Retold by Dashdondog Jamba and Borolzoi Dashdondog, edited by Anne Pellowski,
World Folklore Series, Libraries Unlimited, 2009.
Part of Libraries Unlimited’s World Folklore Series, Mongolian Folktales is an anthology of more than sixty myths and stories which form part of the oral culture still very much treasured and handed on in Mongolia today. The book also provides a concise wealth of detail about Mongolian culture, including such areas as a brief historical outline of Mongolia, holidays and festivals, sports, food (including recipes) and folk art. There are also selections of riddles, proverbs and triads, all of whose prominent roles in Mongolian oral culture are explained under “Other Folklore”.
The stories themselves are arranged by type (Animal, Humorous, Magical etc.). Some, such as “The origin of the Mongols” or “A Fiery Red Khan” proclaim their Mongolian origins; others, like “A Tale of Friendship” or “The Foolish Man” remind readers of the interconnectedness of folktales. Some stories are cited as originating from Chinggis Khan: for example, “The Snake with One Head and a Thousand Tales”, which serves as a warning to his children and grandchildren about the dangers of infighting. Readers or listeners (for following in the oral tradition of the original stories, the fine translations here beg to be read aloud) will be able to interweave these tales into the fabric of stories from their own culture, finding contrasts and similarities. Most of them are very short, making them ideal for dipping into; but some, like “Dreaming Boy” about a boy whose dreams get him into trouble but whose integrity wins through, have the satisfying depth of a fairy tale.
Photographs give the stories a contemporary context – as well as a glimpse at the famous Mongolian Mobile Children’s Library, winner of the IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award in 2006 and founded by Dashdondog Jamba, one of the book’s authors. One particular photograph shows children playing “Wolf and Marmot”, a fun-sounding group game outlined in the “Games” section. Other drawings include maps and a fascinating diagram of the layout of a ger, the “round home of at least half of the Mongolian people.”
Many stories are robust in their retellings, reminding us that folklore is not just for children. Mongolian Folktales is a superbly collated book and one that no one young or old will ever grow out of.