Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Caliph Stork by Wilhelm Hauff, Illustrated by Anton Lomaev

We discovered this gorgeous picture book just the other day and had to share the illustrations and this lesser-known fairy tale, The Story of Caliph Stork.

It may sound familiar as a version of the fairy tale was include in Andrew Lang's Green Fairy Book, but with such rich fodder for illustrators, and such a funny tale for storytellers to have fun with, it's surprising this isn't more well known.

The fairy tale actually has a distinct origin, written by German writer Wilhelm Hauff for his Märchen almanach auf das Jahr 1826 (Fairytale Almanac of 1826). (The Green Fairy Book retells story in chapters.)

Set in the nebulous 'Orient' (something the romantics were fascinated by, even though it was a fantasy) the plot could easily (today) be mistaken for something out of 1001 Nights. Source notes from one writer/storyteller, Aaron Shepard, who has won honors from the American Folklore Society, retold and published this tale (with very different, but also lovely illustrations by Alisher Dianov) tell us that despite it's German origin, that this tale is now told in the Middle East and has become part of their folklore!


From Shepard's notes:
This tale—usually called “The Calif Stork” or “The Stork Calif”—is often classified as a folktale of Iraq; and folklorist Harold Courlander, who heard it twice from Muslim storytellers, believes it to be widely told in the Middle East. Yet its origin is The Caravan, a book of original fairy tales by nineteenth-century German writer Wilhelm Hauff. While folktales often make their way into written literature, in this case a written work has passed into folklore. My own retelling draws from both original and retold versions. 
The calif in this tale is patterned after Harun al-Rashid, made popular in the pages of The Thousand and One Nights.
The plot essentially goes :
The Caliph of Baghdad comes across a mysterious powder with an incantation on the bottle. It is said it can turn someone into any animal they wish. They must not, however, forget the incantation so they can turn back but above all, they must not laugh while as animals or they will be trapped in that form forever. Of course the Caliph (and his Vizier) become storks and get stuck. On a quest to find a cure, the encounter a large sad, owl, who tells them she is really the Princess of India, transformed by an evil imposter wizard, who now sits on the throne. They see an opportunity, via sneaky animal-eavesdropping and spy work, to become human again but there's a tricky clause in that one of them needs to promise his hand in marriage to the owl - without seeing what she looks like - otherwise the reversing will fail. All goes well and, of course, the princess is gorgeous, so the anxious Caliph is relieved.

If the illustration style of the images posted here, looks familiar it's because Anton Lomaev's illustrations for The Wild Swans have been circulating the internet constantly for about three years now, never failing to catch the eye (especially with all the golds and fire colors he includes in his images for that particular fairy tale. This one, however, is ultimately dominated by blues and mystery...

As an interesting tag to the tale, the sorcerer is sentenced to death while his son is given the choice of death or to smell the same black powder and become an animal forever. The son chooses the powder and becomes their pet, displayed in a cage in the garden for all to see. 
We love the last illustration in which the Caliph is making his children laugh by making fun of the Vizier when he was a stork. (And the Vizier is threatening to find that powder again as a result.)

And one day we will track down a physical copy of these lovely Lomaev illustrations (printed 2016) to put in the Fairy Tale Newsroom library!


  1. Good Early Morning from the American South, What I found in this discussion written down was that I made a wish, and have felt the illustrations often draw the reader into the fascinatingly rich narratives and the costumes with patterns and colors actually robing me into the story plot and muse. So well done, and informative have you written here that surely a musical would come of this gorgeous page of illustrations and writings of folklore fantasy experience in a life. Mrs. Arhtur L Keith III Annette thanks

  2. Wow, that my beloved Hauff ended up in genuine Middle Eastern folklore, that's amazing! And a huge compliment to his storyteller's art. He wrote a lot of pseudo-Arabian-Night tales - in fact, the whole framework story of "The Caravan" and "The Sheik of Alessandria" are Arabian Nights knockoffs. I wonder if any other ones of them made the journey from literary to folk fairy tale?

    1. Isn't that awesome? Got me wondering about the same thing but I haven't been successful in researching that. I'm also curious about other literary tales (especially culturally appropriated ones) that were 'assimilated' to become part of a country's folklore/traditional tales, but same issue researching there. would love to hear of any though!

  3. Wasn't Caliph Stork basicalky a bowlderized version of The Parrot?

  4. Do you mean the King Who Transferred His Soul Into A Parrot? From what I read, it inspired Hauff but overall is quite different, though it does share the tale type. ATU 678, according to references. (Check The Arabian Nights Encyclopedia.) The Caliph Stork is light and magical with a great sense of humor. The other is about politics, has a different main narrative, and is a lot darker. From reading the parrot, I wouldn't say bowlderized at all, but I can see how it would have inspired Hauff, for sure.

  5. I found this page while researching an inquiry and while I know this is very long after the post, I wanted to inquire just in case. I remember watching some kind of tv show during the 1980's or 1990's with fairy tale retelling episodes or segments, and I recall this story being one of those episodes, but I've had no luck finding it. I know I watched Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics, but this doesn't seem to be one of their episode.

    Also, part of the reason I remembered the episode was that years later I read Thackeray's story "Sultan Stork", which I figure must have been a translation/parody of Hauff's version.

    I would really appreciate your help finding the episode and show.