Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Mr Tinderbox

There was no possibility of taking all the books when we moved house.  At least two boxfuls were lost to charity.  But I would not part with anything I could even half claim as my own.  Not until I had read it, at least.  So I decided that I would read every book on the bookshelf. 

Seems kinda obvious.  It’s not. 

I have books I have bought, books I have asked for, books I’ve been given randomly, books I meant to give as a gift and forgot, books I’ve saved from the bin, books I picked up simply because they were free and a whole load I found in the attic from the childhood.  And I have read perhaps a tenth of their number.  Probably less.  I don’t even have that many books.  Enough to fill six shelves.  That’s a lame library. 

So, I gave myself this task: actually read every single book and get rid of anything that doesn’t move me. 

So far, sixteen books have made it to the keep pile and probably the same into the Amazon or charity pile.  One that’s been saved is a learn-to-read book (Words To Read by Watson & King), but I look at it and I’m overwhelmed with the sensation of childhood and imagination. 

I used to look at the pictures and make up stories, years after I shouldn’t have been reading a learn-to-read book.  I did the same thing with catalogues.  I still do.

But currently I am reading Stories for Seven-Year-Olds edited by Sara and Stephen Corrin.  Not one to read in public, I fear, but a biggie from the ol’ childhood. 

It’s a collection of fairytales.  The first story is The Tinder Box (Hans Andersen).  I remember this story.  It leaps to the lips when asked what was my favourite fairytale when I was a kid.

Only, having reread it, I’ve discovered that firstly, I have no idea what a tinder box actually is and have never bothered to find out so the story could hardly have fascinated me that much, and secondly that I remember nothing about the story other than one image.  The reason I so readily claim to like this story is because there’s a dog with ‘a pair of eyes as big as a couple of teacups’ in it. 

I’m less keen on the next two up, mainly because I don’t know what they are so the visual reference is lost.  ‘Eyes as big as millwheels’ is surprisingly difficult to say anyway.  And eyes ‘as big as the Round Tower’ is too specific.  Eyes as round as a tower, maybe.  But THE Round Tower?  I happen to know a Round Tower, but I doubt it’s the one the story means.  Just how big are we talking here?

As I read the story, I could not remember anything.  I had no idea where it was going.  And I’m glad.  Because it’s about a total psychopath.  The main character, our hero, beheads an old woman in the first few pages for no reason at all after she does him a massive favour, he repeatedly kidnaps a girl while she’s asleep so he can kiss her (and who knows what else) and finally not only does he have a court and judge viciously murdered, but orders the girl’s parents be gruesomely ripped to shreds and then marries her.  What the hell kind of hero is that?  Oh sure, apparently he gives money to the poor, but they better hope he doesn’t have one of his moods or they’re goners. 

One image, because it is such a bizarre description, has stayed with me twenty years.  The rest thankfully got flushed down the immediate memory wipe of good sense. 

There follows Rumpelstiltskin (Grimm – retold by Stephen Corrin), in which the king is psychotically greedy but gets no comeuppance, and some unnamed servant who hasn’t been in it before does the clever deed that saves the day. 

Then The Twelve Dancing Princesses (again Grimm – retold by Stephen Corrin), in which a bunch of selfish women happily have hundreds of princes put to death just because they fancy a bit of a jig. 

Of course, perhaps the fault here lies with kings who say things like ‘do this for me, if you fail I’ll have you executed, if you succeed, become my heir’.  The girl in Rumplestiltskin has no choice but to do as the king orders, because she’s locked up, but the princes in The Twelve Dancing Princesses?  Just say no.  You’re already a prince.  Do you really need to risk your life just to marry some woman? 

A lot of The Friends are really into ‘original’ fairytales and go about discussing just what was the exact gruesome scene in Grimm.  It’s never interested me.  Fairytales evolve by their very nature, so what does it matter exactly whether someone ripped themselves in half or just disappeared in one version or not?  The only fairytales I’ve ever liked are the ones that go into detail.  What’s the point of the apron in The Tinder Box?  Who was the servant who found out Rumplestiltskin’s name?  Where did this underground castle come from in The Twelve Dancing Princesses?  Why did that woman give him a cloak of invisibility? 

Well, maybe I wasn’t so picky as a seven year old.  But I never liked killing.  I wouldn’t go near a Three Little Pigs or a Red Riding Hood unless everyone survived, including the characters that get eaten and the wolf (after all, he’s a wolf, eating pigs and such is what he does to stay alive, plus they’re extinct in this country now since we killed the hell out of them, so let’s not shout hooray for animal murder, eh?  Not that I’d want to live in a country with wild wolfs, but I’m talking principles here). 

So Mr Tinder Box can get lost back to jail, insane murderer man.  Still, The Tinder Box is from the guy who brought us The Little Mermaid, so I should have known what to expect.  Thank you Disney, you saved The Childhood.  And forget the soldier who followed the princesses in The Twelve Dancing Princesses, I want the story of the guy before him, who failed.

That inspired me to come up with a story (Working Title: The Spoilt Prince) of the prince who took the drugged wine and slept through the princesses dancing, and how he escaped his execution.  I came up with two vivid characters, a quest, a castle full of wonders and a nice little moral too…  It starts with a spoilt prince who has servants for everything, including a girl whose only task is to rub his feet. 

But I ran out of steam.  I need a riddle.  Trouble here being that I can’t think of a riddle to make up.  Well, not one that isn’t stupid (as bad as 'they both make flat notes').  And although it pretty much wrote itself (hmm, this has come so easily in fact that I’m wondering if I’m just stealing from a fairytale that I’ve forgotten), I’ve got to what’s probably the climax and I just don’t know where it’s supposed to go.  And does the world need another fairytale?  No. 

But I’ve just written a 564-word synopsis off the bat.  Okay I don’t have an ending, but I really enjoyed that exercise.  Maybe there is some mileage in this idea.  I’ll save it in the ever-growing folder of ‘Stories – In Progress’ and possibly one day get around to writing it.

A tinderbox is a box containing tinder, flint, a steel, and other items for kindling fires.  Tinder is dry, flammable material, such as wood or paper, used for lighting a fire. 

Still don't really know what that means.  But I do desperately want one, just to be insufferable when some unpleasant person asks me if I have a light.

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