Tales Are for Boys, Myths Are for Men

· 1387 words · 7 minutes read

Last month, as a short vacation, we went to the Dolomite Alps, more specifically to Val Pusterìa. Among several hikes, we visited the lovely village of Bruneck. With great surprise, there was a huge exhibit underground with fossils and a few displays about local legends. My girlfriend went on, while I stopped to write down some notes.

Unluckily, I forgot of the nice miniatures exposed, but the subject was the Crodères, the beings who were said to inhabit the Marmarole mountains. They looked like us, but they had hearts of stone, so they didn’t feel any emotion. The story told was their queen’s, Tanna. At first, while standing in that sort of museum, I didn’t get the sense. Back home, with calm, I found an amazing analysis by Clara Mazzi, who I’d like to thank very much. In here, she analyzes the process of growth of the goddess, and… it is quite different from the other myths I came across, that’s why I found it so interesting.

I’ll briefly recap it, but I invite you to read the full version in the link above.1

Heart of Gold Stone #

As mentioned, the Crodères had stone hearts, so they couldn’t feel any emotions. Young Tanna, though, was different: just ten years old, and she was chosen to be the Queen. Misfortunately to her people’s eyes, she loved helping humans: she listened to her prayers, so she prohibited to the avalanches to fall, the rivers to flow out their beds, and the wind to blow too violently. Her people didn’t agree with that behavior, and they advised the woman.

She didn’t listen and, grown up, fell in love with the Count of Aquileia, a human. The Crodères then asked help to their oldest person, a man with the heart full of hate. He proclaimed that Tenna was no more worth of the title of Queen, or at least until her fate would be accomplished. Her crown, a blue tiara, disappeared, and she went to live with her baby – the Count vanished too, but for more mere reasons.

The newborn was called Salvanel, and her mother kept telling him that his good father was about to return. Eventually, when he grew up, the boy decided to go down to the human villages and seek for him. And he succeeded: he did found his father, but also discovered that he was married to another woman, and had other offspring. The boy asked him to return, and the other refused. He even challenged the man, but the latter hurt his son. Then, things got a bit complicated: Salvanel fell in love with Marcòra, his stepsister, and they run away together, chased by the guards.

One of the photos I took during the vacation. It really is a majestic place.

One of the photos I took during the vacation. It really is a majestic place.

Tanna, who was patiently waiting on the mountains, then suddenly heard a cry for help. It was her son, lost on the bottom of the valley: too much snow covered the path and he couldn’t find the correct way. Too much time had passed since the last time she went down that road, and Tanna couldn’t remember the directions to give him. So, she asked for help to the other Crodères, but they were helpless since only the Queen had the power needed. Going back, the woman saw that the young couple almost succeeded to climb the high mountain. She tried to help them, but Salvanel’s hand slipped away; he fell in a crevice, and died.2

Tanna and Marcòra then lived together. The mother knew that the glacier would have returned the body, it was just a matter of time. So, patiently, every day they went back to look for the boy’s body. The humans they met had called them the two witches of the ice. Eventually, Salvanel’s body was found, and her beloved one fell dead next to him. Only then, the tiara appeared on Tanna’s head. She became again Queen of the Crodères when her destiny was accomplished.

She did become the Queen again, and she removed the limits she had previously put: rocks, wind and water started again to take the course of nature. She got her powers back, but she has to pay a price, even nowadays: each year, one day called the Quiet Day, the elements calm down, as she had promised. In this day, men –mostly the miners, given the location– can access a cave in which they can find a statue of the woman wearing the blue tiara. She sits, mourning, between two golden coffins.

In the Hall of the Mountain King Queen #

I admit my ignorance, but this myth is quite different from any other I have read. First, it doesn’t follow the usual structure of the tales: there are no twist or climax. It is as genuine and hard as the rock of the mountains — and as life as well.

It is a story of a woman. A woman that has the strength and the courage to follow her way and her heart despite her whole people were against her. Many tales are about fairies or gods that marry “miserable humans”, but in this case the queen is left… by everyone. First, her love, an unfaithful husband, then her people who dethrone her, and finally her son. Despite this continuous loss, the story never uses words as “desperation” or “sadness”, even if we can of course imagine her feelings.

Clara Mazzi, in her analysis cited before, explains it well: Tanna keeps working on her pain. When she and Marcòra walk every day, back and forth, to search for Salvanel’s body, the mother must be reflecting on the duality of life — joy and gloom.

Tanna’s destiny, i.e. being the Queen of the Crodères, will be fulfilled when she’ll be ready for this role, meaning when she’ll accept it with awareness, maturity, and decision. When she saw her son hopelessly slide into that crevasse, in her head, and her heart she must have had lots going on but not – this is what the myth hints to – becoming the Queen of the Crodères. This is why that wasn’t the moment of her mutation. Tanna must first work on her pain.

She continues with wise words, which one comes across… with maturity:

Difficulties will arise mostly when we’ll try to give sense to something that happened to us but it was so big that we’re not able to find an appropriate meaning.

And finally, the key to read the myth is exposed so clearly that opened my eyes:

Myths talk to adults while tales talk to children. These two audiences differ because they own different category of analysis and perception of reality. It is not that the myth is sad, while the tale is happy: it is rather than the myth talks to people able to analyze the world, sift through different experiences, classify them, prioritize them, process them, in other words people capable to understand that Tanna’s myth is only apparently sad but actually it isn’t at all because it tells the story of an adult, our story. […]

After reading this, I examined the myth again, and I was speechless. It really is a tale like no other I have read until today. Maybe it is because I stumbled upon Tanna’s tale in my mid-thirties, but its apparent sadness hit me in the stomach.

A Saucerful of Secrets #

With this story, I discovered yet another new author who spent much time to write down oral Alpine tales onto paper: Karl Felix Wolff. He wrote German books, luckily translated in Italian and English, too. Surely I will write more about this lore in the next future.

Overall, as morale of this story, I indeed learned something new about ancient tales. I already knew from Slavic folklore that some characters and myths could be harsh, but I didn’t know they could transmit such maturity lessons over the centuries. They are indeed “fairy tales”, but some can also make us think more than we imagined — just like a perfect book.

  1. The website requires an account to access the articles, but it’s free, and there are many other gems! ↩︎

  2. Another version of the tale I found online says that Salvanel fought with the guards, and eventually falls. This shows how orally told myths often vary. ↩︎