As a writer, I’ve been working in folk- and fairy tale mode for quite a few years now. Tales from Greek traditions. How did I get there, and why am I staying there for the interim?
Well, as it happened I was working in a Greek university in the mid-1990s and that assignment led me into a Greek kindergarten in the university’s child development center. I was welcomed into that room by two talented teachers who granted me a carte blanche to carry on a research project among those perky kids, my intention being to explore their literacy development, which is to say, how they grow into using language to learn how to navigate their experiences and come to make sense of the world, themselves, and others, given the “proper” conditions, of course. Lo and behold, when it came to daily story time in that room, the foreign guy with very limited Greek language skill over there—namely, me— joined joyful teacher-led sessions that brought to life gorgeously-illustrated picture books and traditional songs and dances that got all of us singing and line-dancing around the room! Now during those story times —with my language skills improving— I would sometimes find myself following the tried-and-true plot of a dramatic Greek myth. I heard Zeus, Demester, Atlas, Helios, Athena, Artemis, Icarus, and I witnessed their exploits and shenanigans.
But then, at other story sessions, I’m being welcomed into a fascinating story world filled with distressed virgins, belching giants, rival stepmothers, charming princes, confused brothers, liberated sisters, wise and witty daughters, wretched goblins, mysterious talking spirits, celestial beings visiting earthlings, animated cauldrons, powerful witches, and ghastly ghosts, and, of course, the promise of living happily ever after or at least somewhat better. What are they reading? I ask. Our folk and fairy tales, I’m told.
Well, let me tell you something I know for sure. Survey children’s and teens’ lit in the U S of A and you’ll find all sorts of Greek myths in all sorts of formats, from picture books to heavy-duty collections, but look for Greek folk- and fairy tales and you’ll find a wasteland. And thus began the Greek folklore project with my Greek colleague, Professor Soula Mitakidou, our intention being pure and maybe not quite so simple, given the competitive nature of the publishing world: to bring Greek folk- and fairy tales to children and teens here at home (even though folk materials of any kind were never invented to kindle only the imagination of kids).
And so, off we gladly go into the public domain, searching through folklore archives, collections, internet sites, and the like for these deceptively simple, wise, often brutally violent tales, these magical, mysterious, spellbinding, supernatural, often bizarre and absurd stories filled to the brim with human struggle, survival, betrayal, trickery, hope, enduring love (as in the “happily ever after” brand) and, oh, of course, given the human need for comic relief, there is a huge offering of humorous tales showcasing foolish characters in zany predicaments.
We gather tales that particularly attract us and hold promise for young readers, as well. And then what happens? Stay tuned … the work begins.
Today’s writing prompt: Weave a brief story around this Swahili proverb: “Charity is a matter of the heart, not the pocket.”