Courlander’s anthology is a balanced selection from a wide variety of geographic locations in Africa south of the Sahara. The tales represent East Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa, and West Africa, as well as many ethnic and cultural groups in this vast area. Young readers may gain a casual and comfortable introduction to the folkways of a major complex of cultures in Africa—cultures that are the source of tales and traditions still to be found not only in Africa but also in the United States, Brazil, and the Caribbean.
The division of tales given above considerably simplifies the collection’s range of folk narrative genres, which include fool tales, trickster tales, tall tales, riddles, and origin tales. “Three Fast Men,” for example, is an example of the tall tale. The two Ashanti tales of Anansi represent the trickster genre through a figure who is well known in West Africa and has survived as well in African American tradition as Aunt Nancy; the figure of Anansi even appears on at least one occasion as an opponent of the transcendent African American trickster, Brer Rabbit. “The Search: Who Gets the King’s Daughter” exemplifies the riddle or unresolved enigma, best known in English through William Blake’s poem “The Lady or the Tiger.” “The Message from the Moon” is a typical origin tale, and “Ruda, the Quick Thinker” is a fool tale in the manner of the English folk cycle “The People of Gotham.”
Thus, while the tales may be read and enjoyed at the level of Aesop’s Fables, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Die Kinder-und Hausmärchen (1812, 1815; Grimm’s Fairy Tales, 1823), the adventures of Paul Bunyan, and the like, they are also rich in information about the types of folk narrative, everyday...
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