The Tiger's Whisker Essay - Critical Essays

Harold Courlander


The most notable characteristic of this collection, other than its great geographical range, is the diversity in the complication of plots and the subtlety of styles. The lighthearted humor of the Guyo and Kono stories is balanced by the admirable feats of Krishna and Maui and by the gravity and wisdom of didactic tales such as “The Tiger’s Whisker,” in which a young woman who despairs of her marriage learns that she has the capacity to save it. With some exceptions, this variation also holds true within the tales from individual areas, such as China. Even a reader acquainted with other folklore collections or legendary cycles will find it refreshing to move from the cosmopolitan battle of wits in “The Ambassador from Chi” to the simple fun of “The King of the Forest,” in which the quick-witted fox takes advantage of the gullible tiger.

A number of the tales are edited for content. Courlander is careful to note that his version of the exploits of the god Krishna—taken from the Harivamsha, a supplementary book to the great Indian epic the Mahabharata—makes no mention of Krishna’s divine connection as an avatar of the god Vishnu or as a reincarnation of the god Narayana. In other words, the author has adapted these tales of Krishna to the context of his collection, where one might expect to find subtlety and sagacity as well as adventure and humor, but not a mythological pantheon and its cultural apparatus. The Krishna section, like the Maui section, is entertaining in the manner of a heroic epic told in its simplest form, comparable on an elementary level to the labors of Hercules, and should thus be suited to the young reader whose inquisitiveness may lead to further reading in mythology proper. This...

(The entire section is 718 words.)