy of the Elements—Powers of Water, Fire, Earth and Weather (and Ice)

Fire Manipulation 137

The Daughter of the Sun 138

Pietro Baillardo 144

Water Powers 149

Fergus Mac Léti 150

The Tide Jewels 152

Earth Manipulation 158

The Son of the Hunter 158

Weather Manipulation 163

Garabonciások 164

Ice and Snow 168

Snow Daughter and Fire Son 168


Part IV: Transitional Powers—From One State to Another

When Drawings Come to Life 173

The Legend of King Vikramaditya 173

Painted Dragons 176

Teleportation 178

The Three Soldiers 178

The Magic Book 184

Phasing 186

The Taoist Priest of Lao­shan 186

Shifters, Changers and Individuals of Multiple Shapes 189

Human Shifting 190

Pomona and Vertumnus 190

Animal Shifting 193

Sigmund and Sinfjötli 194

Boots and the Beasts 197

The Weretiger 201

Nanaue, the Shark­Man 205

Plant Shifting 209

The Elder Tree Witch 210

Inorganic Shifting 212

Kampó Táltos 212

Multi-­Shifting 214

Mestra 215

The Mad Pranks of Robin Goodfellow 217

Honorable Mentions 220


Appendix: Tales by Powers 221

Further Readings 225

Index 227

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “Great entertainment”—Fanboy Comics
  • “Focuses on less well-known stories…includes information on similar heroes”—ProtoView

Author Interview

Review Fix chats with Tales of Super Human Powers author Csenge Virág Zalka who lets us know what inspired the book, why she’s happy McFarland took a chance on it, and more.


Review Fix: What inspired the creation of this book?

Zalka: I am a performing storyteller, and I also enjoy superhero comics and movies. I used to play a game with the audience, especially children, where I asked them what superpower they would choose for themselves, and then I told a traditional story (a folktale, legend, or myth) that had that same power in it. Eventually, my “superpower-repertoire” grew big enough that I decided it would be a good idea to publish it, for other storytellers and teachers to use.


Review Fix: What makes this subject worthy of a book like this in your opinion?

Zalka: Superhero stories are very popular these days. I work with traditional stories, and sometimes it is hard to find that initial connection to the audience (especially teens); “hi, I am here to tell you a folktale” does not exactly have drawing power. If I ask them about superpowers, we suddenly have something to talk about, and connect over. Dreaming about superhuman powers is universal, and it has been a part of our stories for a very long time. Superheroes did not just spring up in the 20th century out of nowhere. It was great fun to trace how the idea of their abilities manifested in stories centuries ago.


Review Fix: What was the writing process like for this one?

Zalka: I first made a list of all the superpowers I could think of, from comics and movies. Then I grouped them into categories (mental powers, physical powers, elemental powers, transitional powers). Once I had the list, I started researching traditional stories for each power. I had a set of criteria (it is included in the book’s introduction) that sometimes made it harder to find a good story, but whenever I did succeed, it was always a really fun discovery. Some of the stories were already a part of my repertoire, while some of them were new to me too. I only included the ones that I myself enjoy telling.


Review Fix: What did you learn through the writing process that you weren’t expecting?

Zalka: That mental powers are the hardest to trace to traditional stories. Whenever someone does something with their mind, in folktales it is written off as “magic”, or being a “seer.” The idea of specific psychic powers seems to be a later invention. It taught me to pay close attention to how traditional stories phrase certain things, and how supernatural events are interpreted by the storyteller. Sometimes alluding to things is enough, and other times, you have to choose your words very carefully.


Review Fix: What are your goals for the book?

Zalka: I hope that it is a useful resource for others. Storytellers and educators find a lot of extra information in it (sources, comments, etc.) that they can use to delve deeper into the stories. I want this to be a book that helps people connect – connect with each other over stories, over shared interests, and also connect new stories to older traditions. Also, many of the tales included in the book are Hungarian, published in English for the first time. That was my little side project for sharing more of my own heritage with the world.


Review Fix: How would you like it to be remembered?

Zalka: As a resource that you can keep returning to, and as a book that contains stories that intrigue and enchant people.


Review Fix: What’s next?

Zalka: I have three new books coming out this year, two in Hungarian and one in English. I am sure I will write more. I also have some really fun performances around Europe and the USA. I’m enjoying life as a storyteller!


Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?

Zalka: McFarland doesn’t usually publish story collections. I was really happy that they took a chance on this one. Sometimes it is hard to walk a line as someone who is both an academic and a performing storyteller. I am glad I did not have to give up either side for this book.