Read an Excerpt
Most folk and fairy tales have some aspect of the family drama at their center. In this anthology, the stories focus on the relationships that develop between fathers and daughters. How can a father love his daughter wisely and well? How can a daughter grow into an independent adult while still honoring her father? In every culture, these have always been dilemmas.
In these stories, the daughters of spirits, kings, viziers, rich merchants, hunters, woodcutters, and poor farmers all share common experiences. While the father usually sets the story in motion, he often disappears until the end. During his absence, the daughter can explore the world on her own and become self-reliant; in short, she grows up. Then father and daughter can reunite, forging a new relationship appropriate for the mature young woman.
Folk tales do not demand that their characters be perfect; the tendency to fail is accepted as part of the human condition. Instead, these stories work to repair and restore wholeness in a very imperfect world. This collection is full of fathers who fail through weakness or inflexibility, even though they love their daughters very much. But through error comes wisdom; the fathers' mistakes are the windows through which new and unexpected possibilities appear, often initiating a girl's most important adventures.
In most cultures, fathers traditionally embody authority, which in folk tales is particularly prone to fail. Fathers who rule over their daughters in these stories are assumed to be wise--yet they are often foolish, and need to learn from their daughters. Sometimes daughters must defiantly question their fathers' authority, relying instead on their ownhearts.
Other girls in these tales have overprotective fathers who love them too much, keeping them from living fully. These girls must free themselves-often symbolized by their marriage, a sacred ritual in which the daughter leaves her father and unites with another. We might describe this tradition differently today, but it is important to understand its symbolic value in folk tales.
In the stories that follow, we see fathers struggling to love their daughters warmly and to receive love in return. Their responsibility is to encourage learning without betraying feeling; to protect without stifling; to guide without coercing; and to encourage independence. It is not surprising that this anthology is full of contradictions and enigmas. There is no simple equation, no single map: every father and daughter must create their own relationship. This flexibility is part of the excitement and fascination of these tales.
As the Dinka tale begins, "Listen to this ancient tale!" The authority of this voice has held us in its power for centuries, and we continue to benefit from the insight of the folk tales it relates.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada