Fear is the theme of this outstanding collection, as Ragan describes her family’s response to the tragedy of 9/11 in an illuminating essay, her young daughters integrating their reactions into their play, a shocking violence intruding into the world of childhood.
In the process of editing an anthology of folktales, the author turns to her years of research for answers, “tales that emanated from the folk of all social classes…to communicate and share experiences…to survive in a dangerous world.”
Language is a powerful antidote to fear. Drawing from the fables of the common people in stories both specific and universal, this collection marries fear and fable as a way of ameliorating the dangers of the unknown. As mentioned in Jack Zipe’s insightful introduction, “Paradoxically, it’s because folktales do not ‘teach’ us to overcome fear that they help us deal with fear.”
These are fables of empowerment, whether of outwitting bandits or banishing evil spirits: sixty-five selected stories where the helpless battle the powerful, the unknown and the evil. “Building Stories,” “The Nature of Fear,” “When Common Sense Makes No Sense,” “On Death’s Payroll,” and “A Shared Destiny”are tales from every corner of the world, and Ragan weaves her own life story into the collection, reinforcing hope and a positive outlook against all odds.
Throughout civilization, stories have been whispered in the dark of night to calm frightened children, or spoken around campfires to send shivers of excitement through those gathered in the eerie glow of the fire. In an unpredictable world, there are no happy endings, only stories, endless musings of Scheherazade spinning her way through the present in search of the future.
Each tale dressed in the folklore of its country of origin- India, Scotland, China, the Northwest Amazon Basin - the theme is universal, yet all have a clear message: conquering fear in all its forms - “The Broken Friendship,” “The Story of the King and the Four Girls,” “The Devil’s Little Joke,” and “Solomon and the Vulture.”
Ragan’s personal essays add another dimension to the collection, her intimate reactions and experiences couched in family revelations: “In reading tales from all over the world… I felt I could see the shapes of worlds to come, worlds that might come from each vision.” Embracing the visions she chooses, Ragan accepts that challenge with an open heart.