- World on a Maple Leaf: A Treasury of Canadian Multicultural Folktales Edited by Asma Sayed and Nayanika Kumar
World on a Maple Leaf is a compilation of twenty-five folktales by twenty-four authors with the aim of fostering understanding and respect for cultural differences in the multicultural contexts of Canadian life. These stories are folktales in a generous sense of the term in that they include rewritings of published tales, oral tales from grandparents, and original compositions. The brief directive given to contributors was “to re-imagine … stories … heard from parents, grandparents, friends and families, and to write them for Canadian children” (vii). The first thousand copies are for free distribution to libraries; further sales will support children in need. The writers and editors show such idealism and the project is so manifestly worthwhile that any criticism may sound peevish, but from a folklorist’s perspective questions arise.
I had hoped, from the title, for a collection of newly recorded oral folktales from recent immigrants to Canada. Surprisingly, all but six of the contributors were born in Canada or the United States. All are highly literate, identifying themselves as storytellers (nine), writers (eight), academics (three), and graduate students (four), with three of the students studying comparative literature at the University of Alberta. I would have expected Edmonton immigrant communities to have been canvassed, and perhaps they were because the introduction mentions a call that elicited “an overwhelming response” and the “painful” rejection of some “fascinating” stories (vii–viii). It is not clear whether any of the included stories came as the result of inquiry among new immigrants. This is a pity, especially because the final contributor, Roxanne Felix, writes eloquently about the value of “ask[ing] about a person’s journey” (94). If this is just the first in a series, as the editors hope, it will be worth going to new Canadians and recording their stories directly, rather than relying on others, no matter how refined their storytelling skills, to speak for them. [End Page 185]
It would surely be empowering for immigrants to know that their oral literature is valued in their new country. This raises my second question: Why is this compilation so literacentric? Although all the contributors speak highly of oral storytelling, the average reader would assume from this collection that oral tales are just an imperfect stage on the way to becoming written stories. Unaccountably, and inadequately, “folktale” is defined using a standard handbook of literary terms, where we are told that “many … tales eventually achieve written form” (vii)—as though this were the summum bonum of their existence. Only nine writers followed the original directive to reimagine stories they had heard from family and friends. The most interesting are those taken most directly from oral tradition: Margalara Rashid’s Afghan stories. Eight other contributions are composite texts, from published versions of originally oral tales; six are from out-of-copyright books, and two are original, in the style of folktales. In my world, as a folklorist, the term folk is a word of honor rather than a literary critic’s condescension; it is a mark of a community’s agreement that a certain story is worth hearing again and again.
Third, folktales are not (inevitably) children’s literature, and it would be doubly unfortunate if readers gained the impression that the stories of these new Canadian cultures are in any way “childish.” How many pitfalls lurk for well-meaning compilers of tales for children! And we have not even touched on stereotyping and representativeness. Will twenty-first-century Irish immigrants really want to see themselves represented by a leprechaun story only slightly revised from Thomas Crofton-Croker’s 1825 version, itself already archaicized? Will children overlook and forgive the overt moralizing in many of the stories and almost all of the authors’ notes?
These questions aside, however, the book is full of goodwill and hope, and the stories are enjoyable. The editors are to be congratulated for taking on a project...