- Types of the Folktale in the Arab World: A Demographically Oriented Tale-Type Index, and: Popular Stories of Ancient Egypt
Once in a blue moon, a reviewer is privileged to receive for evaluation a work that in its sheer erudition and comprehensiveness is clearly destined immediately to become the major source text in its field. The name of Hasan El Shamy is, of course, already well known in the field of folklore studies, but with this particular tome (and with its 1,255 pages and tiny print, it deserves that designation)—coupled with his previous and already much utilized two-volume [End Page 288] study, Folk Traditions of the Arab World: A Guide to Motif Classification (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995)—he has now presented the field of Arabic studies in general and folklore studies in particular with a major source that will remain the primary resort of scholars for years to come. And in a persuasive demonstration of the inevitably continuing nature of the huge project represented by this wealth of information, he even includes an "addendum" (1254–55) in which he details an "additional tale-type" to add to the enormous list that he has already compiled.
The starting point for the research reflected in this volume and the huge collection of data that it contains is the well-known categorization of folktales, the Aarne-Thompson type index (as contained in The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and Bibliography, 1964). El-Shamy prints those categories on page xxv of the reviewed volume and then goes on to note that "the absence of numerous subdivisions from the table of contents reduces a researcher's ability to locate the narrative category relevant to the data treated." Pages xxvi and xxvii proceed to provide such a subdivided listing of the same categories. It is at the very bottom of page xxvii that El-Shamy comes to a crucial point in his research agenda, namely the Euro-centric nature of the data, which, as a result, is not "always successful in relating Middle Eastern and Arabic tales to the proper tale-type." Whence, needless to say, the importance of his research that has resulted in this set of volumes.
The listing of tales and tale types follows the prefatory material that has just been described. It uses the basic categories of the Aarne-Thompson system: animal tales, ordinary folktales, jokes and anecdotes, formula tales, and unclassified tales. However, within each category, tales of Middle Eastern provenance are categorized by the region from which they come. There are no fewer than 2,412 separate entries (1–977). The list of categories is followed by a truly comprehensive bibliography, including manuscript and archival materials. However, what makes this volume such an essential reference work is that in addition to the wealth of information within each entry, the entire contents are further referenced by no less than six separate indexes: register of tale types (995–1034), a list of changed tale-type numbers (that is, changed from both their numbering in the Aarne-Thompson index and El-Shamy's earlier work, The Types of the Folktale, pg. 1035), register of motifs (1037–1202), index of authors and sources (1203–14), register by (Middle Eastern) country (1215–18), and tale-type subject index (1219–53).
This massive undertaking is preceded by an introduction (ix-xix), which is given the significant subtitle "Rationale for this demographically oriented tale-type index" (subsequently abbreviated as "DOTTI-A"). The author-compiler begins by identifying the principal features of the folktale and of its study; he emphasizes the nature of folklore as behavior and goes on to note that a work [End Page 289] such as the one he is undertaking "must allow for interdisciplinary interpretations of the myriad of folkloric phenomena manifested in the tales" (ix). As...