Posts Tagged myth

Mouse Bird Snake Wolf

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There are some brilliant stories of how things became – take Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, Ted Hughes’ How the Whale Became.

Mouse Bird Snake Wolf, a collaboration between author David Almond and illustrator Dave McKean, is in this tradition. The gods have made the world that Sue, Harry and Little Ben live in. But they’re lazy; they’re up there in the clouds and they’re sleepy. The children can see that there are holes in creation, and sometimes they can see what might go in those holes.

mouse Mouse-Bird-Snake-WolfAll goes relatively well until Harry and Wolf start having wolfish thoughts:
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wolf 2

I love the metaphorical muscle of this book. We live in such a world. A lot is created, but there are spaces left for us to create. Much of what we create is benign, but we have the power to create what is fearsome, destructive.

mbsw4

We’ve been reading it with the Year 4 classes, and getting the kids to respond to it imaginatively, and the quality of their responses has been good to see. The book is deep enough, resonant enough with what we face outside fiction, for there to be plenty to discuss. The myth is both deep and lighthearted, and the kids entered into it from the first page, filling in the gaps that it’s creators have left.

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flip the flap

all mixed upI’ve just come across Carin Berger’s All Mixed Up.  It’s one of those mix-and-match flip books where you can mix and match body parts from different people to create lots of new people. You can actually virtually turn the pages here.

I’ve been reading Odysseus to my class over the last few months, and as part of the work we did, we created some mythical beasts. At first I had the idea that it would be a mix and match book. Then I wanted them all to have collaborated in creating one combined beast. Anyway, I liked what they created and wrote so much I didn’t have any flipping or flapping. Here’s the book.

One of the flip books that I’ve got and like a lot is Tony Meeuwissen’s Remarkable Animals – 1000 Amazing Amalgamations.

remarkable animals

Each creature has a head, a body and a tail, and you can mix them up and read the descriptions.

tony meeuwissen trunkfish tony meeuwissen wossut cataboopus

remarkable_animals

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Mezolith

Mezolith 1 is a great graphic novel by master storyteller Ben Haggarty, with artwork by Adam Brockbank.

Set 10,000 years ago it weaves folktales into a taut, believable prehistoric world. There are some photos here: http://benhaggarty.com/ben/graphic.htm

Tales, like The Bird Maiden, seem to fit perfectly into this world:

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Wabi Sabi

Another Ed Young book – and I am bowled over by it straight away.

It illustrates, and explains, something in Japanese culture that I kind of understood, but didn’t know had a name: wabi sabi. It was there in the Japanese illustrations of La Fontaine’s fables that I mentioned before. It’s there in haikus, in their quiet minimal holding of a moment in time, in nature. It’s there in the zen garden and the rough, chunky and irregular bowls of the tea ceremony.

Thumbnail for version as of 14:37, 24 January 2005

And this book illustrates wabi sabi through a story. A story about a cat called Wabi Sabi who wants to understand his name.

So, what is wabi sabi? Here is the author of the book, Mark Reibstein, and the illustrator, Ed Young, talking about the book:

Ed Young used collage for his illustrations. As he says in an interview here on How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator:

“It’s easier to change around, nothing is permanently pasted down,” Young said. “It’s flexible and alive. With other mediums you often get tight too quickly, then you get attached to it and it’s hard to change. Collage was something I used for sketching in the past. Now I use it to finish my work.”

“It’s really play. You don’t get down to make something firm until the [pieces] start to talk to you.  Then you listen.”

wabi sabi 1

wabi sabi 2

The cat’s tail twitching,

she watches her master, still

waiting in silence.

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Odysseus

Car journeys are good for hearing stories.  This time it was The Adventures of Odysseus, in the marvellous telling of Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden. Travelling from Toulouse to Castres we listened to the first disk, and on the return one the second.

Page from the book, illustrated by Christina Balit

In the prologue Hugh Lupton explains how Paris, ruler of Troy got everyone involved in such an awful war:

http://www.zshare.net/audio/72762187e787b23d
or try this link.

Here’s Daniel Morden telling some of the story later on:

(These sound players either work very slowly or just don’t work for me, so for this second bit of story click here and click on the image of the CD to get to the audio more directly.)

