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Biography

1859 born in the Sekler village of Kisbacon (now Bãþanii Mici, Romania); studies in the Protestant College of Székelyudvarhely; studies Hungarian and Romanian Literature in Budapest
1887 member of parliament of the Liberal Party
1890 dismissed from the governing party for his oppositional attitude; works as a journalist for Sekler papers
1894-96 prepares the five-volume Hungarian Myths and Tales
1896 member of the Zsigmond Kemény Society
1921 returns to his native village and lives there with his wife until their death
1927-28 tours Transylvania with a singer and a verse-reciting actor
1929 dies in Kisbacon
1969 home is declared the Elek Benedek Memorial House

Hungarian Myths and Tales
1894-96

Elek Benedek dedicated his work to children and “the people”. He began collecting folk tales as a university student, and his work was soon published together with the collections of such great folklore researchers as János Kriza and Balázs Orbán. His five-volume collection of Hungarian myths and tales became (and still is) extremely popular. He altered many of the folk tales he collected, but only formally, never structurally. His aim was to teach the people of the industrial age ancient traditions, myths and ways of speech which included highly poetic images and metaphors. The anthology first appeared with beautiful illustrations by Gyula Széchy and has ever since been a source for various collections and rewritings of Hungarian folk tales. The settings are faraway lands (“across seven seas”), and the heroes are strange characters such as Tom Thumb, Steve the Fool, the Wind Princess, Strong Paul, Beautiful Helene, the Cat King and the Glorious Little Taylor. The reader can also find many legends about such historical figures as, for example, King Matthias. The tales begin and end with characteristic phrases: “Neither here, neither there, but it surely happened somewhere”, thus, for example, begins the tale Lily-of-the-Valley Paul, and it ends as follows: “And so it happened and it’s certainly true. If you don’t believe it, try to experience it yourself.” Even a few tales are enough for a reader to have a glimpse into the characteristics of Hungarian thought and feeling.

Margaret Uzoni
1901

Unfortunately, due mostly to the popularity of Benedek’s tales, the Hungarian public has nearly forgotten his novels. (Sometimes he is still called “Grandpa Elek”, rendering him a grandfatherly character, not a ’serious’ novelist.) Nevertheless, his novels are important documents of an age, especially because many of his central characters are women fighting for their independence. The hero of the novel Anna Huszár commits suicide because she is unable to decide between true love and city life. Katalin (Catherine), the protagonist of the novel of the same name, must support her family as a seamstress, but decides to leave her love. The heroine of Margit Uzoni, who finds her ideal in the Romantic Hungarian poet Gyula Reviczky, spends hard years in a teacher-training institution, only to be transferred to a god-forsaken village in Transylvania. Above all, Elek Benedek valued the freedom of the individual, even in marriage—this was not well-received at the time. (The writer’s marriage seems to be one of conviction, as his wife, Maria Fisher, committed suicide only a few hours after her husband died.)

Blue, Red, Golden and Silver Book: international folk tale collections prepared from the volume Csodalámpa
1921

“Dear children, I have a magic lamp, which provides a pure fairy-light while I cross land and sea to collect the most beautiful stories of the world. And behold! I have brought you from my travels a whole book of tales: read them, enjoy them, and then I will continue to bring you new collections, because I would like you to become acquainted with the stories and legends of the peoples of the world. My magic lamp not only presents you the most beautiful tales, but also shows you wonderful colours: that’s why this volume is entitled Blue Book. All the following books will have a similar title, which will demonstrate that the world of the tales is a colourful universe. Now, come and sit around me: I will begin the telling of tales straightaway with the ancient narrative of Panciatantra.” (The Foreword of the Blue Book). This mighty collection of tales collected from every part of the world is for older children and even adults, because the stories (from ancient India up to the tales of the brother Grimm) are often quite bloody (especially that of the Arabian Nights). The Blue Book comprises tales from Russian, Hebrew, Sekler and Japanese folklore, all of them interesting, exciting and often edifying histories related in a beautiful, traditional language.

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