Once upon a time and time again…

Once upon a time and time again in a far off land…
(Florence, OR—my photo)

Fernán Caballero/Cecilia Böhl de Faber has an interesting way of beginning her stories. In English, we have a traditional start to a tale—Once upon a time…— and so exists the comparable classic commencement inSpanish—Érase una vez… or Había una vez… What is interesting about Caballero’s stories is that many begin “Érase una vez y vez;” literally translated, “There once was a time and time,” and which I have chosen to translate as “Once upon a time and time again…”

The unusual beginning had me wondering if it was a common occurrence only with Caballero’s tales, in Andalusian storytelling, or perhaps, broader 19th century Spain. This has led me on quite a journey! I have found examples in a book published in 1925, titled La mitología asturiana: Los dioses de la vida (Asturian Mythology: The Gods of Life) by Constantino Cabal, as well as in a collection of tales by Manuel Polo y Peyrolón from 1876. The latter has an introduction by Caballero herself! I cannot help but imagine she is speaking of her own experience as much as that of Polo y Peyrolón. Though she has said her tales are collected from through the oral tradition of storytelling, however these stories came to be on the page, it took ingenuity on her part to put them there. Caballero wrote,

Ciertamente que se necesita mucho ingenio para acumular lances y aventuras, para crear tipos fantásticos sin modelo, peripecias que sorprenden, asustan é indignan, y desenredar esa grande y enmarañada madeja; pero se necesita igualmente ingenio para formar con sencillísimos, cotidianos y á veces hasta triviales hechos, una historia interesante, tierna, y sobre todo esencialmente moral, y ver estas cualidades reunidas es lo perfecto, pues el aroma y la esencia saludable de la rosa no le quita nada á la hermosura de su color y de su follaje… ¡Así entendiesen todos los que cultivan la literatura amena, que su misión no es solo recrear y divertir, como la de los titiriteros, sino que lo que se imprime permanentemente en el papel, tiene una misión más alta y trascendental, y es una semilla que brotará en la mente de los que lo impreso lean!

Fernán Caballero, en su introducción a Costumbres populares de la sierra de Albarracín: cuentos originales por Manuel Polo y Peyrolón (1876) eBook linked here

Certainly, one needs a lot of ingenuity to gather predicamentsand adventures, to create fantastic characters without archetypes, the peripeteia[1] whichsurprise, shock and outrage, and untangle the great and tangled skein; but,likewise, one needs ingenuity to create with very simple, quotidian and attimes even trivial incidents, a story which is interesting, tender, and aboveall essentially moral, and to see these qualities reunited is perfection, as thearoma and wholesome perfume of a rose does not retract from the beauty of itscolor and foliage… And so, it could be understood by those who cultivate pleasingliterature, whose mission is not only to recreate and entertain, like that ofthe puppeteer, but what one prints permanently on the page, has a higher andmore transcendental mission, and is a seed which will sprout in the mind ofthose who read what has been printed!

My translation

Just this short note to the reader makes me want to devour all the pages of that book andreread Caballero’s collection! I love the imagery of planting a seed thatsprouts in the mind and her concern with a “transcendental mission.” I you arefeeling the same, fear not! I have more translated tales coming very soon!


[1] Webster defines it as “a sudden or unexpected reversal of circumstances or situation especially in a literary work.” I love this word because it is the same in both Spanish and English, as in both languages is comes from the Greek peripeteia, “from (assumed) Greek peripetos (verbal of Greek peripiptein to fall around, fall into, change suddenly, from peri- + piptein to fall) + Greek -eia –y” (merriam-webster.com)

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