Sam loved it. The only bit he didn’t like was that Argos, Odysseus’ faithful dog, dies when he sees his master return.

What we talked about afterwards was, what would you do? You have one golden apple, and three goddesses, Hera, goddess of Power, Athena, goddess of War and Wisdom, Aphrodite, goddess of Love. Who will you upset? Who will you please?

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kalila and dimna

My picture of the boy and the tiger has a long history (see wikipedia). Perhaps it was first told in Sanskrit in India.

Then a man called Borzuy went to India. Not looking for stories at first, but following information about a mountain herb that could restore life to the dead. He found his herb, eventually, but trialling it discovered that it’s revivifying powers had been greatly exagerated.

His Indian companions directed him to a sage, who told him that he should have taken his information more metaphorically. The real thing is in fact a book, Kalila and Dimna.

(more on this in the Panchatantra article in Wikipedia)

And I, Simon Gregg, have part of this excellent book, rendered into English by Ramsay Wood.

And here he is talking about it:

[blip.tv ?posts_id=2815648&dest=-1]

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keeping wisdom safe

It’s the time of year when I tell Anansi stories.

A favourite (among many favourites) is Anansi and the pot of wisdom.

Here’s how wikipedia has it:

Anansi and the dispersal of wisdom

Another story tells of how Anansi once tried to hoard all of the world’s wisdom in a pot. Anansi was already very clever, but he decided to gather together all the wisdom he could find and keep it in a safe place.

With all the wisdom sealed in a pot, he was still concerned that it was not safe enough, so he secretly took the pot to a tall thorny tree in the forest. His young son, Ntikuma, saw him go and followed him at some distance to see what he was doing.

The pot was too big for Anansi to hold while he climbed the tree, so he tied it in front of him. Like this the pot was in the way and Anansi kept slipping down, getting more and more frustrated and angry with each attempt.

Ntikuma laughed when he saw what Anansi was doing. “Why don’t you tie the pot behind you, then you will be able to grip the tree?” he suggested .

Anansi was so annoyed by his failed attempts and the realisation that his child was right that he let the pot slip. It smashed and all the wisdom fell out. Just at this moment a storm arrived and the rain washed the wisdom into the stream. It was taken out to sea, and spread all around the world, so that there is now a little of it in everyone.

Though Anansi chased his son home through the rain, he was reconciled to the loss, for, he says: “What is the use of all that wisdom if a young child still needs to put you right?”

Here’s an illustration of the story, from Peggy Appiah’s admirable collection The Pineapple Child and Other Tales from Ashanti. The illustration’s by Mora Dickson.

I dressed up a bit for some of the tellings. My good friend Matthew kindly lent me some of his Ghanaian clothes and things again. I wrestled  with The Cloth and managed to get it into roughly the right shape.

Not only does Ghana have all that wisdom in the Anansi stories, there is even wisdom in all the patterns and symbols that adorn all sorts of artifacts, the adinkra symbols.

Look at the stool. It has the Gye Nyame symbol, (meaning “except for god”).

And the staff or stick. That has the sankofa symbol, a bird reaching behind it for an egg.

Sankofa means, apparently, ‘to go back and get it.” I read here that the “symbol often is associated with the proverb, ‘Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,’ which translates to, ‘It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.'”

Here, I’ve gathered up (from www.adinkra.org) lots of the symbols:

gye nyame sankofa sankofa adinkrahene funtunfunefu denkyemfunefu denkyem dwennimmen akoma ntoaso nyame nti nyame biribi wo soro
bin nka bi akokonan fihankra eban akoben nkonsonnkonson owo foro adobe akoma hwemudua hye wonhye
nkyimu sesa woruban epa dame dame ese ne tekrema nyame nnwu na mawu nyansapo odo nnyew fie kwan mate masie fofo
wawa aba aya nyame dua mframadan nea ope se obedi hene woforo dua pa a wo nsa da mu a boa me na kete pa me ware wo
tamfo bebre duafe mmusuyidee osram ne nsoromma kintinkantan bese saka asase ye duru mpataro nsaa
tamfo bebre duafe mmusuyidee osram ne nsoromma kintinkantan bese saka asase ye duru mpataro nsaa

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