Sunday, August 12, 2012

1925 - Tales From Silver Lands


Tales From Silver Lands is one of the earlier Newbery Award books. Over the years, the world changes, children change, meaningful topics that people care about change, leading authors to find new topics to write about, but one thing that never changes, and that is the love of a good myth or fairy tale.

When I was a kid, I read every collection of fairy tales in our little library. My children were the same. We came across books of Japanese fairy tales, Irish, English, and Russian fairy tales. Many contained the same basic stories, only altered in some way to reflect that society. It was always fun to come across one that was new and fresh to me, totally different from any standard tale or origin myth. Tales From Silver Lands was like this.

Charles Finger, the author of Tales From Silver Lands, traveled around South America, the continent of the "silver lands," collecting tales from the Indians he met there. He mentions some of the countries there; Uraguay, Honduras, Tierra del Fuego, Guiana, Brazil, and the area around Cape Horn. He presents himself as a wanderer in the area, sometimes with a companion, happening upon an individual or coming upon a small village. And there is always a story that is handed to him, as a gift of hospitality is given to a stranger who appears and is welcomed.

The telling of the story is oral --never mind the fact that the words are printed up in this old hard-bound, well-worn library book. Mr. Finger tells us about how he rode into a little town on his donkey, how he lingered over into the evening because the day was hot and the people companionable. And he tells us how the old woman was persuaded to tell him the story of When the Rat had a Tail Like a Horse. Then he lets her words come through his pen and to our ears.

These tales are fun and mysterious. I think the one that caught my fancy the most is "The Cat and the Dream Man." The cat is sinister. Even from the beginning, when all creatures were created harmless; the jaguar did not hunt, the snake had no venom, the bushes had no thorns-- "the cat was of evil heart and unmerciful and a curse to the world, for she went about teaching creatures to scratch and to bite, to tear and to kill, to hide in shady places and leap out on unsuspecting things." The cat is dealt with, bound by a wise man, but even the wise man can not account for the worst mischief of the cat, the fox-faced man who is the cat's dream that walks among the men.

Witches are prevalent in the stories here, and though they are not universally horrid like the European tales, most are. They are clever and very strong. When a male is the villain, he is usually a stupid giant or monster. A person could ponder on that one for awhile.

This is a wonderful collection of tales that could still be read and enjoyed today. It looks like is has been reprinted recently, so there is a chance I might actually come across it to buy for my own collection.


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