VERDICT: Trash (sort of)
Laurinda’s Rating: 2.5
This compilation of short stories is written in a style reminiscent of the Aesop’s Fables book I had as a child. Like many mythology or fable books, most of the stories either have a moral or seek to explain a feature of the natural world. These particular stories are all drawn from tales the author heard while traveling through Central and South America.
I agree with Sally that reading the stories over a longer period of time would have provided greater (not to mention longer lasting) enjoyment. However, I actually didn’t hate this book. For one thing, this is the only book that we’ve read thus far that isn’t blatantly racist in the fashion of its times. The author truly engaged with the people from whom he heard the stories and did interesting work condensing them into fairly readable stories. Although the characters in the stories often skew a bit towards the gentle, pastoral native stereotype, they still have agency and make a wide variety of choices, both good and bad.
My personal favorite stories were “The Tale of the Gentle Folk”, “The Wonderful Mirror”, and “The Cat and the Dream-man”. The first presents the mythology of the huanaco (a type of camelid similar to a llama). A group of people refused to harm other living beings even to save themselves, instead choosing to transform into huanacos to escape from harm. Their prince died in a valley, and that is why all huanacos choose to die in that same location.
“The Wonderful Mirror” is closer to a fairytale than a fable. It even comes complete with a wicked stepmother. Although a (male) hero comes along to reveal the treachery of the stepmother, the daughter/princess is the one to shoot an arrow through the body of her stepmother, the toad. Honestly, I find Huathia, the hero, more sympathetic than many of the male heroes from the Western fairy tale cannon. He’s a simple llama herder who goes to help a kingdom where evil has come, not fighting for honor or glory but merely choosing to do what he can to help another person.
The cat story is an amusing story involving trickster-like antagonists. I’m a sucker for trickster figures in almost any context, and this is no exception.
Overall, while I’m not particularly eager to sit down and reread this book, I did find a number of the stories amusing and/or interesting. After all, who else is going to explain witches and huanacos in the same work?