Of Dark Nights and Folktales
Thirteen Gothic stories from eleven countries in Asia and Africa – quite a feat achieved over continents showing a single thread of interconnection, that being all the stories which fall in the folktales and legends category are dark stories some with humour built into them – a unique collection of YA fiction stories.
Tutu Datta’s book, Nights of the Dark Moon, looks at a common thread in all the stories, which have been collected over a decade by the author, that being in each story one encounters with something from the paranormal, world-of-spirit, which appears to be invincible, because of the very nature of these ‘beings’ when confronted by the homo sapiens. The stories draw from this ‘sameness’ that runs in folktales across all these nations, where, the ‘Nights of the dark moon’, meaning the Nights when the earth covers the moon and in so doing, darkens the earth even more. It is out of this scary darkness, that many a folktale has taken birth. Tutu Datta’s book holds some of the best of them.
You may ask, what is the greatness in dark humour and dark tales? As simple as this: dark takes to excite the mind with their chilling and haunted stories, laced with ancient curses, supernatural creatures and damsel-in-distress encounters which the human mind can explore, but not solve. Yet, each story in the collection talks of valour, courage, and revenge taken to silence the disturbed soul, which in most cases were done injustice to. Thus, the young adult, of any age, is able to duly impersonate in his or her mind the central hero/heroine in the story and play out the brave, strong, unafraid worrier that brings justice to the harmed or killed.
The stories at the beginning of the book are far more chilling and have a lot to do with killing the evil spirits, taking revenge, deceit, and damage, followed by others which slowly temper down, but are not totally free of their dark humour and content. The author has arranged all the thirteen - Oh My God! Isn’t 13 an evil number too – starting from the far east, where the sun rises first, Japan, to where the sun is the hottest, Africa. Further, the stories get romantic and talk of longing, affection, and sorrow.
Although, I loved all the stories, my favourites were in the end, the ones from West Africa and Nigeria, because, they spoke of threes and how, cutting trees can cause untold harm to the woodcutter because, the good spirits who dwell in the trees are angered and the evil spirit also dwelling alongside, creates havoc, which a valiant hero with his sword cannot silence, and must then use his wit and intelligence to appease the spirit. Now isn’t that so much like stories we heard about the great warrior, in India, called Vikramaditya? Yes, now read that story in Tutu Datta’s book, King Vikram and Betaal the Vampire. What a smart, brave and wise king he was! The fine illustrations at the beginning of each story are also drawn by Tutu Dutta. They really are exquisite!
My fingers may be trembling as I write the names of the stories and the countries they have originated from, for who can forget the unexplained horror stories told so easily – The Haunted Bridge of Agi (Japan), The curse of Miryang (Korea), The Tiger of Flower Hill (China), The Shapeshifter of Co Lao (Vietnam), The Temple of Rara Jonggrang (Indonesia), Hang Nadam (Singapore), The Seven Princesses of Ulek Mayang ( Malaysia), The Strange Tale of Chief Naam (Malaysia), Princess of the Bamboo ( Malaysia & Sumatra), King Vikram and Betaal the Vampire (India), The Weeping Lady ( India). The Witchman (Nigeria), The Curse of the Iroko Tree (West Africa). What fascinated me, is the commonality in cultures and rituals across all the folktales from all the countries. And hence, while Tutu Datta’s book, Nights of the Dark Moon, may be a collection of dark folktales of valour, courage and perseverance, at a deeper level, young scholars can take up the study of these tales and draw up a table of similarity between these cultures in all these lands, which run a near identical thread of mores.
In the preface to the book, the author states, “dark tales get young readers interested – exhilarated – about reading. These stories allow young people to experience danger in a safe place, i.e, in the pages of a book.” She goes on to quote Neil Gaiman, “Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell you that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
What a wonderful lesson for youth growing up in a world torn by strife, disparities, inequalities, and terror.
About the author: Tutu Datta is a writer of children’s and young adult books. She is the author of eight books. Her non-fiction work includes a paper on Asian Folklore presented at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, Singapore in 2013. She was also one of the judges for the Scholastic Asia Young Writers Award 2014. To know more on Tutu Datta and her work, visit her website by Clicking HERE.
Nights of the Dark Moon is available as printed and ebook format, across nations including India on Amazon.com. Click to BUY
NOTE: Also published in The Shillong Times. CLICK HERE to read.