By Cole Heule
Folktales are a great outlet for children, as they provide them with adventures full of fantasy, wonder, and valuable lessons. In particular, The Faithful Friend by Robert D. San Souci (1999) is a gratifying folktale that, true to its title, demonstrates the importance of being faithful to one’s friend. The combination of both literary and visual elements, all described by Norton (2010), plays a large role in creating a memorable folktale for young readers to cherish.
According to Norton (2010), most folktales follow a similar path in their plot development, and The Faithful Friend proves to be no exception. Starting out in a fairly distant time period, two men named Clement and Hippolyte venture out to seek a woman with whom Clement is infatuated. They find the woman, named Pauline, and Clement proposes to her. However, Pauline’s uncle, Monsieur Zabocat, is against the marriage, so the other three venture off on their own. But, as Hippolyte figures out, Monsieur Zabocat has summoned three witches to cast spells in order to kill the two lovers, so Hippolyte prevents the two from drinking tainted water, eating poisoned mangoes, and encountering a deadly serpent. Once he tells Clement and Pauline, however, he turns to stone through the witches’ curse. An old man announces that he can remove the curse if Clement takes it instead, and he wholeheartedly complies. But the man instead turns the curse over to Monsieur Zabocat, who, because his selfishness and cruelty, was the source of the problem. In most folktales, such as this one, there is an evident conflict between good and evil characters in what Norton (2010) would call “Person vs. Person Conflict,” and as is the heroic case, the good characters prevail. According to Norton (2010), the use of lines to create the illustrations in the folktale indicate the fast pace of the story and the constant direction in which it seems to go. In addition, the excellent use of dark colors, as explained by Norton (2010), is effective in conveying a sense of ominousness and mystery as the plot thickens and becomes more intense.
In general, the characters in folktales are not very well developed, mainly because the stories were originally told orally, and thus there was no room to show much growth within the characters. Despite this, the protagonists in The Faithful Friend were likeable and respectable human characters with whom children, especially boys, could relate. Neither of them seemed to change or grow in any way, as Clement and Hippolyte were genuinely good friends from beginning to end. In the words of Norton (2010), the lack of depth in the characters makes them appear to be flat. To compensate for this, the illustrator uses the visual elements described by Norton (2010), including line, color, shape, and texture, to give the characters some life, at least visually. It is easy to see in the illustrations that the human characters appear lifelike but with a bit of an artistic twist. Each character is made up of a lined, almost gradient-like design, which conveys the element of fiction that is common in folktales. The illustrator also makes the human characters portray races that are in accordance with the origins of story, which in this case is the island of Martinique in the French West Indies. Hence, the readers see some variety in skin color as the culture is reflected through the illustrations.
The style of folktales, including The Faithful Friend, is usually quite simplistic in nature according to Norton (2010). The plot itself is relatively straightforward and simple for younger readers to comprehend, as it contains few unnecessary details or distractions. The text itself remains uniform, as does the author’s narrative style of writing. As noted before, the characters are not complex in nature, and the story presents a simple moral or theme. The only complex aspect of this folktale is the illustrations. These pictures by Brian Pinkney contrast the simplicity of the story with the intricate assortment of lines that make up the houses, characters, plants, and other background objects. The texture of this story is very unique, because it is so unconventional and diverse compared to the simple nature of folktales. It is almost as if the illustrator sketched everything out, making an outline of almost every object. The skies, however, differ with their smooth, soft blend of colors. They almost appear as if they were drawn with pastel or watercolor, which is very enticing to the eye, especially to young readers.
According to Norton (2010), the themes of folktales usually correspond with the cultures from which they originate. In the case of The Faithful Friend, the themes have some Caribbean influence, as well as French. In general, Caribbean folktales discuss the importance of loyalty and being faithful to those you care about, which is perfect for this book. The slight French influence also hints at the notion that beauty and kindness are essential values to be seen in people. Almost every folktale, according to Norton (2010), will possess some element of kindness over cruelty, or genuinely good over evil as the underlying theme. Many cultures also discuss the values of wonder and mystery, and this particular folktale accounts for that with its use of magical influence, such as the evil witches and the transformation of humans into stone.
Robert D. San Souci’s The Faithful Friend is a heartwarming folktale for younger readers that demonstrates how important it is to be loyal to those you love. With its simplistic nature in plot, characterization, setting, theme, and overall style, complemented by its interestingly complex illustrations, this is a folktale that is sure to be memorable to children. Though simple, there is a lot that readers can take away from folktales such as this one.
Norton, D. & Norton, S. (2010). Through the eyes of a child: An introduction to children’s literature (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Prentice Hall.
San Souci, R. D., & Pinkney, B. (1999). The faithful friend. NY: Aladdin.