Texas Tech’s Turkish Tales

Focus on Texas Tech’s Turkish Tales

Tales Alive in Turkey by Warren S. Walker and Ahmet E. Uysal. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech Univ. Press, 1996,1990. ISBN 0¬89672-212-0 (alk. paper, pb.) 310 p.

More Tales Alive in Turkey by Warren S. Walker and Ahmet E. Uysal. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech Univ Press, 1992. ISBN 0-89672-286-4 (alk. pb.) 325 pp.

The Art of the Turkish Tale, Volume One by Barbara K. Walker. Lubbock,TX: Texas Tech University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-89672-316-X (alk .pb.) 249 pp.

The Art of the Turkish Tale, Volume Two by Barbara K Walker. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University, 1993. ISBN 0-89672-317-8 (alk. paper,pb.) 262 pp.

Watermelons, Walnuts and the Wisdom of Allah and Other Tales of the Hoca by Barbara Walker. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University, 1967,1991. ISBN 0-89672-254-6, 72 pp.

Before reading these collections, my knowledge of Turkish folklore was pretty much limited to Hodja (Hoca) stories. Now, thanks to Warren and Barbara Walker, I am not only much more knowledgeable, I have also had the pleasure of many hours of fascinating reading. Warren S. Walker is director of the Archive of Turkish Oral Narrative (ATON) at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. His wife, Barbara, is curator of the facility. In the thirty years between 1960 and 1990, the Walkers, along ,vith other team members, collected over 3000 living oral narratives in Turkey–‘living' meaning that they were Current in Turkey at the time. The tales were recorded on magnetic tape, and are preserved on tape, in Turkish transcription, and in English translation at the ATON. Drawing on those stories, the Wall,ers have compiled a number of collections which together comprise a rich and valuable resource for anyone interested in the folklore and culture of Turkey.

Tales Alive in Turkey (1966) by Warren S. Walker and Ahmet E. Uysal was the first volume produced. The sixty-six tales in it were collected between 1961 and 1964 and are divided according to the divisions in the archive: Tales of the Supernatural; Perplexities and Ingenious Deductions; Humourous tales; Moralistic Tales; Koroghlu; Anticlerical Tales; and Anecdotes.

A general introduction briefly acquaints the reader with the social background of the oral tradition in Turkey, and gives the parameters of the book. Each section of the collection has its own introduction specific to the tales included in it. Notes at the end of the book identify the Turkish narrators, discuss motifs, define Turkish words, and provide commentary on the content, form, and ethnological background of individual tales. A map, index, and bibliography are also included. Tales Alive was reissued in 1990

and in 1992 its sequel:

More Tales Alive in Turkey, was published. Stories in this second collection were collected in the 1970's and 1980's and are arranged along thematic lines rather than according to the ATON divisions. Section headings are: The Vagaries of Fate; Immanence of the Supernatural; The Battle of the Sexes; Clever Thieves and Lucky Tricksters; The Language of Cryptic Metaphor; Legends of Moslem Saints; Myth and Miracle; Rustics in an Urban Wonderland; and Grotesque Innocence. In addition to the index, the notes, and the bibliography, schematic charts for two of the tales are appended. These two tales, which make up one third of the volume, are amazing examples of involved and complex plots comprised of many intertwining threads. One of the tales takes over 5 hours to tell, the other, almost three! Their length is not unusual among Turkish narratives, according to Walker, but it is not typical of the other tales in this book which range from 1/2 page to 4 pages, and are more typical of folktales in their simplicity.

Reading these tales was like entering a whole new world inhabited by intriguing people. At least one old friend, Nasreddin Khoja (Hoca), was there to make me feel at home. Many years ago, on a day trip to Turkey I bought a post card which pictured the Hoca riding backward on his donkey. The story which explains that picture is just one of the tales about him in Tales Alive. But who could have imagined some of the other characters? One story, for instance, is about the cauldron-headed, ax-toothed sister! Even the recurring characters about whom bodies of stories are told have a unique twist to them. The unpromising younger son who by either luck or wit attains good fortune is a familiar character to most of us. In Turkish lore he is Keloghan, literally "bald boy," a boy or young man made hairless by disease such as ringworm. He is, next to Nasreddin Hoca, the most popular folk hero. Each hero must have his antagonist, and the most popular villain is Kose, the evil, treacherous character who seems to have evolved from an ogre. Then, of course, there is Koroghlu, a sort of Robin Hood folk hero who rates his own section in Tales Alive. The historic Koroghlu is said to have lived in the late 16th/early 17th century, and like many of the chivalrous bandits, is immortalized in ballads and poem as well as in folk tales.

