• Clive Gilson


Updated: Dec 14, 2019

Folk & Fairy Tales, Legends, Myths & Sagas from Romania

It is said that a particular feature of Romanian culture is the relationship between folklore and classical education and the arts. This is, in part, attributed to the rural character of Romanian life that has produced an exceptionally vital and creative traditional culture. Romanian folklore tales were the main literary genre until the 18th century, being both a source of inspiration for literary writers and a traditional way of framing storytelling.

Strong folk traditions have survived to this day due to that same rural character of Romanian communities. Romania's rich folk traditions have been nourished by many sources, some of which predate the Roman occupation.

Early folklore from the region has God making the earth with the help of animals, while Satan tries to thwart his plans. In the majority of versions, before the earth existed, a boundless ocean called Apa Sâmbetei was the abode of God and the Devil, seen as master and servant rather than equals. In these stories the Devil goes by the name "Nefartatul" and is the somewhat foolish brother of God.

Even after Christian imagery and symbolism became part of Romanian culture, Mother Earth is identified as the consort of God, the heavenly Father.

The origin of mountains is explained in a number of ways by the cultures of the different regions of Romania. One account is that mountains formed as a response to God demanding the Earth to nurture all life, to which the earth shuddered and brought forth mountains.

Romanians have had, from time immemorial, a myriad of customs, tales and poems about love, faith, kings, princesses, and witches. Ethnologists, poets, writers and historians have tried in recent centuries to collect and to preserve tales, poems, ballads and have tried to describe as well as possible the customs and habits related to different events and times of year.

The eponymous Strigoi in Romanian mythology are troubled spirits that are said to have risen from the grave. They are attributed with the abilities to transform into an animal, become invisible, and to gain vitality from the blood of their victims. Bram Stoker's Dracula has become the modern interpretation of the Strigoi through their historic links with vampirism.

Strigoi may have originated from the Latin terms strix and striga, the root of which relates to owls as well as for blood parasites such as the Strigeidida. Cognates are found throughout the Romance languages, such as the Italian word strega or the Venetian word strìga which mean "witch". In French, stryge means a bird-woman who sucks the blood of children. The name strigoi is related to the Romanian verb striga, which means "to scream".

The adaptations in this book come from the nineteenth century tradition of translation and interpretation from a variety collectors and collections. These include tales from Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books, translations of older tales by Lucy Byng in Roumanian Stories, tales collected by Mite Kremnitz in Roumanian Fairy Tales, and Carmen Sylva’s (the then Queen of Romania), Legends from River & Mountain. Following are some notes on the original collectors of these stories

Mite Kremnitz

Mite Kremnitz. 1852 – 1916, born Marie von Bardeleben, was a German writer. Kremnitz was the daughter of the famous surgeon Heinrich Adolf von Bardeleben. She grew up in Greifswald, London and, from 1868, in Berlin. Later she married the doctor Wilhelm Kremnitz and moved with him to Bucharest in 1875. The couple had 2 children.

In Romania, Marie became good friends with Queen Elisabeth, who wrote poems, novels and short stories under the nom de plume Carmen Sylva, and in 1881 she was appointed her maid of honour. They published several novels and a drama in collaboration, Mite signing with the pseudonym Ditto and Idem. From 1890 she changed her pen name to Mite Kremnitz.

After her husband's death in 1897, Kremnitz returned to Berlin. She died on 18 July 1916, aged 64.

Carmen Sylva

Pauline Elisabeth Ottilie Luise of Wied, 1843 – 1916, was the Queen of Romania as the wife of King Carol I, widely known by her literary name of Carmen Sylva. Born at Schloss Monrepos in Neuwied, she was the daughter of Hermann, Prince of Wied, and his wife Princess Marie of Nassau.

Elisabeth had artistic leanings and her childhood featured seances and visits to the local asylum for the mentally ill. Elisabeth first met Prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen in Berlin in 1861. In 1869, Karl, who was now Prince Carol of Romania, traveled to Germany in search of a suitable consort. He was reunited with Elisabeth, and the two were married on 15 November 1869 in Neuwied. Their only child, a daughter, Maria, died in 1874 at age three, an event from which Elisabeth never recovered. She was crowned Queen of Romania in 1881 after Romania was proclaimed a kingdom.

In the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, also known as the Romanian War of Independence, she devoted herself to the care of the wounded, and founded the Decoration of the Cross of Queen Elisabeth to reward distinguished service in such work. She fostered the higher education of women in Romania, and established societies for various charitable purposes. She was the 835th Dame of the Order of Queen Maria Luisa.

She founded the National Society for the Blind and was the first royal patron of the Romanian Red Cross. As Carmen Sylva, she wrote with facility in German, Romanian, French and English. A few of her voluminous writings, which include poems, plays, novels, short stories, essays, and collections of aphorisms, have been singled out for critical mention.

Her earliest publications were Sappho and Hammerstein, two poems which appeared in Leipzig in 1880. In 1888 she received the Prix Botta, a prize awarded triennially by the Académie Français, for her volume of prose aphorisms Les Pensees d'une reine (Paris, 1882), a German version of which is entitled Vom Amboss (Bonn, 1890). Cuvinte Sufletesci, religious meditations in Romanian (Bucharest, 1888), was also translated into German (Bonn, 1890), under the name of Seelen-Gespräche. Several of the works of Carmen Sylva were written in collaboration with Mite Kremnitz, one of her maids of honour, published between 1881 and 1888, in some cases under the pseudonyms Ditto et Idem.


These are some of the most engaging stories that I’ve collected together for a long time. The Romanian folklore tradition has a vitality that really shines through in these traditional tales, and I’m sure, like me, you will fall just a little bit in love with some of these wonderful characters.

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