There is an old Cherokee legend called “The Daughter of the Sun” that has been translated from oral tradition to print, and the print versions vary greatly. The first version I encountered, and my favorite, delivered a chilling moral as well as a lesson in one of the oldest beliefs of the People. The moral, (I am paraphrasing) is that using magic to exact vengeance against higher powers is foolish and never ends with the intended results. Simultaneously, the story explains that one such foolish endeavor revealed that the dead cannot return to the land of the People.
I appreciate this particular version, because it makes an overt statement of division echoed in the legends and myths of many cultures that has lent to religious doctrines and have since been investigated and explored exhaustively in many the fictional tale and horror flick — there is a place for the dead, a place for the living, and never the twain should meet. So don’t fool with it!
As happens with many oral traditions, it becomes difficult to distinguish from the ensuing translations what might be the original intent of the story, and what might be a total screw up. I cannot locate a definitive “origin” of this story, and that bothers me. As much as I love that first version I read, I wonder if it might be a complete bastardization of the original telling. The lack of absolute proof bothers me, because I want to weave this legend into one of my stories.
Another legend that I have a great (and disturbing) affinity for is that of “The Poet”. This, as far as I can gather, originates in Ireland, (again, I dare to paraphrase)and tells of a mysterious stranger who was often witnessed in the vicinity of a young wife or maiden the day before she disappears into thin air. Once the search is on for this fair female, a member of the search party always discovers a slip of paper on which is written an indecipherable series of words. It is surmised after several of these events occur over fifty years or so, then centuries, that the mysterious stranger lures women away with an incantation of some kind. Not one person who claimed to have seen the stranger prior to the women’s disappearance was ever able to give a thorough description of him.
Creepy. And absolutely perfect for another of my stories.
In spite of how inspiring these legends are, I wrestle with the ethics of using either as the foundation for one of my stories. What if the translations I like best were mistranslated, either deliberately or otherwise? I do no want to offend any one person or society, but these stories are so delightfully inspiring I could easily adopt them!
What would you do?