Harap Alb

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Harap Alb on a Moldovan stamp

"Harap Alb" or "Harap-Alb" (Romanian pronunciation: [haˈrap ˈalb]), known in full as Povestea lui Harap Alb ("The Story of Harap Alb"), is a Romanian-language fairy tale. Based on traditional themes found in Romanian folklore, it was recorded and reworked in 1877 by writer Ion Creangă, becoming one of his main contributions to fantasy and Romanian literature. The narrative centers on an eponymous prince traveling into a faraway land whose throne he has inherited, showing him being made into a slave by the treacherous Bald Man and eventually redeeming himself through acts of bravery. The plot introduces intricate symbolism, notably illustrated by the secondary characters. Among these are the helpful and sage old woman Holy Sunday, the tyrannical Red Emperor, and a band of five monstrous characters who provide the prince with serendipitous assistance.

An influential work, "Harap Alb" received much attention from Creangă's critical posterity, and became the inspiration for contributions in several fields. These include Ion Popescu-Gopo's film De-aş fi Harap Alb, a Postmodernist novel by Stelian Ţurlea and a comic book by Sandu Florea, alongside one of Gabriel Liiceanu's theses in the field of political philosophy.


The title of the work and name of the protagonist originate with the antiquated Romanian word harap, which, like its more common version arap, originates with the "Arab" and covers the sense of "Black person" (or "Moor"), and alb, meaning "white". The notion of Harap Alb has therefore often been translated as "White Moor"[1][2][3][4][5][6] or "White Arab".[2] Both arap and harap are akin to a narrative theme present throughout the Balkans, from Turkey in the south to modern Romania in the north.[7] Similar words exist in Albanian (arap in the Tosk, harap in Gheg), and define a character in Albanian folklore: a Black man often, but not always, portrayed in a negative light.[7] The character, also bearing negative connotations, can be found in Bulgarian folklore as well; the Bulgarian-language name is арап (arap) or арапин (arapin).[8]

The use of harap in this case primarily refers to the protagonist's slave condition, in distant relation to the African slave trade (see Slavery in Romania). According to Romanian literary historian George Bădărău, it suggests the hero's state of "degradation and submission", leaving the story itself to outline his recovery of a "human status."[9] Contrarily, comparatist Vasile Măruţă underlines the implicit meaning of harap as "black", which leads him to translate the title as "White Black", and to propose that it stands as proof of an absurdist tradition in local folklore.[10]

Plot summary[edit]


The narrative[11] begins by introducing two rulers, an unnamed king and his brother, the Green Emperor, whose domains are located in on separate "margins" of the Earth, being separated by desolate lands. Sensing himself at death's door and not having any male children, the emperor addresses a letter to the king, asking him to send either of his three sons, and promising to grant the one who would reach him his entire country. The eldest son agrees to follow up on his uncle's request, and embarks on the journey. Deciding to use the occasion as a test of his progeny's courage, the king heads off on the same path and, having disguised himself in a bear skin, blocks the prince's path at the end of a bridge. The latter makes a terrified return home, and the monarch subsequently plays the same trick on his second son, with much the same result. Without revealing his ruse, the parent makes known his disappointment, which prompts the junior to burst out into tears and run out into the palace's garden. He is visited there by an old woman beggar, who suggests that she has the powers of a fortune teller and receives his alms. The woman then predicts that the youngest prince will become a glorious emperor, urges him to attempt his uncle's quest, but warns him that he should use only items his father had used as a groom: ragged clothes, rusty weapons and an old stallion. She subsequently disappears from the prince's sight, rising to the skies.

Following up on the beggar's advice, the young man confronts his father's ridicule, but eventually persuades him into giving his blessing and lending him his old items. The horse itself is identified using a test of character suggested by the old woman: it is the only one in the stable who will approach and eat off a tray of embers. The prince is initially disappointed by the stud's poor condition, but is pleasantly surprised when the animal "shakes three times" and turns into the most beautiful of its kind. There follows a discovery that the horse can talk to his new master, and test rides which see it leaping to the clouds and then to the Moon. Armed with such powers, the prince then reaches the bridge and braves the ruse, being congratulated by his emotional father, and receiving the bear skin as a trophy. As parting words, the father lets his son know that he is to beware "of the red man, and especially of the bald one".

