Jilali el Koudia,
Moroccan Folk Tales
(Syracuse University Press, 2003)

This is a fine attempt by Professor Jilali el Koudia to preserve the oral traditions of Morocco. He mourns the passing of an oral tradition that's being taken over by TV and film, and so he's recorded these stories for posterity -- or at least for those of us who can't sit in the halqa at a Marrakesh marketplace and hear them firsthand ... and wouldn't understand them if we could.

As you might expect, the stories are a mixed bag -- kind of Uncle Remus meets the Brothers Grimm. Animals talk, are vengeful or helpful, and befriend beautiful princesses and strong handsome sultans. The number seven plays a significant part. There are wicked stepmothers, watchful brothers, spiteful sisters and a character known as Boumaarif -- Mr. Know-it-all.

As I read, I wished I knew more about other traditions. I wanted to see where there were overlaps, where we had common interests. And then I read "The Fisherman." This story starts out as a tale about a blind girl and a magic box, but suddenly a young prince is looking for the girl who fits a slipper left behind at his party in the sultan's palace. There are no pumpkins in this tale, and Cinders turns into a pigeon. But the slipper is there, and so is the happy ending -- although the wicked stepmother is burned at the stake in this version.

Professor el Koudia was assisted in the translation of the stories by Professor Roger Alan. Professor Hasan M. El-Shamy has added an afterword, typology and register of tale types if you want to investigate further. But the stories are fun to dip into for themselves and you don't need to go beyond that to enjoy them.

by Jean Lewis
8 October 2005