The Tale of Sri Thanonchai
The tale of Sri Thanonchai is a trickster tale. The story was long orally told and later written down in verse - Kap and Klon Sepha types - as well as in prose.
Sri Thanonchai tale is one of the most popular folk tales that is widespread in several regions of Thailand -- in the central region it is known as “Sri Thanonchai”, while in the northern and northeastern regions it is known as the tale of “Chiang Miang”. Although the tale has several versions, they all share a common structure. It tells the life story of the main character - Sri Thanonchai - a man who uses his wit and tricks in dealing with difficulties since his childhood until his death. Each episode of the story is self-contained and can be told as a stand-alone.
The tale reflects the intellectual and creative power in the art of telling jokes in an entertaining manner portraying the wit and the linguistic power of the main character, which often surprises the people since the main character tends to use the techniques of playing words in their literal sense. In addition to the linguistic manipulation, he also adopts otherploys to trick people and muddle his way through difficulties, such as a ruse, psychological manipulation, a devious and unusual association of things that are commonly not related, and a posture that is contrary to the prevailing, current attitude.
On closer reading, it is found that Sri Thanonchai tale offers not only the entertainment value, but also an intellectual one. It is embedded with the commonly held attitude on the important use of wits and intelligence, the interpersonal conflict, the social values, and the shame of “losing face”. The Thai social and cultural settings are incorporated seamlessly into the fabric of the story. The tale also carries a philosophical message of impermanence of things. No one can win forever, and therefore one should use one’s wits and intelligence constructively.
Sri Thanonchai tale is widely appreciated because the audience can identify and sympathize with the characters and situation in the fictional world. The mockery and satire of personalities, strictly-held social tenets and dogmas bring laughter and reveal the role of Muk Talok (“gags, comic reliefs”) in wittily providing a relief from social tension and stress. Sri Thanonchai tale reflects the valuable legacy of intellectual creativity.
Today Sri Thanonchai tale is still widespread and appreciated in the Thai society and is also known to foreigners. The main character’s wittiness has inspired several forms of art such as mural paintings at Pathum Wanaram Rajaworawihan temple in Bangkok, films, comic books, and animated cartoons etc.