In bondage to the Bald Man[edit]

The next leg of the journey takes the prince into a deep forest inhabited by the evil Spânul, or Bald Man. There follow three consecutive encounters between the protagonist and the Bald Man: after twice refusing the latter's insidious offer of services, the prince is eventually forced by dire circumstance into accepting it. After another elaborate deception, the creature is able to trap the prince into a well, and only leaves him out in exchange for swearing on his backsword that they would exchange roles: the Bald Man will be introduced as the king's son to his uncle, while the young man will become a slave under the name of Harap Alb. They proceed to the Green Emperor's palace, who innocently welcomes the Bald Man as his son. During the meeting, the master makes a point of mistreating and hitting his slave. This upsets the emperor's daughter, who asks him to behave with more reserve, and secretly begins to wonder about his actual identity.

The prince-servant's first challenge begins after banquet during which the Green Emperor shows his appreciation for the precious "lettuce from the garden of the bear". The Bald Man then brags about his slave's abilities in retrieving such items, and orders him to head off in search of the plant. Upon the end of this journey, his trusted stallion descends upon a lonely island, which holds a small moss-covered house belonging to the old beggar at the beginning of the story. She reveals to the prince her miraculous identity, that of "Holy Sunday" (Sfânta Duminică), and helps him obtain lettuce by planning a ruse: while she dulls the ferocious bear's senses with a mixture of honey and milk, Harap Alb covers himself in his father's bear skin and roams through the garden in peace. The prince is again made to leave his uncle's palace once the Bald Man, envious of the Green Emperor's wealth of "gems from forest of the stag", claims that his slave can obtain the deer's skull and hide, with all the precious stones that cover them. The stallion again flies his master to meet Holy Sunday, who hands him "the helmet and sword of Statu-Palmă-Barbă-Cot" (a dwarfish character) and subsequently accompanies him into the forest. Following her directions, Harap Alb digs a deep pit nearby at the stag's water source and place of rest, proceeds to hide there, and attacks the animal in the night, decapitating him with a chop of the blade on the neck. Also instructed to avoid the stag's "poisoned eye", he again withdraws to the pit and waits there for another full day. This is the interval needed for the animal to die, during which it calls out with a human voice, attempting to lure its adversary into the reach of his poison.

The triumphant return with the gems in hand greatly increases Harap Alb's prestige, and positively impresses the Green Emperor himself. Envious, the Bald Man explains to the imperial court that the feats were entirely attributable to himself, the master, and to his stern ways. While the monarch agrees with the explanation, his daughter and her sisters are yet more skeptical, and decide to investigate further. Just prior to a feast, they ask the Bald Man to allow Harap Alb the honor of serving at their table, which he agrees to only after making the servant swear not to engage in conversation with the ladies. During the celebrations, the court is unexpectedly visited by an enchanted bird-like creature, Pasărea măiastră, who announces: "You are eating, drinking and enjoying yourselves, but you fail to think about the Red Emperor's daughter!" There follows a debate concerning the tyrannical Red Emperor and his daughter, during which some of the guests claim that the latter is a malevolent witch, and some still that she is the bird itself, on a mission to propagate fear. After witnessing this, the Bald Man proposes to send Harap Alb on a quest to capture the Red Emperor's daughter and reveal the mystery, the servant being forced to leave before the feast is over. While he is gone, the Bald Man continues to undermine his reputation, but also inadvertently sparks more suspicions about his background and character.

Final trials and conclusion[edit]

