Amos Tutuola 1920–
With his first published work, The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952), Tutuola became the first Nigerian writer to achieve international recognition. This adaptation of Yoruban folktales into nonstandard English represents one of the first works of its kind, and Tutuola is credited with founding a uniquely African literary form. Influencing critical reception of The Palm-Wine Drinkard was the early appearance of a laudatory review by Dylan Thomas, and the ensuing critical attention gave Tutuola's work a cultlike status in the Western world. Nigerian critics, however, were skeptical of Tutuola's skill and complained that his work was both ungrammatical and unoriginal, being unduly similar to the work of D. O. Fagunwa, a Yoruban chronicler of tales in the vernacular. Tutuola's next five works, all derived from oral tales and written in English, received comparatively less attention but established him as a consistently skillful storyteller. After his fifth work, Ajaiyi and His Inherited Poverty (1967), Tutuola did not publish until the recent appearance of The Witch-Herbalist of the Remote Town (1982).
Tutuola's works usually concern a naive or morally weak character who is either inspired or forced to embark on a spiritual journey. During this journey, he often encounters danger, confronts spirits from the underworld, and has sudden insights which enable him to live a more pious life. Because of the spiritual themes, allegorical characters, and symbolic plots, Tutuola's works have been called mythologies or epics rather than novels. An early Tutuola critic, Gerald Moore, analyzed Tutuola's use of mythology, comparing it with mythological patterns occurring in literature throughout the world. Other critics have also recognized in Tutuola's literary quests elements similar to those of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and other important quest literature. Since Tutuola was formally educated only through the sixth grade, most critics consider a conscious emulation of world mythology unlikely. Rather, they attribute these similarities to Tutuola's knowledge of Yoruban oral tales, which have universal themes as their basis. It is his reliance on traditional stories which prompted well-educated Nigerians to question Tutuola's originality. However, other respected critics maintain that Tutuola adapts and expands the legendary sources to create original versions.
In The Witch-Herbalist of the Remote Town, Tutuola again follows the mythological pattern of the quest theme. The story's protagonist, in search of a potion to render his wife fertile, meets with children from the spirit world. The protagonist undergoes mental changes which Tutuola depicts through physical transformations and allegorical confrontations between the protagonist and the various aspects of his personality. There is overwhelming agreement that Tutuola has here maintained the philosophic, symbolic, and imaginative qualities of his first works.
(See also CLC, Vols. 5, 14 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)