So, I know I’ve read a lot of folktale collections recently, but this one is different! The thing that first caught my attention about it was actually the illustrations. The pictures are all done by the art of Mongolian paper cutting. Which is to say, each picture is made from a single piece of black paper that’s been cut out from—and it’s still all attached. They’re shockingly intricate. I’m so impressed with this art.
Then, it has a lengthy introduction about the origins of Mongolian folktales, the types of folktales, the culture that’s shown through the stories, the nature of oral tradition, the process of collecting the stories… It’s so great! For anyone who’s interested in literature, how literature came to be, fables, folktales, legends, etc., this is one excellent place to look.
Here are a few quotes from that introduction I enjoyed:
• “People give birth to their heritage and their tales: that is true and as ancient as humans.”
• “Though the characters are given the qualities of animals, human beings identify with them and recognize themselves in these creatures. The camel, of course, represents virtue. He is fair. He believes what people say, he helps others without hesitation. The deer usually represents a negative image in our folktales. A deer does not keep his promises.” – This I find interesting because I’ve never heard a camel associated with virtue or a deer associated with deception before. It just goes to show you how differently various cultures can view the same things!
• “The storytellers were noble people, whose memory held many things. They seemed to have a special aura around them. More than just words, the way they told a story was inspiring.” – This reminds me of the great storytelling tradition of Tashbaan, from Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy. Also, I wish I came from a tradition of storytelling. It’s a skill I’d love to learn.
Now, for a summary of my favorite story out of the bunch, “The Two Good Brothers”:
There once lived two brothers who grew crops together for a living. The older one lived alone, but the younger brother had a wife and seven small children. Every year the two brothers worked hard together, and every year they divided the harvest evenly between them.
One year, the older brother begins to think, “I don’t know if it is right to share the harvest evenly. My brother has a big family to feed, and I only have to feed myself! I should give him one more sack of grain!” So that night, the older brother added one more sack of grain to the younger brother’s pile.
But the same night, the younger brother lay awake thinking. He said to his wife, “I don’t think we’ve been doing rightly to share evenly with my brother all these years. Since he lives alone, he has no one to help him with the housework at the end of the day. Let us go give him one more sack of grain.” So in the early morning hours, they moved one sack of grain from their pile to his.
They next day, the brothers went to check their stores and were both puzzled to find they had the same number of sacks as they had before. The next night when the older brother tried again to increase his brother’s stockpile, the younger brother figured it out and put it back. In the end, they realized how much they both desired to help each other and simply carried on as before.
I love this story because it’s just so happy! Family loving each other, desiring to help each other, and finding that they both want to help each other so much, they’re giving the same things to each other! It’s just one of those warm-you-all-through stories.