The prince's journey begins with an act of pity: upon preparing to cross a bridge, the hero notes that it is home to an ant colony, and, fearful of destroying it, opts instead to cross through the riverbed. An alate ant visits him and rewards his deed with one of its wings, guaranteeing that, should he ever need assistance, burning the item would instantly summon the entire colony to his aid. A similar encounter takes place after Harap Alb fashions his hat into a hive, to be used by a homeless swarm of bees: the grateful queen bee presents him with another wing, with which to summon her and her subjects. Further down on his path, Harap Alb gradually collects a band of followers. The first among them is Gerilă (from ger, "frost", and the diminutive suffix -ilă), a man who shivers in summer, and whose cold breath, reaching the fury of a strong wind, can turn things into ice. Confronted with astonishment and some irony by the prince, Gerilă answers: "Laugh if you will, Harap Alb, but you'll not be able to accomplish anything without me where you're going." The reply prompts its recipient to change his mind, and creates a bond between the two characters. They are joined by Flămânzilă (from flămând, "hungry"; translated as "Eat-All"),[3] who can consume huge amounts without satisfying his appetite. Next comes Setilă (from sete, "thirst"; also "Drink-All"),[3] Flămânzilă's counterpart among drinkers. These in turn are followed by Ochilă (from ochi, "eye"), whose sight covers immense distances, and Păsări-Lăți-Lungilă (from pasăre, "bird", a se lăți, "to widen oneself" and a se lungi, "to lengthen oneself"), who can will himself to grow in any direction and reach heights only accessible to birds. They all persuade Harap Alb to discard his reticence by issuing forecasts closely resembling Gerilă's reply. The first effect of this reunion is however disastrous: the respective traits of the characters result in burning down entire forests, depleting the soil, draining the water, exposing all secrets and exterminating birds, with Harap Alb himself being the only one who "did not cause any disruption."

The group eventually reaches the Red Emperor's court, where Harap Alb makes known his intention of leaving with the girl. The father is displeased by the news, but undecided about how he should treat the visitors. In the end, he opts in favor of tricking them, offering them residence in a copper house, which he has ordered heated to an oven-like temperature. Gerilă, who has the foresight of entering ahead of his companions, proceeds to cool down the entire structure. In his attempt to delay the matter further, the Red Emperor then invites the group to a magnificent feast, and witnesses with alarm how his food and drink are rapidly consumed by Flămânzilă and Setilă. The emperor then decides to impose a test on Harap Alb and the others: that of sorting out a mierță (some 200 liters) of poppy seed from an equivalent quantity of fine sand in the space of one night, which Harap Alb manages with assistance from the ants. The monarch then tells the heroes that, if they want his daughter, they are to guard and follow for another night, letting them know that he does not know her ways. At midnight, the princess tuns into a bird and escapes the palace, but, even though she takes refuge in the most inaccessible places, from "the shadow of the rabbit" to the far side of the Moon, she is tracked down by Ochilă and eventually grabbed by Păsări-Lăţi-Lungilă. As a final attempt at putting his guests on the spot, the princess' father then makes Harap Alb tell her apart from his adoptive daughter, who is her exact double. This the protagonist accomplishes with assistance from the queen bee, who sets down on the princess' cheek. A final challenge is presented by the girl herself, as a fantastical race between her turtle dove and his horse, to obtain "from where the mountains bump head to head into each other" three scions of apple tree and measures of living and dead water. Although slower, the horse forces the returning bird to hand him the items, and is first to return.

After taking the girl and parting with his five assistants, Harap Alb falls in love with his hostage on the way back to the Green Emperor's court. They are greeted by the Green Emperor and his entire entourage, at which stage the Red Emperor's daughter reveals the Bald Man's true identity and states her own affection for the destitute prince. As revenge, the Bald Man attacks the hero and chops off his head with the backsword of his sermon. The stallion resolves this situation by grabbing the enemy with his teeth and dropping him from "the height of skies". It then joins back the prince's head and body, reviving them with living water. The story ends with a magnificent wedding between Harap Alb, recognized as successor to the Green Emperor, and the Red Emperor's daughter—a feast which, according to the narrator's account, lasts "to this day".

Style and symbolism[edit]

Generic traits[edit]

Owing to its sampling of intricate narrative traditions and its use of symbols, "Harap Alb" has been a traditional target of critical interest, and has produced various interpretations. George Bădărău, who calls the story in its recorded form a "cultured fairy tale", discusses it as a "concise adventure novel [...] which has an accentuated ethical, didactic character."[12] Bădărău, who discusses the work's "great thematic complexity", also argues: "in general lines, Creangă's fairy tale follows the archetypal pattern of the popular fantasy tale."[13] Similarly, researcher Mircea Braga notes that the text is one of many by Creangă where a traditional pattern of folkloric inspiration is closely followed. This, he believes, is structured around three narrative solutions, the first of which is a "perturbing situation"—here, the "extremely difficult journey" undertaken by the boy prince.[14] The initial event is closely followed by a set of challenges invoking the action of forces larger than human life, "a whirlpool of events whose onset [the hero] cannot control, but which he dominates with support from supernatural beings and magical objects."[15] A third element, the happy ending, consecrates the victory of good over evil, and often distributes justice in an uncompromising and violent form.[16] Braga also sees "Harap Alb" as a peak among its author's literary contributions, ranking it above writings with similar pretexts such as The Story of the Pig.[17] According to literary historian George Călinescu, the work also serves to illustrate Ion Creangă's interest in structuring each of his narratives around a distinctive moral, in this case: "that the gifted man will earn a reputation under any guise."[18]

