KALILA AND DIMNA #1 - Fables of Friendship and Betrayal, Novel by Ramsay Wood


Interested in winning an Autographed #1 paperback (revised 2010 edition) of this novel?

Do you assume storywriting uses identical skills as storytelling? If so, you no doubt also believe that hearing a joke which makes you splutter with laughter follows the same neurological pathways as a rib-tickler which you read.

Nonsense! It almost always delights and amazes us whenever some written words unexpectedly manage to cross over and grab what the British comedian Ken Dodd calls “The Tickle Stick”. Readers often exclaim, somewhat incredulously, that “such and such a book made me laugh out loud!” Of course it did, if the storywriting (NOT the storytelling!) was skillful enough to thrum your funny bone.

But today’s laugh-out-loud text may tickle far fewer readers 200 or 300 years from now. Why? Because culture and language move on, because fixed text doesn’t have the quicksilver adaptability of the spoken word, because new-tech storywriting is never the same as old-tech storytelling.

Thus some of the animal stories in Kalila and Dimna date back (depending on WHAT phenomena you’ll accept as evidence) to the time of the historical Gautama Buddha, over 400 years before Christ, in The Jataka Tales. But, legend has it, these stories existed only in a succession of memorized monkish chants for over 300 years BEFORE they begin to be written down, this way and that, until seven centuries later the final Pali canon emerges around 300 CE.

Roughly around the same time the Sanskrit Panchatantra, perhaps in competition to this Buddhist storytelling upstart to Brahmanism, is scribed — but again, this too is mere legend as no original Panchatantra manuscript survives — only reconstituted pieces two different versions. Ditto with the next linguistic migration of these fables into Middle Persian around 570CE: no manuscript. Thus roughly 1150 years after the Buddha, in 750CE, the first extant manuscript Kalila and Dimna by Ibn Muqaffa, a Persian convert from Zoroastrianism to Islam, comes into being in Iraq, containing some of those original Jataka Tales from India.

Amazing? Check out Panchatantra on Wikipedia if you think I’m exaggerating.