Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rum Pum Pum... an Indian folk tale

Pictures by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey
Macmillan Publishing, 1978

This is a little gem I picked up at the thrift store, happy to see books pre-1985 still on the shelves. I love folk tales and fairy tales and so this one caught my eye because of the title: Rum Pum Pum a folk tale from India retold by Maggie Duff. While the cover illustration didn't stand out to me, the ones inside immediately screamed you've seen this art before and indeed I have. Jose Aruego is the illustrator for one of my favorite books. There's humor in his art in Leo, the Late Bloomer, just as it is present here with Blackbird.

When the king hears Blackbird singing so sweetly he decides he wants him captured and brought to his palace so he can hear him sing all the time. The king's men make a grievous error and capture Blackbird's wife instead and what follows is a tale of revenge. First, Blackbird arms himself for battle with a thorn, a walnut shell helmet, frog skin shield, and he fashions a drum to announce, rum, pum, pum, his march to battle.

Along the way he encounters many other creatures the king has offended who all offer their help. Now THIS is the bit that makes the tale so very cool to me... Instead of simply marching along with him, Blackbird says to the offended party, "Jump into my ear then" and then he marched on his way. Across the miles he collects help in the form of a cat, ants, a stick, and a river. In the illustrations it shows how they shrink down to fit in his ear and then you can see the collection of helpers getting more crowded each time. It's a bit like The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly, only things end better for Blackbird.

The king's guard is more amused than frightened by Blackbird and the king dismisses his demands for his wife. He's locked up in the henhouse and that is when the first of his helpers comes into play. Cat comes out from the ear to wreak havoc and this serves to get the king to take him a bit more seriously. This continues until each have had their chance to lend a hand and the king has grown so weary that he sends Blackbird and his wife on their way.

The story reminds me of the Grimm Brothers' tale "The White Snake" and also "The Quiltmaker's Gift" has shades of this story in it as well. I am guessing many other fairy tales do.

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