Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wacky and Weird Twists on Old Tales

So I came down to the kitchen to find bald Cinderella staring at me today.

Her dress a little smudged, her hair a little - er, missing, but still recognizably blue-eyed and blue-dressed and perky personalitied.

Now I'm assuming that my 7yo simply lost ol' Cindy's hair piece, and wasn't trying to make some kind of social commentary on hair-as-beauty, illness related alopecia, commercialism or otherwise trying to undermine the pink and poofy Disney princess narrative that seems to have a psychic stranglehold on this country's collective imagination. (But you never know, look at the cool girls at princess free zone, or this viral video of 5year old Riley ranting about big business and the pink-washing of girls' toys, or even my own daughter's previous performance piece using Barbie and Ganesh in all sorts of gender bending ways) 

But hairless Cinderella did get me thinking - why is it so many of us love wacky and weird twists on old tales? I certainly do - the middle grade novel I have on submission is based on a combination of Bengali folktales - with a liberal dose of oddball humor thrown in. Michael Buckley, in his Sister's Grimm and N.E.R.D.S. series, certainly takes similar amusing liberties with the fairy tale and spy genres. So too has John Scieszka taken broad liberties with history in his Time Warp Trio series, fairy tales in his The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, and fables in his Squids Will Be Squids.

I recently had the delightful opportunity to read an ARC of yet another entrant into the wacky and wild world of re-imagining old tales, the hilarious The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy.(I'll be sharing my interview of Christopher, and hosting a giveaway of his book, on From The Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors on April 9!)

Which I guess got me thinking - what is it about the juxtaposition of the weird and silly with the traditional that amuses me so? (Case in point, I came across this blog casting various dog breeds as Downton Abbey characters today - resulting in hours of completely silly amusement on my part)

What are your favorite irreverent takes on traditional tales?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Rivals

From Hunger Mountain:

an excerpt from Karna: A Re-Imagining of the Indian Epic The Mahabharata

There is blood all over the battlefield, the broken bodies of warriors and weapons. Spirit shadows rise like mist from the ground, and among the fallen soldiers rides Yama, the god of death, upon his mighty buffalo. Dark as a rain-cloud, with eyes of burning flames, he brandishes a noose and spear in two of his four hands. Newborn babes in Bharat are never given names too early, lest Yama call them to him. And until they are old enough to protest, mothers mar the cheeks of their sons with black spots of kajol, so that the god of death is not tempted by their beauty.

But I cannot be distracted from my goal. Not by the calls of Yama; not by the trickster Krishna, who I know seeks my downfall; not even if Indra, king of the gods, were to charge down on me upon his trumpeting elephant.

I am not afraid, though I have been thrown down from my chariot. Its wheel is stuck in the mud, and even if I were to dislodge it with my great strength, I could not fix its splintered spokes. And so I wait for my enemy Arjun. I wait to kill him, or be killed myself.

Sometimes I think it’s what I was born to do. My only reason for being.

My lips form, over and over again, the holy words of the mantra I will use to kill him. Despite the mystic’s curses, I refuse to forget their magic power. A hundred arrows may fly from his bow toward my armor-covered chest, but I do not need such showmanship. I will send from my bow only one arrow, straight and true. The very sun will burn and fire rain down from the sky.

But I am not the hero of this tale. I am an interloper, even in my own life. This much, the blue-skinned Krishna has shown me. By my very existence, I’ve somehow screwed up the mechanics of the universe, broken the spokes of the wheel of life. Unless Arjun kills me, or so the gods say, the circle cannot turn; life cannot go on in its unending cycle of birth and death.

They know this because it has all happened before. And it will all happen again. They say our lives were already lived out during other ages in other bodies, our joys and sorrows all played out in other times. They say that existence itself is a recurring illusion, veiling us from seeing the truth of the universe.

I don’t know if I believe it.

To read the rest of this excerpt, please visit Hunger Mountain,

To read an essay on writing from Indian myths and folktales (including writing this novel) please visit Hunger Mountain here