Fair is Fair

Fair is Fair; World Folktales of Justice by Sharon Creeden. Little Rock: August House, 1997. PBK ISBN 087483-477-5 190pp. $12.95

Bravo to August House for bringing this 1995 Aesop Award winner out in paperback and making it accessible to even more readers. It is a book which deserves a wide audience. Author Creeden is a lawyer turned storyteller who has melded her past and"present occupations in this examination of justice in folklore. On the one hand, Fair is Fair is a collection of 30 world tales, all of which have to do with justice. Some focus on the wisdom of judges who look to the spirit, rather than the letter, of the law in pronouncing their judgments. Others deal with perpetrators, wise and otherwise, or focus on the crime and its discovery .

Had Creeden done no more than collect the stories and list her sources it would have been a good book on an interesting theme. She did not stop there, however. Most of the stories are followed by sections entitled simply "comments” and here is where the heart of the book is laid out. It is here that Creeden looks at legal principles in the stories, or at connections between aspects of the justice in the story and life in today's society and courts. An Italian tale entitled The Bell of Atri leads to a discussion of annual rights and anti-cruelty laws, Mr. Fox prompts a discussion of serial killer Ted Bundy; Solomon's Judgment and a Japanese variant of that story lead to a discussion of the Baby M case. Given the Oklahoma City bombing trial I read with great interest the debate on the death penalty which followed a story in the section on murder. There are lighter comments, too, of course, such as the examples of bumbling criminals given in the chapter of trickster tales.

Although most of the examples are from the U.S. court system, there are some which are not. The history of trial by ordeal which follows an Anansi story, cites the Bible, ancient Greece: and old England. The Furies is followed by a look at Greek justice. Judge Coyote is followed by a discussion of character evidence. Even when the laws cited are American, the questions that are posed apply to everyone. These tales corne from around the world and show us that the search for justice, for what is fair, is not subject to boundaries, but is within the hearts of all people.

I cannot close without mentioning the foreword by law professor John B. ivlitcheU. It is a clear and cogent introduction to the text which, in its discussion of the role stories play in achieving justice, adds to the reader's understanding. Absorbing and entertaining. Highly recommended.

The Second Story Review, Vol 2 , No. 2, June 1997
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