The Girl Who Married A Lion – Alexander McCall Smith

If you mention the name Alexander McCall Smith I have noticed that two things seem to happen. Either people utterly love him/really like him or, simply put, they really don’t. I am in the really like him camp… for some books! I really like to turn to Mma Precious Ramotswe and ‘The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency’ series when I am in need of some comfort and a jolly read. I am not such a fan of either the ‘44 Scotland Street’ or ‘Corduroy Mansions’ though living in London adds a certain something to the latter. Anyway I decided to try something completely different with my latest McCall Smith and went for his retelling of African folktales (which I originally thought was part of the Canongate Myths Series); I do like a good folk tale after all.

Originally entitled ‘The Children of Wax’ when it was first published in 1989‘The Girl Who Married A Lion’ is a collection of over 30 folk tales from Zimbabwe and Botswana that McCall spent a lot of time researching and being told from the people to who these stories had been handed down to through the generations. Some people may say ‘Well these aren’t McCall Smiths tales then are they?’ but they he has edited and changed somewhat to carry the McCall Smith feel and are his way, so he states in the introduction, designed to introduce readers to the wonderful tales of those regions and letting them live out in the world.

The tales themselves are really quite wonderful. I won’t give you a synopsis of each of the 34 tales because that would a) take forever and b) take the enjoyment out of the book for any of you who go on to read it. However I will try and give you an overview. In this collection we have cannibals, a woman who gives birth to children who are made of wax, a man who has a tree growing out of his head, a girl who marries a lion and several stories of how different breeds of animals learnt to mistrust each other through various escapades plus many more tales. Of course why all these situations came to be you would have to read the book to find out.

The whole collection does wonderfully evoke Africa (I went to Kenya when I was much younger and this brought it all back) even though each tale is a maximum of around four pages each. I love the idea of days from the past where animals and humans communicated and you are really carried away with your imagination. You can feel that they all have the history, landscape and heat of the country embedded in them. I loved the simplicity of them even though in many ways they are all magically surreal some more so than others, and you can see why this was re-issued as a book in both adult and child editions. These tales also carry a moral at the end of the story and I am sure all of us whatever age we may be could gain something from this book as well as thoroughly enjoying reading it. 7/10

This collection has made me want to read the folklore and fairytales from all over the world. I read Perrault’s tales not too long ago (am still enjoying Angela Carter’s retellings sparingly to savour them) and have Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm’s collections in the TBR as well as a collection of Amazonian folk lore but which ones am I missing? Do you know of any? Or of any wonderful modern re-tellings?

(P.S Sorry for the late post, it’s my wedding anniversary today and so a second day of surprises has been lined up for both parties.)


Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Canongate Publishing, Review, Short Stories

18 responses to “The Girl Who Married A Lion – Alexander McCall Smith

  1. I tried reading ‘The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency’ once, but I never got through it. I want to give McCall Smith another try however. I might not have enjoyed the book back then because I wasn’t in the right mood to read it. This short story collection sounds really interesting and I have a feeling I might enjoy it more than the detective series.

    • The detective series is fluffy which is why I think some people either arent keen or hate it, I dunno though it just appealed. This is a completely different kettle of fish though just as charming. This has a lovely cultural feel to it.

  2. This books sounds really great. I didn’t try the No 1 Ladies but really wanted to as I was recently in Botswana. Eventually. This sounds even better though so I think I’d start with this.

    • Give the ladies series a whirl Amy its not for everyone but lots of people love it as a nice pleasurable break between other more literary or heavier things. I just love the stories and the characters.

  3. gaskella

    I’ve only read one McCall Smith – the first No 1 Ladies – it was fun, but I’m not bothered about reading more of them. I do have his book in the Canongate Myths series (Dream Angus) to read though.

    In terms of world folktales, I have an interesting volume in my TBR pile – called Kilia and Dimna by Ramsay Wood, and is a set of tales linking India, Buddism & Christianity originally written in Sanscrit with a foreword by Doris Lessing – can’t be bad. Also old Peter’s Russian Tales by Arthur Ransome are wonderful – and Russian of course.

    Finally – HAPPY ANNIVERSARY – we very nearly share the date (my 23rd was yesterday on the 23rd!)

    • Hahaha they are fun, thats what kept me reading more actually! I found I enjoyed spending time with the characters so much I wanted to go back again and again, only one in the series left me really unfussed about it.

      I have never heard of the Ramsay Wood book, I will look that one up.

      A belated Happy Anniversary to you, I am hoping we have a 24th on the 24th in the future.

  4. Simon, I am in the same “camp” as you. I adore The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency books, as well as the movies (which I watched after reading the series). I am due to get the latest Ladies’ Detective Agency book which came out last month, I believe. To be honest, I have not read any of McCall Smith’s other books, although I have one from a different series floating around somewhere.

    McCall Smith’s African folktales sound wonderful–and how I would love to visit Africa!

    • Lovely to have more people in my ‘camp’ lol.

      I didn’t actually like the TV series that much, I hadn’t pictured them to look like they did on the TV but then that often happens if you read something and watch it after.

      Africa is amazing, I havent been back in 16 years but its something I plan to most definitely do.

  5. I really enjoyed this book. It’s the only McCall Smith I’ve read so far, so I’m wondering how I’d like the others.

    • The good thing with all of them Jeane is that they are quite short and quite light and quick so if you dont like them you dont spend too much time wasted on them, if you know what I mean.

  6. I used to like McCall Smith quite a lot, and kept up with the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency books for a while, until I just found them getting slightly repetitive. I do like his style, though.

    Didn’t realise he’d done some African folktales. I absolutely love folk stories and mythology!

    Have you ever read Favourite African Folktales edited by Nelson Mandela? I found that really enjoyable, if you fancy any more folktales!

    • They can get a little repetitive but then again I leave quite a big gap between each one. I have to space a series out as I always worry it might actually run out!

      The Nelson Mandela sounds like a great read I shall have to look that one up.

  7. mee

    I read this one a couple of years ago and thought it was too simple and childlike though quite fun. I seem to have limit for McCall Smith. I liked the No 1 Ladies Detective but stopped after the second in the series and have no desire to continue, the same with Corduroy Mansions, liked the first but got bored on the second in the series.

    • Oh really, I didnt think it was that simple. I thought each tale had some quite deep and complex themes hidden amongst them, mind you most folklore does. I wasn’t fussed on Courduroy Mansions, I won’t be reading more of those I don’t think.

  8. Happy Anniversary!!

    With regards to Alexander McCall Smith – I love the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series! That is one of my absolute favorite series to read. I’ve not read anything else by him, and truthfully I’m not really intereted in his other series. Glad to see that you like the series, too. Cheers!

  9. novelinsights

    I like Alexander McCall Smith when I read him but then am not bothered about picking him up again if you know what I mean?! I liked listening to The Dog that Came into the Cold, but was very grumpy as one of the characters gives away the ending of Don’t Look Now by Daphers!

    However, this does sound like a really interesting collection – I love reading stories from around the world and I can imagine this being enjoyable to dip into. Some of the ideas sound like a book that I read when I was younger – The Virago Book of Fairy Tales….

    • You hit upon an interesting point Polly. I did actually really enjoy that series on audio but yet to read it bored me rigid, hmmm interesting.

      I have heard marvellous things from you and others on The Virago Book of Fairy Tales.

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