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The Folktale
Stith Thompson

Motif F993

Sunken bell sounds. *Sartori Zs. f. Vksk. VII 113, 270, VIII 29; England: Baughman; Finnish-Swedish: Wessman 72 No. 610; Lithuanian: Balys Index No. 3610.

Part Two

The Folktale from Ireland to India

III – The Simple Tale

3. Marvelous Objects

A very important part of this background of imagination is dependent upon the belief in magic. That the world is filled with objects which defy all the laws of nature and which obtain miraculous results without ordinary labor—such is the faith of all those who take seriously the tales of the Brothers Grimm or the properly vouched for local legends of one's own community. [399]

Aside from these magic objects familiar to everyone, even in our own culture, there appear in popular tradition a large number of extraordinary things not actually endowed with magic qualities but so far from the usual as to excite the wonder of all who hear of them. Tales of the otherworld [400] are, of course, filled with such matters, and the traditions of certain peoples are especially fond of elaborating these marvels. Readers of the Arabian Nights and of Irish folktales often find it difficult to follow the florid imagination of a story-teller who luxuriates in such obviously impossible conceptions (F700 to F1099).

A few typical traditions of this kind will be sufficient to bring to mind hundreds of others like them. The legends about remarkable rivers (F715), for example, show a great variety. We have them issuing from magic nuts or from pillars; we have rivers of wine, honey, blood, milk, and even of fire. There are also the well-known four rivers of paradise; rivers contained in boxes, or under a cock's wing; rivers flowing intermittently, some even observing the Sabbath. A similar variety would appear from an examination of marvelous islands, mountains, and cities. The literature of chivalry must have been a great stimulus to tales about remarkable castles (F771)—castles of gold or silver, or even of diamond, castles suspended on chains or upheld by giants or built on the sea; and most marvelous of all, a revolving castle confusing to invaders who can never find the door where they expect it. Castles or palaces may be at the world's end, or east of the sun and west of the moon; they are frequently found abandoned, or with all their inhabitants asleep; and sometimes such marvelous houses appear and disappear. Of more than one large castle or building it is a legend that there are just 365 windows and doors, one for each day in the year (F782.1).

Since we are attempting to deal with legends in which many people actually believe, we are naturally faced with the question of whether such [p. 254] stories of marvelous buildings and the like are thought of as real. No certain answer can be given, though for most taletellers they are certainly fictions. But one legend of a marvelous object which we must not fail to mention is quite certainly believed in by large numbers. This is the tale, immortalized by Hauptmann, of the sunken bell which is still heard from below the water (F993).

[399] For a systematic discussion of such magic objects and their uses, see Motifs D800 to D1699. Most of these have appeared at one place or another in our treatment of the complex folktale, chapter II, pp. 70ft.

[400] See p. 146, above.


D800-D1699, F700-F1099, F715, F771, F782.1, F993