Folk-Lore/Volume 31/Review/Persian Folk Tales

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Folk-Lore, Volume XXXI (1920)
Review of Persian Folk Tales by William Crooke


Persian Folk Tales. Persian Tales, written down for the first time in the Original Kermānī and Bakhtiārī, and translated by D. L. R. Lorimer and E. O. Lorimer. London: Macmillan & Co., 1919.

Up to the present time few collections have been made of Persian folk tales, and the subject is of special interest because Persia is the meeting-ground of the cultures of Arabia on the west and of India on the east, in addition to the local Eranian culture which possesses an important literature. This collection of tales made from original sources deserves hearty commendation, and the tales are admirably translated and illustrated. It is natural to enquire how far the folk tradition of Persia is indigenous, and how far it has been influenced by Arabia and India. From this point of view the present collection is highly valuable. But the general question cannot now be discussed, and it is to be hoped that some scholar will undertake a complete analysis of these stories and trace the parallels. Many of the tales seem purely indigenous, but it would be easy to show that others are variants or direct importations of material from other sources. As regards India, Sir G. Grierson, in the last issue of Folk-Lore, supplies an interesting parallel to one of the stories from India. So far as I can judge the influence of Arabia, that is to say, of the Arabian Nights, is not clearly apparent. But in “The Merchant of Isfahan” we have the faithless wife turned into a bitch as in “The Eldest Lady’s Tale” in the Nights, and the nonsense tales, such as “The Story of the City of Nothing-in-the-World,” and that of “The Prince who did not Exist,” may be readily compared with others from the same source; but such humorous exaggeration may have been invented anywhere.

In “Little Fātima” we have a version of Cinderella, and other obvious motifs will be found in “The Story of the Fortune-Teller,” where an impostor clevely escapes detection; and in that of “The Grateful Corpse.” In the story of “The Magic Bird” we read: “The peculiarity of the bag is that if you put your hand into it and pray you will find in it whatsoever you wish for; and if you sit on the carpet and say, ‘O Your Majesty King Suleman, carry me off,’ it will bear you off to wheresoever you wish; and as for the antimony vial, when you paint the antimony on your eyelids, then wherever you may choose to go no one will be able to see you.” In the “Two Golden Brothers” the elder gives to the younger a ring, saying, “Brother, whenever this ring gets loose on your finger and slips off and falls to the ground, you may know that I am in difficulties.” In the same tale, when the hero rests near his brother’s wife he draws a sword and lays it between him and her. In “Fāyiz and his Peri Wife” the fool loses the Peri because he breaks the taboo of holding his tongue. In that of the “Merchant of Isfahan and his Faithless Wife,” the hero kills a dragon which was about to devour the brood of the Sīmurgh, and the grateful bird abstains in consequence from killing him. The story of the “Marten Stone” shows a magic stone about which further information is desirable. That of the “Jealous Sisters” tells how the envious sisters plot against the youngest, the fairest of them all, and gets the nurse to substitute the puppy dogs for her babies.

It would be easy to add further examples. The tales illustrate social life in a delightful way, and the collection deserves the attention of all students of folk tales, especially those of oriental origin.