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Friday, October 9, 2020

Ozaki - How an Old Man Lost His Wen - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

Have you ever thought about Velcro and how it was invented?  

Today's story and a personal experience sent me thinking about this.

My "Roadie", my husband, has been in the hospital, so one night I had to walk our "Malamutt" (Husky/Malamute now a breed being called an Alaskan Husky) with a flash light.  Days are getting shorter and we'll surely do more, but hopefully without the "natural Velcro" of burs.  (The word is also burr.)  That Wikipedia link tells, among other things, how Velcro "was the inspiration for hook and loop fastener, also known as Velcro."  I tried to stay on an actual path, although I knew my dog would visit the edges of all trails and possibly have burs.  My fleece cape, however, became so fastened with tiny burs that my thoughts went to Velcro.  (The dog actually only had a few on his plume of a malamute tail!)  

This article about "Plants with Burrs" says "Some burrs are so small as to be nearly unnoticeable, while others are large enough to result in a flat tire."  Mine were tiny and a nearby nature trail pointed out what type of bur they might be.  The photo shows a flower that's prettier than what now remains on trails & it has many common  names boiling down to Tick Trefoil (Hylodesmum glutinosum for those wanting the scientific name).  In daylight I can watch out for it, although it's fairly unassuming unlike larger burs. 

This got me thinking about stories where something acts like a bur.  The closest to actual folklore on burs that I found was in James Mooney's Myths of the Cherokee.

I certainly don't have the memory of a bur, nor would I want to risk any problems.  That sent me further to Asian stories.  I recalled Elizabeth Scofield's title story from Hold Tight, Stick Tight: A Collection of Japanese Folk Tales where a voice calls "Hold tight or stick tight." An old man answers "Whatever you like" and gold pieces fly and stick to him.  When his greedy neighbor tries it, he winds up covered in tar.  To make matters even worse, the neighbor's wife drops a candle setting him on fire.  The book is still in copyright, but I decided to look at my various Japanese anthologies in Public Domain.  I didn't find that story, but one that again has many of the same elements.  The greedy neighbor trying to get the same "reward" and instead being punished is very common in Asian tales and I'll briefly give a Chinese version I love to tell after today's story.  

Before starting I should probably explain what a "wen" is.  It's defined as "A harmless cyst, especially on the scalp or face, containing the fatty secretion of a sebaceous gland."  (A variety of online dictionaries say essentially the same thing.)



That's from Yei Theodora Ozaki, a surprisingly modern woman for a woman of the late 19th and early 20th century.  Her childhood was in Japan, but her life was both in Europe and Japan, she earned her own living, and an interesting postal confusion over her name resulted in her marrying the Japanese politician, Yukio Ozaki.  The book where this originated has two names, but Project Gutenberg's copy of Japanese Fairy Tales is the 1908 version and says it is "Profusely Illustrated by Japanese Artists", while my 1903 Japanese Fairy Book in the Preface says "The pictures were drawn by Mr. Kakuzo Fujiyama, a Tokio artist."

I mentioned this story has many similar stories in Japan and beyond in Asia.  While I have enjoyed telling this, I also love telling a Chinese variant called "Candy Man" where a brother carrying syrup falls, is coated with the syrup and at the mercy of goblins.  He escapes with their magic drum which produces food.  His brother tries for similar fortune only to have the goblins give a nose so long the greedy brother must carry it over his arm to avoid tripping.  The greedy brother's wife asks for help from her brother-in-law, who learns the drum can also shrink the nose.  The wife's impatience results in her husband's nose disappearing into his face, the drum breaks and he was left without a nose.  Aside from various humorous moments in the story, it once again is a tale of the greedy getting what they deserve.

I believe there's a prayer asking God's mercy and not what we deserve.  May it be true at this time when we all could use a bit of humor and mercy instead of what we deserve.


This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.
Other Public Domain story resources I recommend-
  • There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I have long recommended it and continue to do so.  He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key.
  • You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories.  There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.

    Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"
The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:            
         - David K. Brown -
         - Richard Martin -
         - Spirit of Trees -
         - Story-Lovers - is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine, described below, but the late Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for October 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.
       - World of Tales - 
           - Zalka Csenge Virag - doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for finding new books and stories to love and tell.
You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links.  Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job.  In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it.  Possibly searches maintained it.  Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine.  It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!
    Somebody as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website is the late Chuck Larkin -  I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a., when that becomes the only way to find them.
You can see why I recommend these to you. Have fun discovering even more stories!

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