The Sorry Tale of Fox and Bear by Margrete Lamond, illustrated by Heather Vallance is a quirky, bittersweet tale of friendship. It stands out for its slightly darker tone and not necessarily happy ‘ending’ rather like one of Aesop’s fables – but perhaps give a more lifelike picture of how some friendships really can be. In this story accompanied by stunning charcoal illustrations, Fox and Bear fall out, with Fox being a cunning trickster and Bear falling for his ploys – again and again. Bear realises he too can play the trickster and he sets about to teach Fox a lesson. Hare and Rooster join in with their opinions on Fox’s trickery giving Bear even more desire to get back at Fox. But as you might imagine, Bear doesn’t feel quite so good afterwards and wonders if he made the right decision…..
Children are often far more intelligent and resilient than they’re given credit for and I can imagine many heartfelt and heated opinions if you read this aloud to your class. The Sorry Tale of Fox and Bear takes off the rose-tinted glasses and shows how sometimes ‘friends’ can be mean, sometimes they can let us down and sometimes we can let our friends down. Perhaps the point about being friends is accepting friendship won’t always be perfect and that forgiveness is central to ensure its longevity.
Today to share more insight into to the inspiration behind this story, I’m really pleased to welcome to the blog author Margrete Lamond, who I am sure will have you reaching for your copy to re read or ordering one from the bookshop immediately! Welcome to the blog Margrete!
“The Sorry Tale of Fox and Bear is an aggregate of several Norwegian folk-tales. It is also a mash-up of scenarios, an introduction of unrelated characters and relationships, and a reinvention of the motivations of the main players Bear, Fox, Rooster and Hare. Each borrowed tale, and each character, has been twisted, moulded, pummelled and reshaped. Even so, the original sources remain clear.
I can’t resist retelling a folk tale. Retelling, for me, is the ultimate writerly indulgence. The bones of the story have been established and much of the brain-grinding groundwork has already been done. All I need do is sit down and play with language, sentences, patterns and rhythms and sounds, invest the story with an uneasy voice, suggest a disturbing undertow and – O ultimate joy – craft an ambiguous ending. Not to mention play around with the hopes, desires and motivations of the characters. All this, without once having to agonise over fundamental plotting. Tweaking, yes. Retelling, yes. Giving the original tales a thoroughgoing structural edit, yes. Starting with a blank page, no.
At this level of indulgence – where I sport in a sandbox full of toys I didn’t pay for – any folk tale is fun to retell, no matter how well-known, well worn, or even worn out it may be. I will happily find ways to retell Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Little Hare 2015), for example, so that the protagonists’ motivations are a little more twisted and the endings a little more dissonant than the originals were intended to be. But I am most happy when I play with tales that are less well-known. Lesser-known tales offer adventures into the complete unknown, into scenarios that often are decidedly peculiar, and acquaint us with erratic, eccentric and psychopathic characters whose behaviours require not a little agility of invention to render them narratively plausible, at least to the contemporary reader.
Most importantly of all, lesser-known traditional tales offer ranges and nuances of emotion rarely encountered in the accepted folk-tale canon. Self-delusion, psychosis, braggadocio, falsehood, vaulting ambition, errant foolishness, unassuageable guilt … such riches for those who care to dig them out! When Einstein declared that if we wanted more intelligent children we should read them more fairy tales, he must surely have been talking about this breadth and depth and richness of emotional experience that traditional tales offer.
It was in this vein of seeking emotional breadth that I sourced the stories for The Sorry Tale of Fox and Bear. They are decidedly gritty, if not downright harsh and violent. The bad guys sometimes win, the good guys are sometimes bad, and the really bad guys are really bad in cruel, underhanded and unpunished ways. These elements remain in my retelling. They are perhaps even highlighted, as a result of being woven into a theme of psychological danger in friendship. I’ve deliberately drawn a dark, dark world, but also hope I have suggested the warmth of sun gleaming through the clouds. Bear’s deep and simple wisdom, Fox’s contrition and fundamental loyalty, the unspoken love that reverberates between them even in estrangement … each of these, and more, suggests that even in our own confusing world, forgiveness, love and loyalty offer ongoing understanding and hope.”
Margrete Lamond © 2018
Margrete Lamond is a publisher of Little Hare Books in Australia, author of many modern re-tellings of traditional tales. She is passionate believer in quality artwork in books for young readers.
Heather Vallance is a studio artist who has taught in remote communities in Australia and regional schools and galleries.
If you would like to find out more visit www.oldbarnbooks.com With thanks to Old Barn Books for sending me this book to review and Liz Scott for organising this guest blog.