Kathleen Ragan

"Outfoxing Fear: Folktales from Around the World"

(Reviewed by Shanna Shadowfax FEB 17, 2008)

It [the tengu] replied,"‘I’m most scared of dense brush growing in a thicket. What are you most scared of, Granny?"

The old woman said, "I’m the most scared of botamochi (rice cakes) and little gold coins."

Outfoxing Fear by Kathleen Ragan

Gathered in this masterful collection by Kathleen Ragan are stories from all corners of the globe that touch on fear in some way.  It is a collection that she makes significant and timely by touching on the fearful events of 9/11 and the experiences in her own life.  She looks to the stories of the past as guideposts for how humanity can cope with the future and persevere.

This selection of stories from all over the world, is broken into different sections that deal with the nature of fear, of courage, of hope and despair.  There are fifteen sections of stories, each section with a personal account from Ms. Ragan about events from her own life and observations about how the subject of fear and story comes into everyday contemporary life for her.  These insights help to identify why Ms. Ragan included the stories in particular sections and what she finds significant in the tales.  The front pages of this book include an introduction by Jack Zipes who compares the editor to Scheherazade, and a global map with all the various origins of the tales that populate this collection. The stories themselves are a range of styles and lengths—some several pages long, others barely more than a paragraph.  The editor appears to have preserved the stories as they were told—so many of these tales do not conform to the traditional forms and formulas of storytelling, creating the stories in their own way.

For someone interested and enchanted by world culture, storytelling and how story and myth can be made relevant in today’s world, Ms. Ragan’s collection will undoubtedly be a boon.  For someone looking for a set of cohesive tales to read to children or browse casually, this will likely not be the ideal book.  These stories are not designed primarily for appeal or clarity, rather they reflect the cultural sensibilities they come from, and can be less accessible to the casual reader.  Likewise, some of the stories preserve the speaking patterns and local style of language to the point that reading the tales takes more than a little effort in order to understand what is actually going on.  At times I wished this was in audio book form rather than text, because I imagine it would sound much better aloud than it looked on the page.  Ms. Ragan also makes an effort to include definitions of terms or customs and traditions used in the text that the readers might not recognize.  For instance, a “murrain” is a deadly plague or pestilence, and “exchanging names” was a custom among the Arawak, where intimate friends would trade names.

This is a fascinating resource and should be at home in any good folklore collection.  My particular favorite is also the first story in the book, a tale from Japan about a tengu and an old woman called “What are You the Most Scared Of?”  The old woman manages to outsmart the tengu (goblin) when she claims to be afraid of rice cakes and gold coins.  When the tengu seeks to have revenge on the old woman, he chooses just those things to scare her, and so the woman comes away the richer from the encounter.  Those who enjoy this collection may want to look at Ms. Ragan’s earlier collection: Fearless Girls, Wise Women and Beloved Sisters.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 3 reviews

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)


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About the Author:

Kathleen Ragan has lived in or traveled to fifty countries and currently lives in Australia.

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