Sunday, August 18, 2013

Eight Treasures of the Dragon

Eight Treasures of the Dragon
Retold by - Tutu Dutta-Yean
Illustrated by - Tan Vay Fem
Publisher - MPH Publishing

Dragons play an important part in the stories that I make up for the kids. Although we have only a few dragon based books, dragons feature regularly in our story-time. When we received this book, we were excited and ended up reading one dragon story every night. Some of the stories were big and a single story spilled over multiple days of reading it aloud. 

Tutu Dutta-Yean, the author of this book, brings together various dragon based myths and folk tales and presents eight of them in this wonderful book. The black and white illustrations by Tan Vay Fem add to the allure of these stories. 

While reading this book, I wondered why some folk tales are enduring and how important are the folk tales. A fascinating question which I am sure that historians would be able to answer it better. Sometimes the answer is obvious and self-explanatory and jumps out while reading a folk tale. Take for example one of the stories in this book called 'Sang Nila Utama' - which tells the folk tale of the island of Singapore and how it was named. This story gives us a small glimpse into the history of the place. I found that term 'Singapore' means 'Lion City'. It immediately occurred to me that if I had tried reading the word 'Singapore' in Tamil - I would have also reached the same conclusion.  An internet search will also indicate that Malays called the lion as Singa. This tale quietly told us without being pedantic about the cultural and language interactions or interchange between India and South-east Asia. It was a fascinating journey to read just one folk tale and find a lot of connection between various languages and cultures in South-east Asia. 

I was a bit perplexed about inclusion of mythological Nagas as a dragon in the list of eight stories. I found it difficult to consider that nagas are same as dragons - probably because this idea is not prevalent so much in the mainstream or pop culture. But, if we look at the illustrations of the dragons of the east, one could find out that dragons tales that originate from east usually have them illustrated to look like giant serpents with four legs. This is markedly different from the illustrations of the dragons of the west. A person doing research on folk tales might be able to provide an interesting answer on the similarity between nagas and dragons of the east. I posed this query to Tutu Dutta and she has an interesting answer. Please read it in the interview that will be posted after this review. 

There were a few stories in the list that did not have too much dragon action - like the story called 'The Dragon of Tasik Chini' - a legend from Malaysia. These were the stories that did not work as well with us as the ones in which the dragons were mainly involved like the Japanese stories of 'Ho-Wori and the Princess of the Sea' and 'The Acolyte, the Tengu and the Dragon'. 

My son loved the Tengu story and character Tengu reminded us about the Garudas. This story again triggered a lot of comparison and how the folk tales intermingle across cultures. This book is a great addition to any dragon crazy kids like mine or any one else who are interested in folk tales of various countries. I enjoyed the book and ended up sketching a dragon after reading this book. 

Disclosure - I got this book as a review copy from MPH Publishers. The decision to write about it and the views expressed in this review are completely mine. 


tutudutta said...

Thanks for the amazing review, Sathish! Now I'm looking for the share to Facebook button!

sathish said...

Thank you Tutu.

I came across this article about what Neil Gaiman says about mythology and fairy tales. I wish I could say it as well as him -

"What purpose do these stories handed down through generations serve? Fairy tales and mythology, he said, transmit information about specific cultures in specific times and places. But with so many motifs common among stories from around the world and throughout history, they also give us a sense of the universal. Neil feels there’s a Darwinist dynamic at work: as time goes on, only the most effective stories and details survive. Many tales and variations are lost along the way. Old stories evolve and break down into a “compost” that provides inspiration for new stories."

From -

tutudutta said...

Interesting idea from Neil Gaiman; yes many stories get lost in time... although I think of old stories as artefacts not compost; waiting to be uncovered and exposed to the light of day...

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