Monday, June 1, 2020

Plot twists and a flying mermaid (Following folktales around the world 158. - Iraq)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Folk-tales from Iraq
Middle East Book Review
Books & Books, 1995.

The book contains twenty-two folktales from Iraq, collected from the oral tradition. The introduction talks about the storytelling tradition, opening and closing formulas, and the most common Iraqi words in the stories. The layout was a bit hard to follow, but it was a very exciting read!


The Mosul market in the 1930s
My favorite story in the book was that of The porter and the thieves. A poor man was abused by his wife, who wanted him to bring her the jewels of the Wazir's wife. The man eventually apprenticed him to a group of thieves, but every time they went to rob a house he did something out of the kindness of his heart, and blew the whole plan. Eventually, through a series of accidents, he did get the jewels, though.
The story of The young sultan was an interesting combination of the Glass Mountain and the Animal Suitors tale types. The boy guarding his father's grave fought demons and took their horses and armor. Instead of having to jump up to the mountaintop for the princess, suitors had to pull her out of a deep pit. In the end, the hero rescued his kidnapped wife by flying up to her tower on the back of a flying mermaid. (?!)
In a more realistic tale, a rich and a poor brother got into some family drama over their children marrying. The poor man's fortunes turned when his daughter married a mystery suitor; when envious relatives dragged them in front of the sultan, the sultan turned out to be the mystery husband.
I was amused by the tale of the man who sent his donkey to the market, and when it didn't come back, he went searching for it. People kept directing him along as a prank, until someone told him his donkey was a judge in Baghdad. The man tried to take the judge home, enticing him with oats and threatening with a stick, until the pranksters took pity on him and gave him the price of the animal. In another amusing tale a man made his stingy neighbor believe that his pots and pans could have offspring.
I was fascinated by the story of Shamshum aj-Jabbar, which was a mix of the Biblical legend of Samson and a few folktale tropes. It had a sad and pensive ending.


Magic lamp in Baghdad
The book had quite a few stories of well-known types: fool tales (here with Kurds... ugh), golden-haired twins (The fisherman's son), animal husbands (here with a pumpkin), Canary prince (with a djinn named Leelu). Se we are in the Middle East here, there was also an Aladdin-type story with a magic lamp.
The tale of the magician's wife was that of the fake fortune-teller who gets lucky. The brave prince was a very well detailed golden-haired gardener tale, with demons chewing gum and magic lion milk. In this one, they divined whether princesses were ready for marriage by watermelon, a motif which I have last seen in a Roma tale from Transylvania...
There was also a magic bird type tale, where two brothers ate the head and the heart of the bird and gained magic powers; their mother and stepfather chased them for a long time, trying to get the heart and head back, but they managed to get away. The story of The laughing fish combined various folktale elements: the story of the faithful falcon and the faithful dog, for example. It was a fascinating story, but had a pretty dark ending. The tailor's daughter was a Clever Maiden tale, with the addition of the story where a woman seduces her own husband three times in disguise; The djinn in the well was a "doctor and the devil" story, where the doctor used his shrew of a wife to chase the djinn away.
There were also some Harun al-Rashid tales of wit and wisdom.

Where to next?

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