If you ever find yourself combing through the library stacks in search of a book of folktales, you should know it won't be found next to your favorite novel. Fairy tales and folklore are not classified as "fiction" in the Dewey Decimal system, the library shelving system used throughout the United States. Nope, folktales are considered "nonfiction," housed within the Social Sciences section. That's right. These fascinating international folktales have a lot of truth at their core.
Folktales carry with them a few defining characteristics: they spring from an oral storytelling tradition, they do not carry with them one, singular author and they are often looked to as intimate lenses into a specific society. You want to understand a culture? Don't immediately turn to a white anthropologist's interpretation. Look at the stories they've been telling themselves for generations. They can illuminate beliefs systems, daily routines, superstitions and religious practices.
So while yes, these international folktales are full of adventure and romance, warfare and personal drama and love and suffering, to categorize them simply as next year's summer blockbuster contenders would be doing them, and the communities from which they come, a deep disservice. Remember that these stories have existed through centuries all on their own — and if they are told for the screen, they should be told by the people to whom the stories belong.
Married at a young age to the Italian King of Trieste, Queen Mathilda enjoyed an initially, uh, nice existence - but when the King goes to war and his brother, the Prince, sees an opportunity to reclaim the castle and the throne for his own, Mathilda becomes a pawn in the selfish games of men, involving not one but two death sentences, an escape into the woods, being abandoned on a desert island and a bit of help from "the other side." And revenge. A lot of revenge.
'The Moon Maiden' (Japan)
A long-standing Japanese myth, 'The Moon Maiden' (sometimes called 'The Bamboo Cutter and the Moon Maiden') begins when an old, loving couple finds a baby — the Moon Maiden — while out cutting bamboo. The Moon Maiden attempts to spend her life on earth, but after falling in love with her foster parents, first, and then a mortal man, she is called back home. Her lover, the Mikado, is given a potion that will help him live forever - but the idea of living without the Moon Maiden is too much to bear, so he swallows the potion, steps into the fire, and hopes that his love will reach the skies.
'Baital Pachisi' (Sanskrit)
An ancient Sanskrit vampire meta-fairytale, Baital Pachisi is actually a collection of tales that collectively tell the story of King Vikram and his quest to deliver a vampire-like spirit (a baital) to a tantric sorcerer. But each time Vikram captures the baital, he is given a riddle and told only when he can't solve it will the baital go with him. Intrigue, deception and attempted murder ensue. And out of it emerge the baital and Vikram, allies.
'The Woman with Two Skins' (Southern Nigeria)
A war-hungry king with two hundred wives and no sons for an heir takes a spider bride, as they're rumored to have many children at once, in this Southern Nigeria folktale called 'The Woman with Two Skins.' But both the king and his wives find the spider bride's appearance too ugly to bear, so they force her to live alone. Little do they know that she has two skins, one much more beautiful than the other. When the head wife finds out, she seeks out medicine that makes the king forget the spider wife and throw her children, first a son and then a daughter, into the river. But a water spirit saves the children and, in a very satisfying end, the royal court's deceit is laid bare.