Ben Okri’s The Famished Road: A re-evaluation

Ben Obumselu


This paper assesses positively the important contributions which Ato Quayson and Douglas McCabe have made to the understanding
of Ben Okri’s The Famished Road. But it questions whether placing the novel firmly in the context of Yoruba orality, as Quayson
does, or in the tradition of New Age spirituality, as McCabe does, does not diminish the work unduly. It points out that Ben Okri
did not take his Yoruba material directly from traditional folklore but from secondary sources in which the myths and legends of
the Yoruba have been modified and re-interpreted and in The Famished Road the original folk narratives are further transfigured
by close linkage with the myths and legends of other lands. Similarly, Azaro’s chanting of the soft paradisal anthems of New Age
travellers does not stand in the novel unchanged; it is absorbed and transformed by the context of a novel which deals with the
problems of growing up and willingly accepting the burdens of an adult life. The article concludes, after a careful re-evaluation
of leading episodes in the novel, that a broad late twentieth century context of existentialist thought and postmodern fiction is
the proper background for appreciating a novel in which the extravagances of African folk art are adapted to contemporary myth
of the culture hero. Key words: existentialism, New Age spirituality, postmodern Nigerian fiction, Yoruba folklore.

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