Friendship in Folk Tales

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Friendship in its universal sense is a widespread socio-cultural form of relationship whose importance is obvious from the number of analytical and other works which deal with it. Our common experience tells us that friendship is an important founding element in the organisation of social communities.

Transcript of Friendship in Folk Tales


dr. Gbor BICZ (PhD) TITLE: Friendship

in Folk Tales

In: Identity and Folktale, (ed. by Blint Pter) DEGYFK IKKA, Hajdbszrmny, 2012. 167-182. p. Translated by George Seel

Copyright: All rights reserved by Author. Copying only for educational use; reprographic/reprinting copying is not permitted!

Digital Edition 2012


Gbor Bicz

Friendship in Folk TalesFriendship in its universal sense is a widespread socio-cultural form of relationship whose importance is obvious from the number of analytical and other works which deal with it. Our common experience tells us that friendship is an important founding element in the organisation of social communities.1 Wherever we look, both our own experience of events and contemporary local communities bear witness to the fact that friendship is a decisive factor in making our everyday lives liveable.[] since friendship is a virtue or implies virtue, and is besides most necessary with a view to living.2

This is all demonstrated by the numberless expressions rooted in everyday language which treat friendship not as an isolated or independently existing value, but always see it as a form of relationship in a socio-cultural context. True, false, interested, unselfish, warm-hearted, guest, and we could continue to list the expressions which qualify friendship with various shades of meaning and opposites, but there is no need here. The multiplicity, or, to put it more graphically, the many-facedness, which is the essence of the concept still requires some kind of theoretical community, some merit which corresponds to all friendship. This investigation however, would direct us to the field of philosophy, which is outside the scope of the current article. Despite this it is not evident that the seriousness and comprehensive quality of friendship, as a phenomenon that operates on a cultural basis, and which requires generally applicable conditions in order to operate, is governed by the rules crystallised in all traditional communities, or through the situational reality of the subjectivity of the parties involved: friendship is an individual and unrepeatable phenomenon.Of course the meaning of the concept of friendship when considered in the traditional sociocultural world existing outside Europe shows significant differences. Friendship in the complex systems characterised by consanguinity and affinial relationships and the decisive functions they play in the working of social life can differ markedly from friendship in the European cultural tradition. Since the aim of the current study is primarily to introduce the concept of friendship through the material available in the folk tale traditions of the Carpathian Basin, we will not analyse examples of friendship in its wider social models, or the universal socio-cultural horizon of the concept. 2 ARISTOTLE: Nikomachian Ethics, (trans. SZAB Mikls), Eurpa, Bp., 1987. p. 215. After what we have said, a discussion of friendship would naturally follow, since it is a virtue or implies virtue, and is besides most necessary with a view to living.1


It should not surprise us if we discover friendship introduced and analysed as an important question in folk tale texts. The reason for this is that the thought world of the folk tale both analyses the world and creates its own picture of the world, and so it is natural that it also deals with such basic questions of life as friendship in numerous contexts. In the following we will try to introduce some of the special features related to this concept through Hungarian language folk tale texts dealing with the idea of friendship common in the Carpathian Basin. 3 In the Hungarian language folk tale tradition and the stories that represent them the number of tales which deal with the theme of friendship as a central question, just like the friendship sub-category of tales, is relatively small when compared to other typical themes, such as death, dreams or stories analysing destiny in an abstract way. The question of friendship, according to the categories in the AarneThompson classification system is expressed in its purest form in the tale type number 516, The Friend Turned to Stone. In this system the main type of the theme of the friend became a variation of the friend as a supernatural helper, which has produced superficial, although widespread, texts in the Hungarian language area. In the division of Hungarian folk tales The Two Faithful Friends type of tale is made up of many eventful episodes. In this tale type the king, before his death, tells his servant that he should take care of his (the kings) sons problems. In carrying out the task an important element is that the servant protects the prince from an unknown danger; for example he does not allow him to enter a forbidden room. Of course, according to the tale logic that controls the plot, the young prince disobeys the order (in other words the servant does not manage to carry out the kings last wish), and then falls fatally in love with the portrait of the beautiful girl he finds in the room. Following this, the servant and the prince swear eternal loyalty to each other, and then agree to trick the girl into becoming the princes partner. On their travels the servant three times manages to identify the danger threatening the future young couple. He cannot tell them about these dangers, because he knows that revealing the secret would bring on him the punishment of being immediately turned to stone (death). The next key episode in the plot of the story is when the servant protects the young couple from the danger that threatens them, and is then unjustly suspected of3

In the current analysis we will not examine the artificial text types which make use of the theme of friendship. The folk tale is the authentic mode of expression and the collective production of the way of thinking and the value system of a local community. In this context the folk tale supports in an original way the philosophical-anthropological analysis of the socio-cultural function and the structural value of friendship.


betraying his friend, a suspicion which he can only disprove by revealing the secret, an act which sees him punished by being turned to stone. The prince, because of the pact made with the servant and his crisis of conscience, saves his true friend. He sacrifices a child, and drips the childs blood onto the lifeless statue, which brings it back to life, and at the same time the child suffers no injury.4 Before we prove with any concrete analysis that any examination of the varieties of the tale type which deal with the question of the concept of friendship reveals the subtle and rich inter-relationship of the meaning of friendship - one of the outstanding institutions of social relationships - two further related points must be mentioned. On the one hand, reading the above summary of the content of tales provides us with clear evidence that the tale interpretation of friendship is inseparably linked to everyday thought in the sense of such themes also dealt with in detail in other tale types - as secrecy, sin, loyalty, death, sacrifice or hope.5 To express it more exactly, the clarification of the significance of friendship is widely supported in the existential organisation of the tale type. As we shall see later, we are not dealing with a simple strategy of textual organisation or stylistics, nor are we witnesses to a filtering process which places strong emphasis on the existential aspects of thinking in tales. Rather, we see more clearly that it is hardly possible to identify the functions and analyse the outstanding aspects of the socio-cultural dimensions of friendship and the tales social and community concepts if it is separated from the themes listed above. We can state that friendship reflects the problematics of a complex socially understood sense of the tale. On the other hand, after reading tales dealing with friendship we may justly feel that here it is not only the ever present common opinions and judgements that come to light through our analysis, but4

For a detailed description of the type see BERZE NAGY Jnos: Magyar npmese tpusok II. (Types of Hungarian Folk Tales II), Baranya Megyei Tancs, Pcs., 1957. pp. 30-41. 5 See, for example the series of writings which have appeared in the past few years analysing the thinking about death in tales, among which Pter BLINTs comprehensive study (A hall a hall-koma tpus meskben. In.: BLINT Pter (ed.): A tbbes azonossga. Didakt, Hajdbszrmny. 2010. pp. 69-84. Death in Godfather Death-type Tales in BLINT P. (ed.) The Identity of the Multiple), undoubtedly stands out. The author makes it quite clear that paradigmatical existential subjects, such as the question of death, are also the subject of detailed analysis in the community of tale tellers. The study deals with the question through a relevant academic treatment of the concept of death in a philosophical and literary theory sense, and in addition argues that a new analysis appropriate to the status of the genre is required to examine it in an interdisciplinary and global perspective. Pter Blint also informs the reader that to identify the basic questions of existential thought requires, on the one hand, a faithful philological approach to the texts, and, on the other, that we go beyond the points of analysis required by the traditional system of classifying tale types.


that we can also, in a very real sense, recognise the interconnections of the concept of friendship as the product of philosophical thought in our culture. To put it simply, reading around the theme of friendship in the texts available to us from the tale tradition of the Carpathian Basin offers us a remarkable analysis in a philosophical sen