‘Tales of Superhuman Powers:’ Book Review

There are two types of stories that I absolutely love: superhero stories and fairy tales. Tales of Superhuman Powers combines them both by putting folktales from all around the world in the context of today’s comic book heroes, from the Justice League to the Avengers.

The stories in this book are categorized by superpower (e.g., super strength, super speed, laser eyes, etc.). Yes, laser eyes is totally a superpower that appears in some folktales. Folktales are kind of awesome.

The superpowers are then divided up into larger categories. First is physical powers, like the ones listed above. Then, there are mental powers, from telepathy and telekinesis to things like infinite knowledge and technomancy (building cool stuff). Then, there are powers of the elements, such as fire, water, and weather manipulation. And, finally, there are the stories of people who can change from one state to another—which includes all manner of shapeshifters. No matter what your interest is, there’s a superpower story for you in this book.

The diversity of powers is only one of the notable aspects of this book, however. It also contains great diversity of culture. As I mentioned earlier, there are stories from all around the world, and their cultures and myths are reflected in those stories. You may have two different characters with almost exactly the same power, but you’ll find that the way an invulnerability story unfolds in Persia is vastly different from the way it unfolds in Ireland.

Author Csenge Virag Zalka has gone out of her way not only to find as diverse a cross-section as possible of both superpowers and cultures, but also to locate stories that aren’t the ones everyone knows. On the one hand, this opens the reader up to all sorts of new horizons. On the other hand, it also serves as an illustration of how common some of our favorite folktales are, and even sheds some light on their origins.

My personal favorite story in Grimm’s Fairy Tales is called “The Six Servants.” It’s a standard story of a prince who goes off to woo a princess, and along the way meets six extraordinary people with powers such as super hearing, super sight, super eating, and yes, laser eyes. That specific story is nowhere to be found in this book; however, elements from it appear, practically verbatim, in at least two other stories that ARE in this book—not to mention the general “superpowered servants” motif, which is extremely common.

This book is useful for a number of different purposes. On one level, it’s great entertainment just to sit down and read. On another level, it’s somewhat educational. Author Zalka provides background on each of these stories, lessons that can be learned, and some other educational information that makes this book ideal for teaching a course in folktales, world literature, or whatever else.

Finally, these books are perfect for reading aloud to children. Zalka, herself a professional storyteller, got the basic stories from a variety of academic sources, but has retold them in her own style, which is designed for reading aloud. She even includes a basic age group for each story (Some deal with slightly more complex and mature themes, while others are just silly fun.) and possible discussion topics for afterwards.

Essentially, this book is great for just about anybody. It’s great for students, for teachers, for children, for adults . . . and for people like me, who just love a good fairy tale and a good superhero story. Whatever your pleasure is, this book is one you won’t want to put down.

Last modified on Friday, 28 December 2018 18:41

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