Sunday, April 15, 2012

Folktales at the Crossroads of the World


It’s that time again! So, what makes Arabic folk and fairytales unique? To start, the language used, Arabic, is standardized in written form by the Quran, which is considered the highest expression of literary art by many Arabs. I find the idea that anything written in this language would thus take upon itself the benefit and burden of such a standard intriguing, as English speakers have no work that unifies the language in this manner. One logical consequence of this for Arabic folk tales is that they are less divergent—changing little over time. Another is that there is more emphasis placed on how something is said than on what is said.  This makes some sense to me, as it explains the similarities found between folk and fairytales of the East and West, as many travelled through the Middle East through trade. That is not to say that the Arabs did not change the stories over time, morphing them to better fit their own culture, and certainly not to say that they did not create their own tales.
Speaking of the culture, it is much like African culture in the importance of oral tradition until fairly recent times (relative to the West). In fact, this explains the existence of pre-Islam tales, as without the oral tradition or literacy, the tales would never be able to be preserved over generations. Meanwhile in Europe, one can find examples such as Aesop and Ovid transcribing tales in ancient Greece and Rome. This is irrelevant, I think, to rating the quality of Arabic tales compared to European ones; it is simply another difference between the two cultures, which has had the aforementioned effects on the tales.

This coming week, we can look forward to the fairytales of the Subcontinent which, as far as I can tell, is the original source of many fairy tales, before they travelled west. Till then!

~Nick

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