So when my friend Andrew Thornton asked me to play along with the Inspired by Reading book club creative team this month - inspired by the book 'My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me' - I took on that challenge. However, due to all the traveling that I did this month, I knew that I wouldn't be able to order the book so I asked him to just select two at random for me to choose from. Andrew tried twice to mail me some stories, but they got lost along the way, with one parcel finally making its way to me last week. He also was kind enough to send me some last week that I think he may have taken pictures of with his phone - clever! And in the meantime, I did buy a copy of the book for my daughter's Kindle. So little by little I have been savoring the stories and will continue. They are marvelous and varied.
The book 'My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me' is a group of 40 or so fairy tales written by contemporary artists., compiled by Kate Bernheimer. Some are retellings in very clever ways of the stories that we know from our childhood; some are completely new. But the model they use and the motifs are instantly familiar even in their strangeness.
I love the rich symbolism, the vivid imagery, the circular telling, the anthropomorphic creatures, the cautionary warnings in fairy tales. I love the timeless quality and the strange cast of characters, that feel like old friends.
Have I told you that I used to be an English teacher? Perhaps I took up English as a major for all those fairy tales I read as a child. To pass along the knowledge and the rich tapestry of those stories to others. Although I only officially taught for five years, I still have a teacher's soul. And my favorite unit to do every year was the Storytelling unit. So I loved reading Kate's foreword about her life enmeshed with tales of all sorts.
In my class, we would deconstruct fairy tales down to their basics and pick out recurring themes. We would talk about how fairy tales were used as tools to teach and even explain natural phenomena. I used to use the story of Cinderella as my example in class. Did you know that there are over 300 documented Cinderella stories from around the world? No matter the language, they all have certain things in common. The students always found that fascinating, especially when we read the real tales, by Grimm and Andersen, not the saccharine Disney-fied brightly colored world they were fed as a child.
So reading this book is like taking a journey back into my past. You don't know where you are going, and you are not sure which path to take, but there is a delight around every corner and lots of sites to see.
The story that I selected is 'First Day of Snow' by Naoko Awa.
Naoko Awa (1943-1993) was an award-winning writer of modern fairy tales from Japan. As a child, Awa read fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Wilhelm Hauff, as well as The Arabian Nights, which later influenced her writings. She earned a bachelor's degree in Japanese literature from Japan Women's University.
This story follows a young girl who happens upon an ordinary chalk hopscotch and can't resist the urge to jump in the circles. What happens next is anything but ordinary.
It was a cold day in late autumn. On a path running straight through the village, a young girl crouched down, looking at the ground. She tilted her head and breathed deeply, "Who has hopscotching here?" she wondered aloud.
Hopscotch rings, drawn in chalk, continued endlessly on the path - across the bridge and toward the mountains. The girl stood up. "What a long hopscotch!" she cried, widening her eyes. When she hopped into a ring, her body became as light as a bouncing ball.
I immediately doodled swirling circles on my copy. I envisioned links, every widening, like ripples on a pond. I could see the path that was leading the girl away from the village.
The hopscotching starts out as a game, but soon the girl realizes that she can't stop. With each hop she is getting further from her home. Then the snow starts to blow. It is then that she is aware of snow-white bunnies in front of and behind her chanting,
"We're snow rabbits white as snow
And snow falls everywhere we go
White as snow, we never stop
One foot, two feet, hop, hop, hop."
Of course, this chant reminds the young girl of what her wise grandmother told her about how the first day of snow is brought by rabbits that hop so fast that all that you can see is a white blur. Little children who get caught up in it will get whisked away to the end of the earth. It is then that she remembers that the way to break the spell is with a mugwort leaf.
Now, I had no idea what a mugwort leaf was, so of course, I did a little research.
According to the Happy Herb Company, mugwort was considered by ancient cultures as 'the universal herb for protection and prophecy.' It was used to ward off evil spirits and promoted lucid dreaming. This weedy plant has spiky leaves with a deep green top, but turning them over reveals a soft cotton underside.
The girl in the story tries to stop the bunny chant from taking over her mind so she can call out the words, "Mugwort, mugwort, mugwort in the spring!" to break the spell of eternal winter. It is only through asking the bunnies a riddle about the mugwort leaf that she breaks their rhythm and stops the snow, landing her in a village many thousands of miles away.
This story deals with themes of disappearance, wisdom and cleverness, and resourcefulness. While fluffy bunnies are hardly the most sinister of characters, the fact that they are something so sweet that can do something as insidious as whisking away a child gives you pause. The girl was resourceful and listened to the words of her elder to find a way out of the trap. And there is even a happy ending to this tale.
For my piece, I envisioned a necklace, with swirling hopscotch circles and soft colors blending from icy winter tones to hopeful spring ones.
- In my stash, I happened to have the cutest little bunny from Rebekah Payne of Tree Wings Studio. I just adore her little sleepy animals. I can imagine the bunnies hopping along in their rhythm could be very sleepy and caught up in their repetitive action. I think that I might make a few more rings around this bunny to give more visual weight to this focal.
- I made the rings from steel wire with seeds in snowy shades and transitioned to greens once the spell was broken.
- Using a technique that I learned from Heather Powers at the Inspired by Nature retreat, I created my own mugwort leaf that shimmers with a luminescent sheen
- And I finished with a mix of silk, wirelace, and fluffy cotton fibers to weave the path of the girl and the unraveling she must have felt when she knew that she couldn't stop.
Ultimately, the mugwort proves to be a powerful herb of protection and sets the girl free.
"We're the color of spring
of the hairs on a mugwort leaf
One foot, two feet, hop, hop, hop."
Thank you, Andrew for inviting me to play along! Please go over to Andrew's blog to see a full list of participants and the stories that inspired them.