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A recent Ricochet Dueling Book Club question asked about children’s picture books, and it occurred to me that I had never read any Khmer children’s books, picture or otherwise, growing up. I don’t think there are any worth mentioning. But what we have, though, are folktales.
Khmer people have always prided themselves on being clever. And they took great pleasure in cleverly composed discourses. The use of words and witticisms, riddles, rhyming, and quickly formed punning and spoonerism were and continue to be a Khmer national habit. And this habit is reflected in our folktales. Khmer folktales are classified into two groups: children and adults, and wit and cleverness reign supreme in both. Though wit and cleverness aren’t necessarily used in the pursuit of justice, they are used for self-preservation and sometimes for pure pleasure. Folktales are full of mischief and humor. They have lively spontaneity, vigor, and realism. To Khmer people, folktales, along with songs, are considered to be the real literature of Cambodia. Their style is quite simple, with plenty of colloquial speeches. A lot of tales are concerned with stupidity. Some are quite dark, with chaos and exploitation as the main themes and talking animals as the stars. Cynicism and satire abound. Puns and sophistry are very common.