In 1936, Harold Courlander began a career of collecting African, African American, and African Caribbean songs, myths, legends and tales, as well as writing scholarly articles and fiction based on his knowledge of this material. The African, a novel that he published in 1967, tells the tale of a boy captured by slavers in Africa and brought to America, where he learns to adapt and survive. Although not Courlander’s best-known work, it became famous for a time when he successfully sued Alex Haley for infringement of copyright in portions of Roots (1976). The King’s Drum and Other African Stories was published approximately midway through Courlander’s most active period in his career, which stretched to 1982.
Like A Treasury of African Folklore (1974, 1995), his mammoth volume of tales, myths, and legends from sub-Saharan Africa, The King’s Drum and Other African Stories is a sampling of many localities and moods in this continent. The major difference is that the smaller collection concentrates on shorter and more accessible tales and is therefore both easy to read and suitable for beginning an exploration of the genre. What separates Courlander’s book from many others of the kind is its eclectic geographic selection, his wide knowledge, and his avoidance of cumbersome scholarly apparatus.