The tale's narrative setting has itself been subject to critical scrutiny. According to literary historian and critic Garabet Ibrăileanu, it is "a projection into the fabulous of the peasant world, captured in its archaic stage, organized in Homeric fashion."[13] The definitive version, which localizes dialectical patterns and bases the interactions between characters on the hierarchies of a village, allows critics to identify the setting as being the writer's native region of Moldavia, and probably even the rural area around Târgu Neamţ.[19] The effect is underlined by Ion Creangă's recourse to orality and its samples of Romanian humor: the narrative technique is enriched by descriptions, dialogue, the narrator's self-interrogation, interjections, jokes, fragments of folk poetry and various other picturesque elements.[20] George Călinescu makes special note of the manner in which Creangă's narrative relies on peasant speech, and how its nuances serve to distinguish individual characters, all of which, he believes, exists within the framework of "playful realism".[21] George Bădărău sees the writer's "pleasure of recounting [Bădărău's italics], verve and optimism" as instrumental contributions, likening Creangă's style to that of his predecessors François Rabelais and Anton Pann.[22] Among the generic stylistic traits identified by Bădărău is the story's repeated and diverse use of "Homeric" hyperbole, from the presence of supernatural beings to the happy ending's transformation into an eternal feast.[9] Another defining element of the account is the pause for effect, visually marked by the ellipsis and possibly originating from oral tradition, where it may also have allowed narrators to rest their voices.[23] According to French academic Michel Moner, "Harap Alb" is one of the tales illustrating such techniques "to perfection".[1]

Among the elements which localize the narrative landscape, the collection of objects handled by the destitute prince throughout his quest is seen by Bădărău as an essence of "archaic civilization" and "forgotten tradition", culminating in the grant of a backsword, the "symbol of knightly valor."[24] In Mircea Braga's view, many of them are means to a goal, which "can be 'lost' without consequence for the later development of the narrative, as happens, for instance, with the helmet and sword of Statu-Palmă-Barbă-Cot".[25] The animals themselves behave as he they supposed to, changing their behavior for the benefit of the plot: "the extraordinary horse will not be able to prevent getting lost in the forest" and "is not able to prevent the Bald Man's ruse", but "he will lead [the prince], without straying, to Holy Sunday's house" and "shall become the one to kill [the Bald Man]."[15] Basing himself on previous studies, Braga also concludes that the bearing of hunting-related symbolism on both the quests and the objects serving to overcome them is a clue to the ancient origin of the tale.[26] In the view of comparatist Liliana Vernică, these items represent several aspects of the universe. Thus, the objects inherited from the king are supposed to symbolize "nature" and "the father's virtues: intelligence (the horse), beauty (the clothes), virility (the weapons) and self-restraint (the bridle)."[27]

The protagonist and his aides[edit]

The prince figure around whom the plot revolves has been defined by various researchers as a variant of the Romanian Prince Charming, or Făt-Frumos, and through him of various other heroic figures in European folklore. Citing the earlier assessment of researcher Emil Bucuţa, literary historian Virgiliu Ene spoke of similarities between Harap Alb, Făt-Frumos and Sigurd of the Nibelungenlied (who, Bucuţa and Ene note, also hides in a pit while waiting to kill the monster Fafnir).[28]

