Folktales from Other Parts of the World
Different Folktales from Around the World
Folktales from Middle Eastern countries and from India would take several books, for these areas are the birthplace of many of our Western stories. Unfortunately, these tales are not as well known in the United States as they deserve to be.
Rather than describe many unfamiliar stories available only in out-of-print collections, this section discusses only available tales or books that might serve as an introduction.
Nonny Hogrogian's One Fine Day is an Armenian cumulative story that begins when an old woman catches a fox licking up her pail of milk and cuts off his tail. She agrees to sew it back on only when he replaces the milk, which proves to be a difficult task. The simplicity of Hogrogrian's drawings is perfect for the rustic humour and setting of this circular tale.
In Robert San Souci's lovely Armenian tale A Weave of Words, a weaver's daughter refuses the hand of a young prince because he can neither read nor write nor earn a living with his hands. He learns for her sake and weaves her beautiful carpet.
They are married and live happily for many years as king and queen. When the king is captured by a three-headed monster, the queen's skills of reading, writing and weaving enable her to rescue her husband.
Raul Colon's glowing, finely textured paintings resemble the lovely patterns and colours of the very rugs that form the basis of the story.
Scheherazade's Arabian Nights tales have provided stories for generations since they were first published in 1712. Sir Richard Burton's translation made them available for such collections such as Neil Philip's Kherdian's The Rose's Smile,
Farizad sets out to find three treasures and right a terrible wrong Deborah Nourse Latimore selected three of the stories to retell in Arabian Nights the well-known ''Alladdin'' ''The Queen of Serpents,'' and ''The Lost City of Brass.''
In this last tale, Scheherazade describes how three men, a story teller, a wise man, and a ruler, travel to find the ancient brass bottles in which King Solomon imprisoned all the evil Jinn of the earth.
They reach the lost city and finally retrieve one of Solomon's bottles. John Yeoman has retold The Seven Voyagers of Sinbad in a volume illustrated by Quentin Blake. Blake's sense of humour adds the right touch to these light-hearted adventures about a well-known hero.
Sinbad is really a merchant, not a sailor, and Yeoman suggests that the tales arose out of yarns spun by real travellers. Sinbad's adventures recall the exaggerated antics of American tell-tale heroes.
Ehud Ben-Ezer has told a quieter tale in Hosni the Dreamer. Here a gentle shepherd, who loves to listen to the old stories of his elders, dreams one night of visiting a marvellous city. He soon travels to just such a city when he is among those chosen to take the Sheikh's herd to market.
When Hosni spends his earnings on a verse instead of on something substantial, he is chided by his fellow shepherds.
However, the verse turns out to be a warning, and Hosni is the only one who heeds it out and survives, winning a lovely princess in the process.
Readers will recognize recurring folktale motifs in several other tales the Middle East. Rimonah of the Flashing Sword.
A retelling by Eric Kimmel has its origins in North Africa but contains many elements of ''Snow White.'' When Rimonah's mother dies, her father is tricked into marriage by an evil sorceress.
Instead of a magic mirror to answer her questions, however, Rimonah's wicked stepmother has a magic bowl. When her stepmother orders a huntsman to take her into the desert and kill her.
Rimonah escapes and is taken by the tribe of Bedouins. Later she lives with forty thieves. In this version, Rimonah is not all passive. When her prince awakens her from her enchanted sleep, she takes charge and leads her friends in a battle against the wicked sorceress.
In Kimmel's The Three Princes, three cousins hope to win the hand of a wise and beautiful princess. Realizing that she loves Moshen, the youngest and the poorest of the three, the princess sets the cousins the difficult task of finding the greatest wonder in the world. After a year's journey, the three meet and compare their treasures.
Prince Fahad has found a crystal ball, Prince Muhammed has obtained a magic carpet, and Prince Moshen has been given an orange. When the crystal ball tells them that the princess is dying, they climb aboard the magic carpet to return to the palace.
Moshen feeds his orange to the princess and saves her life, but the princess's councillors cannot decide whose gift was the most wondrous. The princess declares that Fahad and Muhammed both still have their treasures but since Moshen gave up everything for her, he is the one she will marry.
Indian folklore tradition has its share of wise men, too.
''The Sticks of Truth'' in George Shannon's collection Stories to solve tells of an Indian judge who was asked to determine who stole a gold ring. He gives each suspect a stick and says that only the stick of the thief will grow in the night. In the morning, he is able to accuse the one with a shortest stick of thievery. Why?
In this collection of short pieces, the reader is invited to guess before turning the page to discover the answer.
In this case, the girl trims her stick in an effort to hide its growth, thereby proving her guilt. The Jataka, the birth stories, found in India tell of the previous reincarnations of the Buddha and are known to have existed as early as the fifth century. A.D.
Many of these tales are moralistic or religious in nature. In Margaret Hodge's Hidden in the Sand, a caravan of traders becomes lost in the desert and is in danger of dying of thirst.
A young boy finds a small plant growing in the sand and urges the men to dig for water. When they have dug a deep hole and found only hard rock, they ridicule the boy.
The youngster won't give up and climbs down into the hole. When he strikes the rock with a hammer, it bursts in two, and cool clean water gushes out.
The Brave Little Parrot retold by Rafe Martin is a story of a small grey bird who desperately tries to put out a forest fire even though his fellows think the task is hopeless. His forts elicit tears from the eagle god and this quench the flames.
In return for his bravery, the parrot is rewarded with feathers in flaming colours. These stories of faith and persistence are typical of many of the early Jataka tales but have few other elements of traditional folktales.
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Folktales of Different Cultures
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Devika Primić