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Life in a subtle story

By May 4, 2018No Comments

Source : The Hindu

In an interesting chat, well-known children’s books writer Shel Silverstein talked about the trends in the genre and his favourite book

Marked by a free spirit that pervades his writing, Shel Silverstein was media-shy author who has left little by way of audio or video legacy. Of course he has left more than words in his books. “The Giving Tree”, “Falling Up”, “Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back” and “The Giraffe and a Half”, being some of them.

In an interview recorded in 1961 he says, “I am really fascinated with the whole idea of tracing trends. When I read Red Riding Hood, the wolf eats the grandmother but doesn’t quite manage to eat Red Riding hood. In the version earlier to this, the wolf eats up both of them. As I got older and read the book again, the wolf eats the grandmother and when the woodsman comes, he chops the wolf’s belly and the grandmother pops out, all new. In the still later version, the wolf just scares the grandmother away. Eventually the grandmother, the wolf and red riding hood would probably sit around playing…the story would completely lose the punch. The same with the Three Little Pigs. In the original version, the wolf eats one pig after another, but now the pig just runs into the other pig’s house. Parents say kids have enough violence, they should not hear about more…like a wolf eating somebody up. But they let their children watch television which brings such gruesome stuff…the violence in fairy tales is something the child never hopes to approximate himself…he might wonder at giants but would never think one would walk in through the front door…We accept actual violence more easily than fantasy violence.”

Silverstein’s books are insightful to the adult while the story line is charming to the children. His favourite he says is “Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back”. “Once a lion finds other lions are running…because hunters are coming…Lafcadio likes the word, ‘hunter’ and so stays back to see one.” The story begins there to find the lion becoming a hunter himself then a circus artist and starts living a good life in the city when, “…the bored lion has done almost everything there is to do, he wants something new…he goes on a hunting trip to Africa…he is shooting lions…the lions remind him that he is a lion too. Now he finds he neither belongs to the lions nor to the hunters (with whom he has gone)…he drops his gun and walks over the mountain….”

Silverstein was illustrating for the book at the time of the interview, “I have been drawing since the age of five…I don’t start out with an idea…I start out with a cartoon or a story and if it works out that is fine…you start out by copying… when I got older I learnt to add humour…you can’t separate the man from his work…rarely do you dislike a man and like his work….”

With subtle messages that are more humane than “academically moral”, Silverstein’s stories and poems are very relevant and a must for all.

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