The Bird Who Cleans the World and Other Mayan Fables
. Curbstone Press , Distributed in the US by InBook . Willimantic ,
F1465.2.J3 M65 1992 (Carlson Fable Collection, BIC bldg)
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Paperback edition of a clothbound edition of 1991. There is an author's preface by Montejo and introduction by Allan Burns. The book presents 32 Mayan folktales as heard by Montejo growing up in Guatemala. The title fable is aetiological and grows out of the Mayan flood story. In the next fable, we learn that bats are the mice that made good on their envy of the birds but still remain discontented. A talkative dog revealed secrets, and now dogs speak with their tails (51). There is plenty of magic and plenty of metamorphosis in these stories, and some are filled out beyond what I would expect for fables in a strict sense. The stories are generally one to four pages long. Some stories seem so close to traditional European fables that they look like direct descendants. Thus The Ungrateful Alligator (64) involves a rabbit asking the dog, the horse, and the deer whether a human boy deserves some appreciation and should thus be spared. The alligator can make his case against the boy only by letting himself get tied into a net as he was when the boy was good to him years earlier. I like the story of the rabbit who borrowed from all sorts of creatures and promises to pay them back on a given day (44). As each comes--cockroach, hen, coyote, jaguar, hunter--the rabbit sends him under the bed to avoid the coming predator. Of course each is eaten by the next in the series, and the rabbit no longer owes anyone. I also enjoy The Man and the Buzzard (89), in which a man learns to like what he has. There are twelve curious three-color illustrations, most of which are taken from ceramic vessels of the Late Classic Maya Period (8th century). There are notes (122-3) on each of them. They seem to be only indirectly related to the fables by being directly related to some animals pictured in them.