Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast

I love it when one story gets tangled up with another. When our children were small, Ron liked to ask them what would happen when Dumbo met Colonel Hathi, or point out that the voice of Winnie the Pooh is the same as the voice of Kaa. (Actually, he did make some non-Jungle Book comparisons, but those are the ones we all remember best.)

So when I went to the library and found Jane Yolen's short story collection entitled Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast, I had to check it out. I mean, really! Twelve? Of course, that's the number of stories. But it does seem like a challenge to the Red Queen's boast:
"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
(Update: perusing Yolen's journal led me to discover a book blog called Seven Impossible Things.)

I have to agree with Walker, who also read this one, that the best story is "Wilding." It's about the new Central Park sport of the future, in which people can turn into animals for a little fun because "wilding is a pure New York sport." Evidently, some things never change, because there is still danger in Central Park, even though Wilding is legal and there are safeguards. The most fun one is the existence of "Maxes" who are there to "control the Wild Things....It's an old story."

Our second favorite is "Lost Girls," in which a girl goes to Neverland and fosters a rebellion among the Wendys, who are stuck cleaning up the table and dishes after every food-fighting feast in which the Lost Boys indulge. That one reminds me of the Emily Dickinson poem:
Tell all the truth, but tell it slant--
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind--

The whole idea of retelling the story from a new "Wendy's" point of view makes me think of "telling it slant," of course, but the idea of the dazzling truth is in the story too, especially the part Walker and I both remembered best and commented on to each other, when Peter looks at the new Wendy, who is insisting that her name is Darla, and "there was nothing nice or laughing or young about his eyes. They were dark and cold and very very old." Yes, and the pirates turn out to be more authentically egalitarian in this version of the story, too.

My other favorite is a vampire story, but unlike any other I've ever read, entitled Mama Gone. It's a brief story, but emotionally effective, and before reading it I would have said that was impossible.

It wasn't one of my favorites, but there's also a version of The Three Billy Goats Gruff in this collection too, told by the bridge. Do you like it when stories are related to each other?


Nicole said...

I love it when stories are like that. I like when characters from one story appear in another and you get to learn more about both of them in a different way. I wonder what the bridge's take was on the billy goat story. I am sure he took it quite differently.

Hugh said...

One of the most well-known of these kind of stories is "The Wide Sargasso Sea", no? Or some parts of "The Stinky Cheese Man".

Harriet said...

I love retellings of familiar stories from different points of view. And I also love Jane Yolen (I about floated out of my chair when she commented on my blog a couple of weeks ago). This one sounds like fun. I'll have to look for it.

Jeanne said...

Nicole, yeah, the bridge is irate about those goat hooves trip-trapping over all the time...

Hugh, I may have to finally read The Wide Sargasso Sea. I know it's the story of Jane Eyre's madwoman in the attic, but literary types make so much of the "oppressive patriarchal society" of Rochester's England that I never worked up much desire. I've always preferred Tuesday Next's terribly romantic Rochester.

Harriet, JY commented on your blog??? How did I miss that? Wow!

Alison said...

I enjoy when bits of literature get caught up in each other (the Jasper Fforde books are always good for that sort of thing). And I adore Jane Yolen.

On the other hand, her use of the term "wilding," particularly in conjunction with Central Park, makes me pretty queasy. Granted, her target audience is unlikely to remember the Central Park Jogger case, but for those of us who do, it's a term that already has a lot of baggage associated with it.

Jeanne said...

Alison, I think she uses the term consciously, because what happens in the story fits the urban dictionary definition of the word "wilding" since the central park jogger case (1989). Yolen's book is copyrighted 1997. But sure, it's a term only the adults fully get, like many of the jokes in cartoon movies since Toy Story. At the end of "Wilding," the character becomes an adult and can then "get" why her mother says some of the things she does.

Tina Kubala said...

I love stories that extend or expand on classic tales. I'm a huge Thursday Next fan. Also a fan of stories based on biblical tales. The Red Tent is my favorite of the type