Indian Tales and Legends Essay - Critical Context

J. E. B. Gray

Critical Context

J. E. B. Gray’s Indian Tales and Legends does not regularly appear on lists of books for adolescent readers. It is suitable for them, however, if they are interested in Indian traditions and tales. Additionally, the collection could serve as an introduction for individuals or in classes as a way of expanding their understanding of literature beyond the American and Northern European tales that are typical high school fare in the United States. Each of the tales can stand alone; readers can choose to sample only parts of the collection. As a whole, the collection illustrates well the style and content of Indian tales, which can be especially useful since the origin of many Western tales can be traced to India. Adolescent readers and their teachers should be aware, however, that the book includes only a single page of introduction to the collection. No comments or footnotes are offered for individual tales. Consequently, deeper understanding of the symbolism that underlies the surface of the stories requires that readers already have background knowledge or seek this knowledge from other sources.

As a translator, Gray was obviously careful in his work. The writing is clear, and sentences are usually simple, reflecting the voice of the storytellers who once shared these tales aloud. Occasionally, explanations of terms that might be unfamiliar to modern Western readers are woven into the stories themselves. Also, the names in the tales often include diacritical marks, such as Rmyana or Mahi. More important, the collection includes a pronunciation guide, with example words. Much care was taken in selecting tales for this collection, allowing young adults to sample the variety and contrasts that pervade Indian tales—whether they are neophite explorers of the literature of a land previously unknown to them or more seasoned lovers of literature armed with the knowledge to understand Indian literature at a deeper level.