Monday, November 9, 2020

Persian tales come alive (Following folktales around the world 176. - Iran)

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!

My Mother's Persian Stories 
Folk tales for all ages in English and Farsi
Saeid Shammass & Shaunie Shammass
Kotarim International Publishing, 2018.

The book is bilingual - English from one side, Farsi from the other - and contains 30 tales, out of which 27 were told by the author's mother in Iran. The last three stories are the author's invention, contributing to the ongoing oral tradition. There is a short introduction, but no notes or comments for the individual stories. The illustrations are not great, but the texts more than make up for them: they carry on the motifs and plots of folklore, but also show the creative storytelling of the author's mother. This is truly a book of living oral tradition.


This is one of those rare books where I found a whole lot of intriguing new tales in one volume. The story of The bird of seven colors, for example, was a classic quest where a prince set out to find a mate for his father's lonely magic bird; he managed to break into a castle with some clever tricks, and rescue the other bird. Beebee Chaghzeh was a clever girl who got kidnapped by a witch, along with her whole family, on a cart filled with magic items. She managed to outwit the witch, rescue her family. The title of The citron princess made me think of "three oranges" tales, but I was pleasantly surprised to read a story instead where a girl, turned into a lemon by magic, was saved by a prince who slowly and carefully peeled back the lemon layers. Similarly, Hassan Ali started out as a "girl elopes with the wrong guy" tale, but here the wrong guy turned out to be a much better guy, and they even helped a cursed princess save her kingdom together.
One of my favorite stories in the book was The wheel of fortune, where a man without good fortune turned his life around by helping someone else turn their life around. There was a similarly good message in The lazy children, where three siblings refused to do any chores, until each found something they really wanted to do. The story of The jeweler and the apprentice had a heartwarming conclusion, where a grateful apprentice helped his teacher regain his wealth - in such a clever way that the old man's pride was not hurt.
The magic zucchini was a fun variant of the "donkey, table, stick" story type - especially because here the stick, instead of beating people, herded the donkey along, and showed the hero the way. On the other hand, I was surprised by the story of The selfish pussycat, where a girl didn't have genitalia, so she borrowed some for her wedding night from her cat (who had two sets)... but when the cat demanded a higher payment for the loan, she managed to get rid of her. (So many puns...).
The tales created by the author fit into the traditional lineup very well. I especially liked the last one, Blanket ears and the waq-waqs, a story about a journey to exotic places, where two groups of magical creatures managed to live peacefully together after they defeated an evil, strife-sowing witch. 


There were familiar tale types in the book too. Sometimes in new clothes, quite literally: The tale of GreenRobe was a story of a wife seeking her lost husband (similar to tales of East of the Sun, West of the Moon), following him across the changing of the seasons, until she found him and they could go home to their tree house together. There was also a "golden-haired twins" story (The little wooden horse), and a false fortune-teller (The caliph and the clown). 
The mother-in-law and the snake was similar to all the "devil's wife" stories where a loud woman chases a demon away - except here at the end of the story, the king decided she would make a great wife, and married the mother-in-law.
The tale of The two brothers was an Iranian version of the legend of the first temple (here, the brothers were rewarded by fairies). The land of darkness was the classic Alexander legend, except here we got a lot more interesting detail about the enchanted dark lands (e.g. that the ground is magnetic).

Where to next?

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