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Friday, July 9, 2021

Eells - The Princess Who Was Dumb - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

Illustration by the Petershams
Words change!  Sometimes before telling a story, a bit of explanation is needed.  A perfect example is the way the word "lame" is now commonly used to mean "weak, unconvincing, or inadequate", but it originally meant a physical disability causing a limp or difficulty walking.  Today's story calls a princess "dumb."  Assuredly her mother-in-law would not only mean the princess is unable to speak -- the original meaning -- but also would consider the current use of it to mean "stupid."  

 Personally the older use of "dumb" bothers me because it has often been applied to the deaf who have difficulty speaking.  "Mute" might be slightly more accurate, but the difficulties involved in speech usually has nothing to do with creating sound.  Rather it's hearing and then reproducing the sound.  With American Sign Language as the third most used language in the United States, such terminology tends to get me started pulling out my soapbox for a rant.

Instead I've pulled out a delightful story from Tales of Enchantment from Spain by Elsie Eells.  As an adult I think the strained relationship with the mother-in-law adds to the enjoyment of this story beyond what a younger audience might miss.  It's rather like Queen Aggravain's dissatisfaction with Princess Dauntless in the musical, "Once Upon a Mattress."  The princess is certainly dauntless in this story, bringing it to a sly end.

Speaking as a storyteller, I daresay there are times my own husband might feel that way!

The last time I posted a story by Eells was in August of 2016.  There's more known about her now.  She's best known for her collections of South American, especially Brazilian folklore.  This book was her final book of half a dozen and the only reason I can safely post it from 1950 is she didn't renew it when the copyright law required.  According to Find A Grave, she died in 1963 at age 82, with her husband, Burr, dying two years later.  No children are listed, so we are able to enjoy her final three books before they might otherwise have been still under copyright.  Wikipedia mentions her travels as a researcher in the 1920s and 1930s  to various countries as a researcher at The Hispanic Society of America in New York, which was unusual then.  


Find a Grave mentions her Daughters of the American Revolution lineage and then goes on to give her passport application for those travels.  It's actually a wonderful look back at the then 40 year old writer and her husband.  I enjoyed it so much I'm going to give most of it.

Found a US Passport application for Elsie Spicer Eells giving her birth as Sept 21, 1880 in West Winfield NY, aage 40 on Nov 1, 1920 when they filed for this passport. Husband is Burr Gould Eells who was born in Walton, NY. They were living in Babylon, NY. She is listed as a writer.

She will be away for 6 month to do research in the following places:Portugal, Azores, Spain, Cuba in each of these places she wants to research Spanish _____ (can't read the last word). Aboard the Brittania, having never had a passport before. She is40, 5 foot 6 inches, medium forehead, green eyes, short nose, medium mouth, round chin, brown hair, fair complexion and oval face. Then Burr Gould Eells swears that they live in Babylon, NY and that he has known Elsie for 22 years. He is a teacher for what looks like Commerical High School, Brooklyn, NY. There address is Box 536 Babylon, NY. The picture is from her application. Then is attached a letter who wrote that her research is for literary work for which she has undertaken on behalf of the Hispanic Societyand that she should be granted the passport.

With the chaos of the Covid pandemic, passports are said to take 18 weeks currently (or "only" 12 weeks for a higher priced expedited application).  What storytelling and sharing of folklore might be currently waiting?

In the meantime, travel online through stories.

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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