World Tales

World Tales collected by Idries Shah. London: The Octagon Press, 1991. ISBN 0-083040-36~5, paper. $20 410 pp

What is it about stories that allows them to last for thousands of years? And not only survive, but surface again, and again, in cultures that range the whole world over? Shah says that there is a basic fund of human fictions which recurs with uncanny persistence and durability. These tales supersede all style and nationality. It is the tales, the stories, which speak to us, regardless of whether they are told in Britain or the Middle East.

World Tales offers up to us a selection of these persistent .stories: the ones which have travelled the farthest, have featured in the largest number of classical collections, and have inspired writers of the past and present. As such, the collection is an excellent starting place for any student of folktales.

There are 65 stories in the collection, most of which will be familiar, in one form or another, to experienced storytellers and listeners. What makes the collection fascinating is that "one form or another."

It is easy to track the movement of some stories through trade routes or migrations. Others are more perplexing, leading to the theory of polygenesis: "multiple and independent invention in different places through coincidence of thought.” Shah, in his introduction to each story, acquaints the reader with the many variants of the tale, and then presents one of those variants for our enjoyment. Thus we discover that The Riddles (one must come neither clothed nor naked, neither on foot nor on horse...) is found in both 11th century Welsh. and in India of 2000 years ago, not to mention in Arabia, Mongolia, the Phillipines, and throughout Europe.

Sometimes, we are told, the same story, told with different emphases, will take on different meanings and lessons. Don't Count Your Chickens can warn the listener against greed and lack of foresight, against undue concentration on one thing, or against violent action,depending upon whether it is told in India, Turkey, or Arabia.

Shah's thirty five years of research and collection among written and oral sources forms the basis for the book. The stories are tellable in their present form, and anyone looking for variants will have a head start on where to look.  This re-release of a previously published work will be a welcome addition to the collection of those who missed it the first time around.

Order from ISHK Book Service, Dept. .WTT Box 381062, Cambridge, MA 022381-800-222-4745.

In Canada order from ISHK Book Service, 15 Graham Gdns., Toronto, Ontario Canada M6C1G6

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The Second Story Review, Vol 1, No. 3, September 1996

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