Marie P. Croall
Ali Baba: Fooling the Forty Thieves
Marie P. Croall
illustrated by Clint Hilinski
2008 (Graphic Universe/Lerner)
I wouldn’t have expected it, but the graphic novel format lends itself well to the story of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” from the Arabian Nights. The tale follows Ali Baba as he discovers the secret lair of a group of thieves and steals from it. Later his brother’s wife discovers that Ali Baba has money and urges her husband to find out the secret, which he does. After hearing it he, of course, goes to the lair as well. He does not fare as well as Ali Baba and is brutally murdered by the thieves. Ali Baba retrives his brother’s body and the thieves come after him. Luckily, Ali Baba has a servant who is much more clever than him or than the thieves and through various observations and smart moves she repeatedly saves her master’s life.
Croall and Hilinski do a brilliant job telling this story with sequential art. I was particularly impressed at their use of panels without speech bubbles or much action to relay mood and moments of consideration and contemplation. Since this is actually a story without a whole lot of action (part of the story is almost more like a chess game being played between Morgiana and the thieves), those moments are extremely important. I was also impressed with the look of the world they created. I’m so used to illustrations for stories from the Arabian Nights where the girls all look like they just stepped out of a harem and the men are muscle-bound and always armed to the teeth that it was extremely refreshing to find that everyone in here looked like a real person. The women were wrapped up as women actually would have been! Everyone had extremely light skin (Ali Baba is almost as fair as I am), but I guess you can’t have everything. The only piece of art in the book that I actually thought didn’t fit at all was the cover art. It doesn’t represent either the character or the story well at all, and that’s a shame.
This telling of the story highlights one of the major oddnesses of it – the fact that Ali Baba gets all the credit. He really doesn’t do much of anything. Actually, he’s very dubiously moral in stealing from the thieves in the first place, so it’s hard to feel too bad for him when they start to cause him trouble. The real hero of this tale is Morgiana, the servant girl who manages to both outsmart everyone else and get to stick a knife into the bad guy, killing him without help. After reading this, I’m left wondering why she wasn’t on the cover of the book instead of ineffectual Ali Baba.
This was an excellent, dynamic telling of this story and I highly recommend it. Not only would it be great paired with more traditional versions of Arabian Nights stories, but it would be a great heroic story with some unusual twists as well. References from “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” so pervade our popular culture (it seems like every cartoon character ever has said “open sesame” at some point) but few people really seem to know the story anymore. This is such an approachable, well done version that I see no reason why that couldn’t be changed!
This is a story from eastern Africa about a girl who visits the land of the dead. It has many of the hallmarks of tales about lands of the dead from other parts of the world as well as some fairy tale elements, but it’s also distinctly different in flavor. I don’t know much about the area or culture that the story originates from, but the story was beautiful and intriguing.
This story sort of had three distinct sections. The first was the part of the story in Marwe’s village before she travels to the land of the dead, the second part focuses on her journey and what happens during her stay in the magical other world, and the third part tells about what happens after she returns to her family and village in the real world. Of the three, I found the third part the most fascinating. It focused on Marwe’s search for her true love and rejection of numerous other suitors. Most fascinating to me was that she didn’t simply wait for her destined husband, asking each suitor his name and refusing those that didn’t match, as many fairy tale maidens do. Her search was an active one, even though she had more than enough men coming to her so that it didn’t actually have to be.
The illustrations in this book were colorful, but not always as expressive as I would have liked. Despite the visual storytelling format, I found myself having to rely almost entirely on the text for clues to personality and emotion because of the lack of facial expressions and other visual clues throughout the story. There were lots of details concerning the setting, but the people themselves (and even what they wore, much of the time) seemed to have been less carefully illustrated. It was somewhat disappointing.
Despite the shortcomings of the art, the text is well done and it’s so nice to find such an interesting story from Africa that I haven’t seen retold in book form before. This was a fun book to read and introduced me to a great story that I had been previously unfamiliar with. I would definitely recommend it. I wish that I found more African stories being rewritten for new audiences like this one has been, but they are nowhere near as common as I would wish.
Psyche and Eros: The Lady and the Monster
Marie P. Croall
illustrated by Ron Randall
2009 (Graphic Universe/Lerner)