The eponymous hero's quest is seen by critics as equivalent to a rite of passage, or more specifically to a coming of age quest.[29] The finality of this process, Bădărău notes, is Harap Alb's "social, ethical and erotic" fulfillment.[9] According to Liliana Vernică, the process of reaching "spiritual maturity" is a complex one, involving three stages and, respectively, three narrative levels: the "suffering" Harap Alb evidences after being shamed by his brothers, the symbolic "death" which comes with giving in to the Bald Man's ruse, and the "rebirth" illustrated by his exploits.[30] According to Bădărău, Harap Alb portrays the Romanians' "national moral code", being characterized by "natural behavior" as opposed to "supernatural properties", evidencing "kindness, intelligence, sensibility, industriousness, patience, discretion" and "a moral sense, wittiness, joviality".[9] Creangă's aim of rendering the prince as a familiar and sympathetic figure, the critic notes, is outlined by several elements in the story: "The protagonist sobs when he is scolded by his father, covers his mouth [in disbelief], falls victim all too easily to the Bald Man."[22] Similarly, George Călinescu referred to the three princes' journeys as closely as equivalent to "a peasant from the Bistriţa leaving on a logging trip".[31] Vernică, who notes that the king disguised as a bear guards "the threshold between the familial and social spaces", also observed that the prince's acceptance of his original quest, as depicted by Creangă's narrative, "is not out of his own will [...], but more so in order to alleviate his father's grief".[32]

In Bădărău's view, the main characteristics setting Ion Creangă's account apart from its sources of inspiration is its treatment of the other characters: "With Creangă, the characters are no longer symbolic, abstract (as they are in popular fairy tales), but display a psychological, peasant-like [...] individuality, within a framework that blends the supernatural and the real."[13] He sees this as being especially true for the prince's "five fabulous friends" (Ochilă, Setilă, Gerilă, Flămânzilă, Păsări-Lăţi-Lungilă), whose choice of names, "defining the character trait which individualizes them", is "a particularity of Creangă's fairy tale [Bădărău's italics]."[13] Braga underlines the serendipitous nature of these characters' presence within the story, which he also believes is relevant for Holy Sunday and Harap Alb's horse: "[they all] are nothing but 'helpers', with more or less unnatural powers, they appear to us as forces whose exercise is invoked by the very development of the 'ordeal'."[25] In Vernică's interpretation, they may also represent anthropomorphized manifestations of the hero's own "energies", which he is supposed to be putting to use.[33] Critic Simona Brânzaru places the representations of Flămânzilă and Setilă, both of whom "seem somewhat content to have gotten their friend out of trouble", in connection with the ideas of Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin on the "philosophy of the Gaster" (that is, belly), while noting: "As in any fairy-tale, be it in its cultivated variant, nothing is accidental."[3]

The enemies[edit]

Although voicing his lines in a colloquial manner deemed "peasant speech" by Călinescu,[34] the Bald Man is depicted in antithesis with Harap Alb, being, according to Bădărău's definition, "the symbol of evil, a cunning, intimidating, violent, arrogant, dictatorial man."[9] Liliana Vernică also sees in the villain a "double" of the protagonist, one who takes complete control of his victim's mind through persuasion.[33] Historian Adrian Majuru however provides an ethnographic theory regarding the figure, placing it in relation to Romanian history. He thus compares the Bald Man and other hairless antagonists in Romanian folklore with negative images of the raiding Tatars, who, in contrast to their Romanian adversaries, customarily shaved their skulls.[35] According to ethnologist Pavel Ruxăndoiu, the characteristic baldness also has the attribute of an omen, corresponding to a traditional view that God marks dangerous men.[36] He draws a similar conclusion in respect to the fragment in which the Bald Man doubles as the "red man", noting that it could be read as a proverb (in a line with various attested Romanian sayings, which caution against keeping company with "wild" or "insane" people).[36]

Described by researcher of children's literature Muguraş Constantinescu as "evil and cunning",[37] the Red Emperor is the story's secondary antagonist. The adjective designating him evidences a folkloric tradition which associates a range of negative or malignant features with the color red.[35][38] In this context, several other local fairy tales refer to a perpetual conflict between a Red Emperor on one side, and a Green or White one on the other.[35] According to linguist Lazăr Şăineanu, the monarch designated as "red" is portrayed by such accounts as "the cruelest tyrant of his time", and a common theme involves him forcing the hero to solve "enigmas" on the pain of death.[35] In Creangă's version, George Călinescu notes, such attributes are accompanied by the character's manner of expressing himself with "crass vulgarity" (the critic cites him invoking the devil and commenting on his daughter's sexual availability in dialogues with the prince).[34]

