Howard Schwartz, selector and reteller;
Kristina Swarner, illus.; Tsila Schwartz, calligraphy.
Oxford University Press, 2008. 528 pp. $34.95
ISBN: 978-0-19-533565-1

Four years after Tree of Souls took our
breaths away with myths of the Jewish tradition,
three-time National Jewish Book
Award winner Howard Schwartz now brings
us a reference pulsing with one hundred magical,
miraculous, and spiritual Jewish stories.
Forty-eight are quest stories, seven involve
marriage with demons; six engage Lilith; ten
are by the Hasidic master Reb Nachman of
Bratslav. There are angels, dreams, enchanted
palaces; magical combat, charms, and healing;
and journeys to heaven and hell. The tales
Schwartz has chosen originated over fourteen
centuries and through four continents from 5th
c. Babylon to 20th c. United States. Postbiblical,
they are equally divided among fairy tales,
folktales, supernatural tales, and mystical tales.
Schwartz defines fairy tales as inhabiting
wondrous realms where obstacles are overcome
with magical objects and endings are happy.
This is where he places “The Witches of
Ashkelon” and “The Lost Princess.” Rabbis
become heroes and perform miracles set in our
world in the folktale section, which includes
“Drawing the Wind,” “The Sabbath Lion,”
and “The Groom Who Was Destined to Die
on His Wedding Day.” The supernatural tales
are grand, dark fantasies that embody sexual
fears and battles for people’s souls against
forces of evil. In “Helen of Troy,” Joseph della
Reina, warped and tormented after failing in
his quest to bring back the Messiah, forces
himself upon the beautiful, virtuous Queen
Dolphina in his world and then tries to summon
the most beautiful woman from the past.
Twenty-five mystical tales center on the powers
of known Hasidic and Kabbalistic rabbis
and sages, during and after their lives.
Schwartz built his retelling of these tales
from a variety of original sources, printed and
oral: Hasidic and medieval writings, Kabbalah,
Midrash, Israel Folklore Archives, Talmud.
Readers will recognize many of these
stories from Schwartz’s previous collections
for adults and children, but gathered together
here, they represent a memorable core in
one volume. Comprehensive notes and commentary
root each story and draw its ties to
Jewish tradition. The five appendices are
crowning jewels, which also define and index
the tales by source, story cycle (of, about, and
by key protagonists), countries of origin, specialized
subject types, and Arne-Thompson
tale types. Bibilography of original sources,
English bibliography, glossary, introduction,
subject/story name index. SE

From www.jewishbookcouncil.org
and Spring 5769/2009 Jewish Book World