Many of these characters also appear, in different adventures, in Barbara K. Walker's two volumes which came along in 1990 and 1992 These, The Art of the Turkish Tale volumes one and Two, bring together a sampling of 131 of the ATON stories, and in so doing, give the reader a glimpse into the rich and varied culture and history of Turkey.

A generous and detailed introduction im Volume ne looks first at the form of oral literature (its functions, narrative elements and performance elements), and then goes on to examine the Turkish tale in light of that form. This introduction, alone, is worth the price of the book. In discussing the various elements of oral literature, Walker uses many examples from the 51 previously unpublished tales she includes in volume one, and is able to offer explanations and insights which would not be apparent to those from non-Turkish cultures.

As in her husband's books, the stories are translations of taped tellings, and every attempt is made to let the translations refled the style and voice of the tellers. The tellers, who were divided equally between male and female, and ranged in age from 9 to 90, are all individually acknowledged.

As for the stories, there are Nasreddin Hoca stories, anecdotes, fables, legends, heroic romances, and cumulative tales. While they reflect a uniquely Turkish culture and history, they also present universal themes, and do so in a remarkable way. I found elements similar to selkie stories and Cinderella in Volume One, and in Volume Two, variants of Bluebeard, the Brave Little Tailor, and Puss-in-Boots. There is a story of Noah's ark, there are historical and religious figures from ancient to more modem times. The stories entertain, interpret and perpetuate the strong Turkish value system, and preserve pride in the Turkish culture and past. The length of the tales ranges from those which could be told in a minute or two, to those which would take an hour.

There are no notes on the stories, so there is no additional information other than that which was given in the excellent introduction, nor is there a bibliography. However, each volume has an index, an extremely helpful glossary of Turkish terms and folk elements, and a pronunciation guide to the Turkish alphabet.

Barbara Walker's books differ from her husband's in layout and appearance. The stories are not arranged by classification or theme, so all introductory material is in one place. Each story is headed by its title in large type and illustrated with one or more two-colour etchings by Helen Siegl. The result is an inviting appearance and pleasurable reading. This is not to say that Warren Walkers books are poorly designed for they are not. They are iust more utilitarian in appearance. As always, when there is as much depth to collections as there is in these, it is frustrating to be limited by space. It will have to suffice that I highly recommend these volumes to all libraries, universities, and to tellers or individuals who would like not only be entertained, but also to learn more about how the folklore of a particular country reflects and is nurtured by its culture.

Finally, we have Barbara Walker to thank for a delightful collection of 18 Hoca stories for children. Watermelons, Walnuts and the Wisdom of Allah introduces young readers to Nasreddin Hoca who is believed to have lived in the time of Tamerlane. A preacher, teacher, and occasionally judge in the village of Akshehir, he was sometimes very foolish when trying to be wise, and very wise when seeming to be foolish. Above all, says Walker, he had the useful gift of being able to laugh at his own mistakes.

In a serendipitous bit of timing, I was reviewing this book when my fifth grade daughter asked for help with her lines for a skit she was to be part of in school. The story she was enacting? A version of Hoca and the hungry coat (called Eat, My Fine Coat by Walker) which was in her language arts book. It is good to see that the Hodja (Hoca) stories are a part of the education system. Watermelons has lively and engaging illustrations by Harold Berson. Berson and his wife had spent considerable time in Turkey during their travels making him uniquely qualified to interpret the stories.

All of the Walker titles may be ordered from: Texas Tech University Press, Administration Building West Basement, Box 41037, Lubbock, Texas 79409-1037. 800832-4042 or 806742-2982.

The Second Story Review, Vol 1, No. 4, December 1996

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