AFRICAN FOLKTALES: Traditional Stories of the Black World by Roger D.--Ed. Abrahams

AFRICAN FOLKTALES: Traditional Stories of the Black World

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The addition of this collection of African folktales to the Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library--consisting, thus far, of Grimm and other literary renderings of traditional ""folk,"" or peasant, material--is cause for both cheering and regrets. In his Preface and Introduction, Abrahams (a prominent folklorist based at the Claremont Colleges) carefully apprises the uninitiated reader of what makes African folktales different: they are oral literature, and part of everyone's ""expressive culture""; they are performed in a particular context, and constitute ""an important medium of entertainment and instruction."" In describing specific types and their function, moreover, he clues the reader in to the tales' sophistication and subtlety (especially marked in the case of the open-ended ""dilemma tales"")--providing, altogether, an encapsulation of the best current thinking in the field, as well as banishing any thought of ""primitive"" peoples. In this same vein, he de-emphasizes the well-known, pervasive ""trickster tales""--to give other types their due. Then, however, he begins the collection with a potpourri of what he calls ""wonder tales""--an old-fashioned, catchall Western category--chosen because of their resemblance to familiar tales (like ""Hansel and Gretel""). He makes his selections throughout--on the basis of ""impact""--from a motley of folktale collections. And, most seriously, he provides no annotations--the sine qua non of folklore scholarship and invaluable to the neophyte. (Even to discover the source of particular stories requires scrutinizing the Permissions Acknowledgments.) That origin myths are hardly represented, and never as such; that tales appear under other than their original or long-established names; that the trickster tales are interpreted not as protests-against-injustice, but as warnings against antisocial behavior: these are other, lesser shortcomings. The collection does of course have some dandy tales; with a hundred or so selections from the world's richest store, it could not be otherwise. And the inclusion of the celebrated Mwindo epic, reminiscent of classic hero narratives from Gilgamesh onward, is a definite plus. Abrahams, in short, has accomplished some difficult things--and neglected some of the basics.

Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 1983
Publisher: Pantheon