Majuru, building on observations initially made by Şăineanu, notes that the Red Emperor, as well as the cryptic "red man" omen, allude to another aspect of ethnic strife: a possible early medieval conflict between locals and the intruding Khazars, or "Red Jews".[35] The emperor's daughter is believed by Vernică to be standing for the prince's achievement of his ultimate goal, that of controlling his own life, with their marriage being a "hireogamy between the Virgin-Mother-Earth and the Aquarius-Father-Sky."[39]

Other characters[edit]

The Green Emperor's characteristics heavily contrast with those of his evil counterpart. He is, according to Constantinescu, "good, charitable, welcoming", "a perfect host" and "a sage who, with responsibility and serenity, foresees the proper order of things".[37] Building on an earlier comment by George Călinescu, Constantinescu sees the monarch figure, his association with the color green and his appreciation of lettuce, as epitomizing a healthy lifestyle and the preservation of vitality in old age.[40] In his implicit agreement to have the prince act as a suitor for the Red Emperor's daughter Vernică sees proof that the "wise old man" plays a role in Harap Alb's sexual awakening, and in "stripping away [the prince's] ego."[27]

Resembling the Green Emperor to a certain degree, Holy Sunday also illustrates a positive vision of old age. The character makes an appearance in another two of Creangă's tales ("The Story of the Pig" and "The Old Man's Daughter and the Old Woman's Daughter"), but, according to Muguraş Constantinescu, her depiction in "Harap Alb" is "the most complex".[41] The researcher discusses the intricate religious representations of Holy Sunday, as evidenced by "Harap Alb" and the other texts: the narratives alternate between the themes Christian mythology (the sacred position of Sundays in the liturgical calendar) and paganism (the queen of fairy creatures, or zâne).[41] In Constantinescu's assessment, Holy Sunday is "an earthly being, attached to the plants and flowers", whose abode on the island is "a symbol of isolation and happy solitude", but also an "aerial being" displaying "the lightness of clouds".[42] According to Vernică, she and Harap Alb's stallion are both key figures on the first narrative level, and who "emerge from the realm of the real as manifestations of energies."[30] Her first appearance in the story, the researcher proposes, borrows from the imagery from angels, and stands for "an enlightenment of the mind by God".[27] George Bădărău sees in Holy Sunday as "a gifted woman" who plays an essential part in the coming of age rituals of traditional rural society, but also as a holy woman "under the guise of a peasant".[43]

In addition, Constantinescu places stress on the alternation of youthful and old age attributes: "Despite her multicentennial age, she manifests rather astonishing liveliness and physical agility".[41] According to the same commentator, the saint's literal charm over the prince stems from her "bewitching" discourse, which is "half-humble, half-ironical" in content, as well as from her other "supernatural powers".[42]

Cultural impact and tributes[edit]

The Bald Man (top) and Harap Alb (bottom), as depicted by Sandu Florea

The "Harap Alb" story made a sizable impact on later Romanian literature, through its presence in critical commentary, as well as through homages in other works of fiction. It also touched other areas of local culture, beginning in the interwar period, when composer Alfred Mendelsohn turned it into a ballet.[4] Several ideological interpretations of the narrative surfaced after World War II, in both Romania and the Soviet Moldavian SSR (a part of the Bassarabian areas, later independent as Moldova). Partly replicating official Marxist-Leninist interpretations in the latter region, literary historian Vasile Coroban described Harap Alb the character as an exponent of class struggle, seeing his victory over the Red Emperor as premonitory for "the fall of the bourgeois-landowning regime".[44] During the final two decades of Romania's communist period, under the rule of Nicolae Ceauşescu, the recovery of nationalist discourse into national communist dogma also encouraged the birth of Protochronism, a controversial current which a claimed Romanian precedence in culture. In a 1983 volume by one of its theorists, Edgar Papu, "Harap Alb" is seen having anticipated The Open Work, an influential volume by Italian semiotician Umberto Eco—a conclusion which literary historian Florin Mihăilescu later described as a sample of Papu's "exegetic obsession", lacking in both "sense of humor" and "sense of reality."[45]

