Academic journal article Western Folklore

Riddling Tales from around the World

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Riddling Tales from around the World

Article excerpt

Riddling Tales from Around the World. Selected by Marjorie Dundas. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2002. Pp. xxiv + 226, preface, acknowledgments, introduction, notes, index. $46.00 cloth, $18.00 paper)

Marjorie Dundas's book is an anthology that draws upon both popular and scholarly sources for a single subgenre, the riddling tale. Whereas in other folktales conditions of success are met by magical donation, in riddling tales success hinges on cleverness-the hero's or heroine's ability to create or solve riddles. Dundas (an educator-turned-storyteller who died at the age of 85 in early 2002) writes in her preface that after collecting riddle stories for many years she decided to expand her collection into a book. Riddling Tales contains sixty-eight tales and eleven songs and ballads, all with riddling as the core plot element. The stories are grouped somewhat idiosyncratically by function and are presented with informative notes both preceding and following the tales. Endnotes include material on geographical and oral origins, tale-type numbers, and motif numbers.

Of the sixty-eight tales in the collection, five contain supernatural elements; two of these are dilemma tales, and the other three are examples of the well-known Devil's Riddle (AT 812). Other riddling forms in the volume that illustrate the riddler's cleverness include the "freedom riddle" used by black slaves to obtain (not surprisingly) their freedom. Dundas also discusses the "cryptic metaphor," a term developed and discussed by Warren S. Walker and Ahmet E. Uysal in their 1992 volume, More Tales Alive in Turkey.

Dundas selected many tales from secondary sources, so the reader will find adapted, revised and altered treatments. Source citations may be missing-for example, "The Fools' Dream," cited only as "from India," has actually been taken from Tree of Dreams, by Laurence Yep (1995). Even when (as is usually the case) Dundas cites a source for a tale, she may exclude valuable information provided about the tale in that source. For example, she says that the story, "A Palace of Bird Beaks," from Howard Schwartz's The Diamond Tree (1991), is "from Jewish tradition." Yet, as Schwartz tells us in his notes, this story was quite specifically collected from Yehoshua ben Yoseph David and published by Nissim Binyamin Gamlieli in his volume, Hadre Teman (1978). Cryptic source citations like this can be misleading, as when Dundas claims that "The Sultan's Camp Follower," taken from Inea Bushnaq's Arab Folktales (1986), is an Arabian story even though Bushnaq states it was collected in Iraq. "On the Streets of the Lower East Side," taken from Jaffe and Zeitlin's While Standing on One Foot (1993), is called a "tale," but it is actually (as seen in Jaffe and Zeitlin's own note) a family narrative submitted to the Legacies Project, a nationwide contest for Americans over sixty to write about an event that changed their lives. …

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