Today’s Guest Post has Richard Harland reminiscing about his cherished book from childhood. Richard is one of Australia’s most popular YA Fantasy writers.
The first books I truly loved when I was old enough to read for myself were two books of Brer Rabbit stories. I know Joel Chandler Harris collected and wrote out the original stories, and I’ve tried to read them as an adult, but the dialect was too heavy and I wasn’t interested in the Uncle Remus framing narrative. These books were the stories re-told in more modern English—I wouldn’t have a clue who did the re-telling or who drew the illustrations. Still, it wasn’t fully modern English, because the flavour of the original was still there in phrases like ‘licketty-split’ and ‘Brer Fox sez, sez he’. I remember the animal characters were always ‘sauntering along’ and being ‘’cute’ (i.e. acute, smart).
Smartest of all was Brer Rabbit. I just loved the way that rabbit could always come up with a way to escape from any scary situation. And there were many scary situations, where Brer Fox and Brer Wolf were on the verge of gobbling him up. (Wolves were always the baddies in my personal bestiary—I had a whole lot of nightmares about them.)
I tell a lie—Brer Rabbit wasn’t the smartest of all, because one animal could always outsmart him: Brer Tortoise! I wasn’t so fond of the tales where Brer Tortoise turned out to be even cleverer than Brer Rabbit. The rabbit was my hero, and I always wanted him to win.
I can almost smell those books as I type this; and I can see the illustrations, shaded black and white drawings plus one colour. Some pages had green colour in the illustrations, some blue, but I remember the orange ones best.
I wonder how many times I read those stories? As an adult, I’ve been an absolute non-re-reader. I could count on the fingers of two hands the books I’ve read a second time. (Not counting re-readings because I had to give a lecture on the book.) Well, maybe three hands. But I bet I read those Brer Rabbit tales not less than a hundred times each.
I had no idea where those tales came from when I was a kid. They belonged to a special universe of ‘sauntering’ and being ‘’cute’. I knew there were no melon patches where I grew up (in England) but I don’t think I consciously realised that the setting was American. I certainly never knew they were oral stories told among slaves, with sources going all the way back to Africa.
Richard’s latest book is ‘Liberator’, the sequel to ‘Worldshaker’. ‘Liberator’ came out this year from Allen & Unwin in Australia (also UK, France and Germany the US to follow in 2012). For more, visit Richard’s website. He also has a blog and a wonderfully generous site dedicated to writing tips.