What makes a story truly epic? Is it the qualities of the characters within the story? Is it the story itself? Is it the sense of destiny or Fate that the story creates for the reader? Is it the way said story is written? Whether a story requires only one or all of these characteristics, the book “Sundiata and Epic of Old Mali” is a truly epic tale. The story tells the life of a great king in Mali named Maghan Sundiata. Born to an unfortunate looking mother, he is slow and weak at the beginning of life. Sundiata doesn’t start walking until he is seven years old but once he stands he stands tall. He is a natural leader and has all the qualities of a paragon protagonist. He is smart, kind, merciful, and fair as well as strong, willful, powerful and skilled. Choosing exile from his home city, and rightful throne, in order to protect his sisters he finds himself in a position of leadership in another city. After he leaves Mali it is invaded by and evil king showing all the characteristics of and epic antagonist.
King Soumaoro Kante is narcissistic, cruel, petty, sadistic and ruthless as well as smart, powerful and most of all cowardly. They are joined in battle twice; both times the victory is Sudiata’s and both times Soumaoro Kante runs away. Soumaoro’s city is sacked and he is left powerless while Sundiata not only wins his kingdom back but also gains many allies and friends because of his truly good personality. If a story is made epic by its characters than surely the perfect paragon of Sundiata and the extreme evil of Soumaoro are epic enough to fulfill and epic requirement. If one judges an epic by the story being told than “Sundiata an Epic Tale of Old Mali” is also a worthy candidate for an epic tale. Starting from the weakest in the city and becoming the strongest in the Kingdom, Sundiata’s life in itself is epic enough. The story is told through the point of view of a griot named Mamadou Kouyate. A griot is many things in the society of Mali and throughout much of Africa. He is an Historian, an advisor, a mediator, an entertainer but most of all he is the culture of an entire society of people.
Understanding the culture of the society in which this story comes, one would, without question, consider the griot Mamadou Kouyate on par with the likes of Homer and the author(s) of Beowulf. This is possibly partially because of his perspective but definitely because of his beautiful use of the marvelous in order to beautify the story and make it personal to the reader or listener. The way the story is told enraptures an audience like any true epic should. Within all great epics there is an obvious theme of someone’s destiny. Sundiata is given a destiny at a young age, as predicted by a seer before his birth, and fulfills it with purity of heart.
He faces many trials and tribulations along the way but never once does he give into darkness. Never once does he give up and decide he’s done enough. Not until all his people are freed, all debts are paid, and his kingdom is returned does the story end. This is a clear and perfect example of the sense of fate one requires of our epic heroes. Of all the traits of “Sundiata…” the characteristic that most earns it its epic status is the battle of good versus evil and the triumph of good. Not to be misunderstood with a novel tale of mediocre light and dark, the battle in this story speaks to the deepest depths of darkness and to the purest picture of paragon.