THE UNICORN EXPEDITION And Other Fantastic Tales of India by Satyajit Ray

THE UNICORN EXPEDITION And Other Fantastic Tales of India

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Eleven quaintly charming but uninventive occult tales by the heralded film director of the Apu trilogy and Pather Panchali. Written over a 25-year period, many of these stories echo the short fiction of Wells, Conan Doyle, and Verne (childhood favorites of Ray, according to his introduction). In fact, four tales detail the exploits of a ""Professor Shonku,"" clearly modeled on Doyle's Prof. Challenger. Like the other seven stories, each Shonku tale develops at a leisurely pace, spun carefully around a central conceit which, while rarely compelling, manages to display some ingenuity. In ""The Sahara Mystery,"" for instance, Shonku tracks down a missing biologist who, having mastered the secret of growth, has ballooned into a mile-long behemoth; and in the collection's longest and title story, the Professor explores a secret Himalayan world that harbors all mythological beasts, including unicorns. The Shonku tales aim to evince a sense of wonder, and succeed, although in an innocent, even juvenile manner; but the tales that aim for terror, although sharing the stately Victorian rhythms of the Shonku tales, are mere variations on clichÉs of the genre, and nary a one is scary. In ""Khagam,"" a man kills the pet cobra of a holy man, whose curse turns the killer into a snake himself; in ""Night of the Indigo"" and ""The Duel,"" men experience ghostly manifestations of past tragedies. Of the remaining tales, the most noteworthy is ""Ashamanja Babu's Dog,"" a shaggy-dog fantasy about a dog that can laugh. Ray needn't be ashamed of his hobbyist's fiction; but occult fanciers would best turn to King, Straub et al. for the real stuff.

Pub Date: July 6th, 1987
Publisher: Dutton