Sometimes my reading takes on unintentional themes and I go through, I dunno, I don’t want to call them literary stages because that sounds bigger than it is. But it’s more like a phase — a time when I’m particularly attracted to a certain “thing” like a style, a theme, a genre, a type of character, etc.
So lately I’ve been into this, I dunno what to call it because it really spans quite a few genres, but is “lore” a style? Can you call “tales” a literature genre? Whatever it is I’m way into folktales, fairytales, folklore, fables, and all kinds of “tale” type stories lately.
Here’s what I’ve been reading :
The Complete Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde by Oscar Wilde (duh)
The Book of the Unknown, Tales of the Thirty-Six by Jonathon Keats
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
McSweeney’s #28, the fables issue
Tales from Outer Suburbia, by Shaun Tan
McSweeney’s 28 was all about fables and had these great small books that “reinvent the idea of the fable.” AKA…they were fables written by contemporary authors. (My favorite was probably The Book and the Girl or maybe The Guy Who Kept Meeting Himself.) And the introduction by Jess Benjamin on the inside was really nice and touches/touched on some of the reasons why I’m attracted to these kinds of stories lately…
The power of the fable is in its ability to say what it means and mean what it says. Its messages are compelling because they are not hidden, elegant because they are uncluttered, timeless because they are honest. A fable does not discriminate, a fable loves everyone equally. It will bring us back to the center; that is its job. It will hold our hands through the story and then smack us at the end, gently, right between the eyes. The fable represents an alternative to the blind groping we confront on a daily basis. It reels us back in, reminds us that sometimes it’s okay to be handed a meaning in under five hundred words, that sometimes it’s okay to be taught a lesson again.
If anyone knows any other fairy tale/folklore collections that might go with this little theme of mine, let me know. There is something really fun about reading them and I feel like I’ve only just begun my exploration.
Here are some passages from some of my favorites…
This new world was painful to cope with. He had tried so hard. He had kept to his routines. He had counted so carefully. He had abided by the rules, but life had cheated. This world was not like the world of his stories. In that world, good was rewarded and evil was punished. If you kept to the path and stayed out of the forest, then you would be safe. – The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly
The girl turned back to the book and tried to keep reading. But soon it was clear that there were too many smudged words, too many missing pages. The book didn’t know what he was saying, his story was no longer a story, and all of it was powerless against what was coming for them next. – The Book and the Girl, Brian Evenson
“If you want a red rose, “ said the Tree, “you must build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with your own heart’s blood. You must sing to me with your breast against a thorn. All night long you must sing to me, ,and the thorn must pierce your heart, and your life-blood must flow into my veins, and become mine.” –The Nightingale and the Rose, Oscar Wilde
Was it Echo? He had called to her once in the valley, and she had answered him word for word. Could she mock the eye, as she mocked the voice? Could she make a mimic world just like the real world? Could the shadow of things have colour and life and movement? – The Fisherman and His Soul, Oscar Wilde
It’s hard to explain the terrible things that happened out there. In fact the more I tell you, the less you will understand. Some things in life are like that. You have to find out for yourself. – Shaun Tan
What a remarkable, unnameable feeling it is, right at the moment of his leaping: something like sadness and regret, of suddenly wanting your gift back and held tight to your chest, knowing that you will certainly never see it again. And then there is the letting go as your muscles release, your lungs exhale, and the backwash of longing leaves behind this one image on the shore of memory: a huge reindeer on your roof, bowing down. –Shaun Tan
Who can say what makes a village change its ways? Of course, the thief was the first to see a difference. On market day, desire no longer radiated, as if an act of nature, from the town square. And if Dalet broke into the home of the cooper or the butcher, he often couldn’t distinguish one luxury from another: Objects didn’t quite lose their luster, but each gave a light so similar to the others that they might as well have been a line of yahrzeits. For a time, Dalet didn’t know what to steal. The tailor’s porcelain figurines? An emerald brooch from the tinker’s wife? Why bother? Folks didn’t care a farthing for such baubles anymore. – Dalet the Thief, Jonathan Keats
The prince tore away her sheet. The scholar sought her heart. Meir shook his head. There was no beat. In the shadow of the gallows, both men held her together and began to weep. As their tears touched her, Yod flowed away, a river of mud between their fingers. – Yod the Inhuman, Jonathan Keats