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Teachers' Notes

Tying the Knot: Folk Tales of Love and Marriage from Around the WorldTying the Knot: Folk Tales of Love and Marriage from Around the World

Tying the Knot: Folk Tales of Love and Marriage from Around the World – a collection of twelve tales for Years 6-9. 1 921085 21 5

A tall tale tells how a young husband learns to cope with a stubborn wife and, eventually, to outwit her! In another, a man and his wife argue, and neither will give in, so they wager on the outcome.

In the 'clever girl' tradition are 'The Maiden Wiser than the Tsar' and 'The Riddles', in which young women improve their condition and that of their families by their wit and wisdom.

A poor, but resourceful young man enters a royal household by courting a princess who appreciates his outrageous sense of humour, while a lazy one relies on luck and a snippet of effort.

In an African tale, six young women seek an elusive young man, and in a Chinese one, a queen outwits a cruel husband who seeks immortality.

The Cinderella tale, popularised by Perrault (France), can be found in more than 300 cultures. This collection includes the variant told by the Algonquin First Nations of North America.

And there's more! The collection contains tales from Finland, Indigenous Northern America, Serbia, Spain, China, Laos, Nigeria, Burma (now Myanmar), Turkistan, India, Persia (now Iran) and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

TYING THE KNOT: TEACHER RESOURCE BOOKTying the Knot: Teacher Resource Boo

Tying the Knot: Teacher Resource Book 1 921085 22 3 (both 2006, Phoenix Education) www.phoenixeduc.com

This book includes background notes on the folk tales and their countries of origin, a wide range of activities to encourage language development and creativity, and three photocopiable play scripts for student s. Below are some examples of suggestions for discussion about love and marriage.

  1. 'The Stubborn Wife' (Finland)
    • What is true love? Some people say that wanting to please a partner is evidence of it. But what happens when one partner has a dominant personality: must win, must always have the last word?
    • Without mentioning specific personal relationships, students could comment on their observations of marriages and partnerships in their family and friendship circle. Where does the power lie? Who makes the decisions? How are disagreements negotiated? Do any couples achieve equality?

  2. 'The Algonquin Cinderella' (Algonquin First Nations, North America)
    • In the Perrault (French) tale, Cinderella is more passive than she is in other versions. Students could compare Cinderella and Oochigeaskw in regard to their active/passive roles. How does the Algonquin tale vary from the one they know?

  3. 'The Goatherd Who Won a Princess' (Spain)
    • How important is 'a marriage of minds'? Students could discuss the importance of emotional, physical and intellectual attraction in partnerships. Which aspect is likely to be noticed first? Which aspect is necessary for a life-long relationship?

  4. 'The Golden Candelabra' (Persia – now Iran)
    • Students could discuss both falling in love and arranged marriage, and their advantages and disadvantages in personal relationships.
    • They could discuss age differences in partnerships and marriage and whether this matters. Why has it been acceptable for hundreds of years for older men to marry young women, but, until recently, the reverse has been regarded as ludicrous?


Rings are found widely in folklore and fiction, for they are symbols of everlasting love and eternal union. As rings are often given or exchanged at religious ceremonies, it is significant that the ring is usually made of precious metal and the vows are made in the sight of God. The ring, being circular - having no ends - signifies the fact that the mutual love will flow from one to the other - continually and forever.

Not everyone can afford to exchange rings, so, in the past, brides and grooms knotted their clothes or linked hands. An ancient marriage ceremony included the following ritual. The bride stood close to the altar with the lace of a shoe untied. During the ceremony, the groom tied the lace to show the 'knotting' of the marriage. In Thailand, a bride and a groom may be linked by a sacred thread.


The folk tales in this collection give glimpses of life in former times. Better than history lessons, more telling than expositions of feminist theory, folk tales exemplify life and relationships as they were and, in many places, still are.

...critics maintain that the 'eternal truths' in tales… are the story of women's subjugation
and disenfranchisement under patriarchy.

Jack Zipes (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales (2000)

Since the 1970s, some literary critics and feminists have rejected the idea that fairy tales are

universal stories of the human psyche. They say that folk tales have restrictive social and cultural effects, conditioning girls to believe that passivity and physical beauty will be rewarded in marriage, wealth and status.

Other critics maintain that recent social changes can be better understood and discussed in the light of both folklore and history. The oral tradition is a splendid resource in understanding the way that attitudes and behaviours have been maintained over the centuries. Many of the stereotypes that have been challenged in recent times had origins in such traditions.

While history states the facts in regard to gender equity and discrimination, folk tales demonstrate by means of lively representations of situations and relationships. As well, they give insights into prevailing attitudes and why it is difficult for reformers to initiate change.

In the last twenty years, Australian society has become increasingly multi-cultural. Numbers of people have arrived from countries where patriarchal traditions are entrenched, so folk tales have greater relevance now, and are excellent starting points for discussion and understanding.