Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Faeries get a makeover

Some time ago, in this post, I talked about the need for stories to have some resonance with the reader. The example I gave was Little Red Riding Hood. Had it never changed, mutated and evolved to match its audience, it would not survived to the present day as a story we tell our children. Instead, it would have remained a piece of intellectual folk history, stored on some dusty shelf or hard drive in an academic's library. Sadly, this was the fate of the vast majority of British folk and faerie tales. They were collected and preserved like anatomical specimens by worthy folklorists and remembrancers and kept for posterity. The stories became immutable and, because of this, quickly lost meaning for people. Society changes and stories must change too to keep up.

From 'Wicked, Wicked Tregeagle'. Picture by me.

Meanwhile, on the European continent, storytellers were adapting 'the old stories' for young minds and the ever-changing world they lived in. The result was a canon of child-friendly stories by Andersen, the Grimms and their ilk that has survived to the present day. The stories have continued to change but that doesn't seem to upset people (except the academic purists). The Little Mermaid didn't originally have the happy ending that Disney gave it. Cinderella and Snow White, similarly, have been 'mucked about with' to suit the age and sensibilities of the audience. But lest you think this is all Uncle Walt's fault, bear in mind that in the UK we arse about with plot-lines all the time with our pantomimes and plays. It's what keeps them current and entertaining.

The reason I mention all of this is because for many years I've been championing our fabulous but largely unknown British faerie stories. They remain obscure and parochial despite the fact that many of them are just as fascinating and entertaining (if not more so) than their better-known European cousins. Why isn't Disney making a version of the Lambton Worm or the Llanfabon Changeling or The Mermaid Of Knockdolion? There are so, so many of these stories that need to be brought into the 21st century. But, obviously, I can't champion them all. So I made a start with the stories of my home county of Cornwall.

From 'The Curse of Kitto's Cats' - illustration by me

I took ten of my favourite stories and re-wrote them in a modern idiom. I also knocked up a few illustrations and asked my good friend Murphy to crank out a few more. You can read the stories by going to this page of my website. Now, this is all old news to those of you who've been dropping in on this blog for a while. What is new news is that the stories are now going to be published in book form. The only twist is that they will be published in the Cornish language and will therefore be unreadable for nearly all of you!

A couple of years ago I was approached by a representative of the Cornish Language Board about the possibility of translating my stories into Kernewek. As they explained, there are quite a number of books published in Cornish these days but they are not original works; they are translations of existing fare like the Harry Potter books or the works of Charles Dickens. Because my stories were previously unpublished, they would provide a new and original read. So could they translate them? I couldn't have agreed more quickly.

From 'Sister Agnes - Killer Nun' - illustration by James Murphy

And now, I hear, the translations are complete. It's taken a long time but the translators are people who do this in their spare time (it is a charity after all). To add to their difficulties, the Cornish language is tantalisingly incomplete as so little of it was ever written down or printed despite it being spoken for 2000 years in some form. And, of course, there is also the problem of making a witticism, pun or joke work in a language that is as different from English as Japanese is. German, French and Dutch are far closer to English than Cornish is.

From 'How the Men-an-tol got its hole' - illustration by me

But the bards have done it! So, I'm now entering negotiations to discuss the look and feel of the book. I'm donating the stories for free (while retaining the copyright) as it is for a charitable and educational purpose and the readership - and therefore the print run - is likely to be small and non profit-making. It'll be nice to do my bit for the culture of my home county. However, the existence of the book in Cornish may one day help to swing a deal with a larger mainstream publisher. I would love to see these stories go out in English. And if that happens, it sets a precedent. There are thousands of other great stories waiting in the wings for their chance in the limelight. What a joy it would be to give them the popularity and wider audience they deserve.

Illustrations and stories copyright (c) 2008 Stevyn Colgan. Giant illustration (c) 2008 James Murphy.


chris hale said...

Porres anethek!

That literary ball is obviously on a roll. How about JUT in Kernewek?

Stevyn Colgan said...

Meur ras!

Who knows?

willow said...

Brilliant idea! And so very generous of you, too. You really are a nice guy behind that stern looking picture.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Willow - Oh that's not me being stern. That's me sending out a concentrated telepathic message to the world saying 'Buy my book ...'

punk in writing said...

When it rains, it pours... What's your next project gonna be? :)

Stevyn Colgan said...

Cheers Punky! I'm hoping it keeps pouring! I've got a whole new career to start here.

Katie said...

aw congrats on the publication. and too generous of you as well! :)

Stevyn Colgan said...

Katie - Cheers! That drink looks good so have one for me. x

Protege said...

Congratulation Stevyn, will this book be available for purchase online?
There is an award waiting for you at my place, I hope you will accept it.:)

Stevyn Colgan said...

Protege - No idea yet ... it's early days. But if it is, it'll be in Cornish! I will look at my award as son as I am home (I'm on a train writing this).

Andrew Kerr said...

Hi. I was just looking up the artwork you kindly gave me and came across your interesting blog.....Bet it's not often you get a comment 3 years later from something you've posted Haha!