Tatterhood

By Lauren A. Mills

I love folktales. Love. I’m tempted to say it’s the biggest section on my site. This is for a good reason: they’re archetypal, they can bridge cultures, and they’re reflective of our own culture, or even ourselves. I think we’re drawn to find fairytales that reflect ourselves, and this might explain why I love Tatterhood. The explanation being that I love ugly ducking stories (I still hope that I’ll turn into one), and I adore strong, feisty heroines who stand up for themselves and their loved ones.

Tatterhood has become a born-again favorite. I initially stumbled on it decades ago, and rediscovered it when I was looking up children’s books for my Children’s Services and Resources class (better known as the reason for this blog’s existence). I love it. I love the artwork, which are beautifully done by the author, I love the relationship between the main characters, I love the lesson, and I love the ending.

Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself, so let’s take a step back. Tatterhood is based on a Norwegian tale. The King and Queen long to have children, but the Queen has been unable to conceive. Taking the advice of an old woman, the Queen gives birth to two girls: the eldest, Tatterhood, and Isabella. Tatterhood carries a wooden spoon, rides a goat, dresses in rags and is generally repugnant. Isabella, by contrast, is beautiful, gentle, graceful and obedient. It is therefore double the tragedy when Isabella’s head is switched with that of a goat as retribution for the Queen’s mistake.

Rather then abandon her sister, Tatterhood demands a ship and sails off to discover a cure for her sister’s malady. They have a grand adventure and Tatterhood is successful in restoring her sister’s head. Ultimately, they land on a foreign land, and she demands to meet the King. He finally comes, sees Isabella and asks her to marry him on the spot. As part of the agreement, his brother has to marry Tatterhood.

I won’t give away the very ending, because it is to me one of the best parts of the story. Go find this book, then come back and read my review; don’t worry, I’ll wait.

The artwork of this story is phenomenal, and I think Mills deserves a lot of credit for her work. The fey design of the characters, the amber saturation, and the attention to detail are incredible. The details are what make it work. The hobgoblin villains, the wildness of Tatterhood, the gentleness of Isabella – it all comes through in the artwork with a life of it’s own.

As it is a retelling, there are of course differences from the original as Mills puts her own spin on the story. The basic elements are all still there, however, for which I am grateful. At the heart it’s still a story of light and dark, but here dark is not bad. It’s different, and ultimately even more lovely. Tatterhood is a lovable character, maligned by her mother despite being the oldest but still loved by her twin. She’s misunderstood, and doesn’t really care what you think. This attitude is amazingly refreshing; Tatterhood is a great role model for those who are different.

This story is sadly obscure, and I’m eternally grateful that my library system owns a copy. If you’re looking for a story with oddities, hobgoblins, strong heroines, donkeys, spoons, and high adventure on the seas, this book has it all, tied up with a pair of fairy tale endings. I highly recommend you check it out.

Suggested Ages: 6-9

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The Lorax

By Dr. Seuss

Today I saw an ad for a new children’s movie, coming soon! It was colourful, bouncy, environmental… it was Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.

I love Dr. Seuss. His stories are unique and entertaining. Cat in the Hat, Hop on Pop, Green Eggs and Ham. Who hasn’t read these stories? They’re seminal in the literary development of children, and The Lorax is no different.

To me, The Lorax was the Dr. Seuss story I could never find. I still don’t own it as a story on it’s own – I’m not even sure it exists in it’s own paperback. I first read it in a Seuss treasury, and I found it rather dark. The story opens on a desolate, over-industrialized location, where an unseen man/woman/thing called the Once-ler hides behind bordered windows, but is willing to peer out to tell you a story for the right price.

The story of The Lorax is a tale of industrialization. The land is clean, the colours bright and sunny when an entrepreneur sets up shop, and starts cutting down the valuable¬†Truffula trees for his business. As the business becomes more successful, he starts over-cutting. The eponymous Lorax appears, saying that he speaks for the trees and tells him to stop. But the Once-ler keeps on cutting, slowly developing a great industrial marvel while destroying the land. When the last tree is cut, the Lorax takes all the displaced and harmed animals away where they can’t be hurt anymore.

It’s a simple, but effective story. Watch the colour cues, and the way industrialization is dark while the environment is light. All mixed in with Dr. Seuss’ silly drawings; my favorite is his depiction of the garment the entrepreneur makes.

So, back to the movie. Obviously, since it’s not out yet, I can’t really comment, but I admit that I’m a bit concerned. For more movies, the issue fans have is that you are, inevitably, cutting things out. Whereas with Dr. Seuss, we have proven that an entire story can be told in a 30 minute special. The solution is that a lot of extra padding is added, as evidenced by How the Grinch Stole Christmas or The Cat in the Hat. So far, it’s had mixed results.

The Lorax will be done in animation, rather then real life, and the animation looks good! I admit, I will go see it when it comes out. I’m interested to see how they will interpret the story. There will be padding, for sure. But what will they focus the padding on? Will they keep the ending the same? The ending and the beginning is what makes The Lorax so effective.

What do you think? Will you go see The Lorax when it hits theatres? Do you think children’s picture books should be made into movies?

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