The tales in this book stem from humanity’s ancient immersion in oral traditions, when “once-upon-a-time” triggered utter entry into imaginary ‘storyworlds’. Wild extremes of primitive music (probably from flute or drum), voice, accent, mimicry, song and dance aroused small groups — then as now — into a vivid social sense of extra-dimensionality. Today, our more subdued, linear and sanitised literary storytelling tradition, developed over the past 2,500 years, is codified through the written word or notated score. It marks the difference between silently reading a play by Shakespearea or absorbing it through the hurly-burly of any stage performance.
The stories of Kalila and Dimna hark back to wilder times, close to our hunter-gatherer era, before agriculture, when animals, shadows and spirits lurked nearby. Some of its ancient animal-stories were first transcribed and then rejigged by poets, monks and scholars through five languages — the Pali Jataka Tales (450 BCE?); the Sanskrit Panchatantra (300 BCE?); Arabic (750 CE); Persian (1505 CE); and the 1570 English rendition by Sir Thomas North (published when Shakespeare was a mere stripling of six). Two of the earliest scholastically “re-constructed” (and distinctly different) 19th Century Panchatantra manuscripts link directly to humanity’s oral tradition of physical storytelling. We are drawn to their stories as we are to the mysteries of pre-historic cave paintings. Here be dragons indeed!
Mexican novelist Carlo Fuentes noted in 1980: “Wood’s superb stories should be set alongside Italo Calvino’s retelling of the folk tales of Italy. No higher praise is necessary.”