First brought to the Romanian stage in the eponymous adaptations of Ion Lucian (one of the first productions premiered by the Ion Creangă Children's Theater)[6] and Zoe Anghel Stanca,[5] "Harap Alb" was also the subject of a 1965 Romanian film, directed by celebrated filmmaker Ion Popescu-Gopo. Titled De-aş fi Harap Alb, it was noted for its tongue-in-cheek references to modernity (for instance, when showing Păsări-Lăţi-Lungilă using a three-stage arrow).[46] The film starred Florin Piersic, who was on his third collaboration with Popescu-Gopo, in the title role.[47] Later, the original story was also used by artist Sandu Florea as the basis for a comic book, earning him a Eurocon award.[48] Igor Vieru, one of the Moldavian SSR's leading visual artists, was also noted for his illustrations to the story, which his disciples later turned into murals for Guguţă Coffee House in Chişinău.[49] Additionally, the story influenced a song by Mircea Florian, included on the 1986 album Tainicul vîrtej.[50]

"Harap Alb" continued to impact on political and social discourse in Romania after the 1989 Revolution toppled communism. In a 2004 essay later included in his Despre minciună ("On Lies") volume, philosopher Gabriel Liiceanu used a sequence of the story, that in which the Bald Man succeeds in convincing everyone that he is the king's son, to construct a critical metaphor of Romania's own post-communist history.[51][52] Accusing the political system which had emerged in 1989 of promoting political corruption instead of reform, Liiceanu contended: "The 'Sign of the Bald Man' is the sign of incipient tyranny, originating with the cathartically interrupted act of the December Revolution and a Harap Alb who has been silenced. [...] But [...] there does come a time when corruption becomes extreme, when it becomes glaring for anyone to see, when everyone finds out that the Bald Man is the Bald Man and not Harap Alb. At that moment in time, a people should have an extraordinary chance in finding a living Harap Alb".[52] The metaphor also drew a parallel between the fairy tale protagonist and Niccolò Machiavelli's theories about the ideal prince, both taken as symbols of men capable to act against public perception for the greater good (see Machiavellianism).[51][52] Commenting on this vision, essayist and political analyst Arthur Suciu argued that the "living Harap Alb" Liiceanu was referring to may have been Traian Băsescu, elected President of Romania during the 2004 election.[52] Another interpretation of the story in relation to 21st century realities comes from Indian scholar Jacob Srampickal. He evidences the manner in which the protagonist and his fellowship cooperate, and choosing "Harap Alb" as "one of the best metaphors" for interdisciplinarity, notes: "while each participant played his role at the right time, the awareness of the mission belonged always to the hero".[53]

In 2004, Creangă's story was subjected to a Postmodern interpretation, with Stelian Ţurlea's novel Relatare despre Harap Alb ("A Report about Harap Alb"). The plot devices separating it from the original include locating the events in various real locations (from South America to the Arctic Ocean), hidden quotation from classical writers such as François Rabelais, William Shakespeare and Pierre Corneille, and depictions of the Bald Man as a Machiavellian character (in the negative sense) and of the Green Emperor as revered Moldavian Prince Stephen the Great.[54] A new stage adaptation of the original tale, directed by Cornel Todea to the music of Nicu Alifantis, premiered in 2005 at Bucharest's Ion Creangă Children's Theater.[6][55]


  1. ^ a b Moner, p.81
  2. ^ a b Library of Congress Subject Headings, Vol. II:D-J, Library of Congress, Cataloging Distribution Service, Washington, D. C., 1996, p.2328. ISSN 1048-9711
  3. ^ a b c d Simona Brânzaru, "Thoughts about a Possible History of Gaster's Presence in Romanian Literature", in the Romanian Cultural Institute's Plural Magazine, Nr. 23/2004
  4. ^ a b Viorel Cosma, "From the Musical Folklore of Children to the Comic Opera for Children", in the Romanian Cultural Institute's Plural Magazine, Nr. 30/2007
  5. ^ a b Ruth S. Lamb, "Romanian Drama", in Stanley Hochman (ed.), The McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama. Vol. 4: O-S, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1984, p.248. ISBN 0-07-079169-4
  6. ^ a b c Cornel Todea, "Ion Creangă Theater", in the Romanian Cultural Institute's Plural Magazine, Nr. 30/2007
  7. ^ a b Robert Elsie, A Dictionary of Albanian Religion, Mythology and Folk Culture, C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, London, 2001, p.12. ISBN 1-85065-570-7
  8. ^ (in Bulgarian) Todor Mollov, Български фолклорни мотиви. Т. VІI. Възрожденски и съвременни песни, ЕИ "LiterNet", Varna, 2006–2009. ISBN 978-954-304-225-8
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