Tales of Superhuman Powers
55 Traditional Stories from Around the World
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.
Instructors considering this book for use in a course may request an examination copy here.
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.
Csenge Virág Zalka
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Bibliographic Info: appendix, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2013
Table of Contents
Introduction: Greetings, Dreamer 1
Part I: Physical Powers—Also Known as the Classics
Superhuman Strength 9
János and Rózsa 9
The Fellow with the Goat Skin 27
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
Princess Szélike 53
The Giant’s Ankle (or, Betcha You Didn’t Know This About Achilles) 57
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
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
János CarnationHair 109
Michael Scott 114
The Man Who Had No Story 117
Inﬁnite Knowledge 119
The Serpent Wife 120
The Rooster Beam 123
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
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
The Three Soldiers 178
The Magic Book 184
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
The Mad Pranks of Robin Goodfellow 217
Honorable Mentions 220
Appendix: Tales by Powers 221
Further Readings 225
Book Reviews & Awards
- “Great entertainment”—Fanboy Comics
- “Focuses on less well-known stories…includes information on similar heroes”—ProtoView
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.