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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Forest of a Thousand Daemons


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To purchase Forest of a Thousand Daemons

Title: Forest of a Thousand Daemons
Author: D.O.Fagunwa
Genre: Novel
Written: 1938 (Eng. 1968)
Length: 140 pages
Original in: Yoruba
Availability: Forest of a Thousand Daemons - US
Forest of a Thousand Daemons - UK
Forest of a Thousand Daemons - Canada
Forest of a Thousand Daemons - India
  • A Hunter's Saga
  • Yoruba title: Ògbójú ọdẹ nínu igbó irúnmọlẹ
  • Translated and with a Translator's Note by Wole Soyinka
  • Illustrated by Bruce Onabrakpeya

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Our Assessment:

B : has some appeal, but feels too pared back

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Independent on Sunday . 12/10/2013 David Evans

  From the Reviews:
  • "This framing device dramatises the shift from oral to written literature in Yoruba culture, and lends Akara-ogunís adventures an air of poignancy; they seem to belong to an already vanishing world of magic and myth." - David Evans, Independent on Sunday

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       "The story which follows is a veritable agidigbo", writes the author in the opening section of Forest of a Thousand Daemons. He only plays a small part in the novel, as his role is essentially that of amanuensis, taking down the story of Akara-ogun: it is the tales the old man relates that make up almost the entire book. Forest of a Thousand Daemons is thus a second-hand tale, and an oral account set down on paper -- and, as the author notes, an account that is drummed more than it is merely recounted:

My friends all, like the sonorous proverb do we drum the agidigbo; it is the wise who dance to it, and the learned who understand its language.
       That's a lot for printed words on a page to live up to, and much of the musicality is surely also lost in translation.
       Akara-ogun's name means 'Compound-of-Spells', and he has a few up his sleeve to help him in the adventures he relates. He is a hunter, but the forest -- as the book's title suggests -- contains much more than just game:
Ah, a most evil forest is the forest of a thousand daemons; it is the very abode of ghommids.
       But, of course, in his younger days he ventured there -- though his first encounter with the powerful supernatural creatures of the forest leads him to fall right back on: "an appropriate spell, egbe, the rarifier", which transports him right back to the safety of his room.
       Akara-ogun does go on to have a variety of adventures among the many unusual spirits and creatures of this alter-world. There's a creature with "sixteen eyes being arranged around the base of his head", a woman who transforms herself into everything from a tree to an antelope to a roaring fire, a four-headed man ("whose name was Fear, Eru"), an Ostrich-king ("He was bird from his neck downwards, the rest was human"), and, perhaps most impressively, tiny, swarming sand-elves.
       Akara-ogun and various friends of his are tested along the way. Betrayal and murder are common, and few of the outcomes can be described as happy. Fed up by the treachery around him Akara-ogun goes on a slaughtering rampage or two as well.
       There are some places where Akara-ogun feels comfortable, but, more typically, he finds himself in nightmarish locales:
the name of this city is Filth. It is a place of suffering and contempt, a city of greed and contumely, a city of envy and thievery, a city of fights and wrangles, a city of death and diseases -- a veritable city of sinners.
       There is a great deal of rich material here, but the stories are rather hurriedly told -- and several times too often there's a reluctance to say much of anything:
But how many should I recount, how many tell, how much can I tell you about the many encounters in these places I have mentioned ! They were more numerous than lips can tell -- the rest is silence.
       The echo of Hamlet -- surely translator Soyinka's doing -- resounds rather weakly: there's too much silence, there's not enough to these adventures, not like this (which may be a reflection of how much is missed by the reader who is unfamiliar with Yoruba myth, fiction, and approaches to story-telling).
       A great deal of language -- and of the drumbeat of the account -- is surely lost in translation. Soyinka does address some of this in his very brief Translator's Introduction. His rendering does read quite well, but at times it is obvious what great compromises he had to make: consider just:
Do not permit your child to keep bad company, that he start from youth to pub-crawl
       (It's clear what he means, but obviously the pub has no place in this setting.)
       Forest of a Thousand Daemons is an appealing collection of adventure stories, but far from neatly tied together and, for the most part, far too unembellished: we're used to our tales being far more expansive. It is of considerable interest, but one can not help but feel that a lot is missing (or not conveyed or conveyable) in translation.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 August 2009

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Forest of a Thousand Daemons: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Nigerian author Daniel Olorunfẹmi Fagunwa lived 1903 to 1963.

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© 2009-2013 the complete review

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