Ramsay Wood has spent 30 years reviving Kalila and Dimna, an all but forgotten treasure of world literature. His second installment is as edgy, playful, and thought-provoking as the first. This Eastern classic is the most translated book in the world after the Bible. And yet these marvelous tales have been too often dismissed as trivial and childish. Wood has produced the first modern retelling in over 400 years.
Quirky, violent, deceitful, all too human animals populate this second collection of familiar and unfamiliar fables. Ostensibly intended to educate princes and commoners in ways of world, it uncovers the harsh realities that lurk beneath our comfortable everyday subjectivity. It even includes stories about how to learn from the tales themselves.
Its tales within tales structure reflects the constant flow of events and thoughts in our lives. It’s easy to get lost and a shock to return to the frame tale, suddenly realizing what we’ve forgotten. It’s like imagining we’re awake when we’ve really been dreaming. Efforts to keep track of where we are and to hold these multilayered tales in our mental grip provide unparalleled opportunities to exercise our brains and allow meanings to reveal themselves in their own good time.
Wood concludes the book with two masterful essays. The first outlines the history of the tale and how this treasure trove of sophisticated teaching-stories posing as humble fables has so easily slipped over borders and been embraced by so many cultures.
The final essay was prompted by a challenge from a NASA Director to prove that story is a more effective medium for science outreach than technical writing. It details our limited conceptions of story together with an extended concept of its nature and value.