Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tigana and Story Time

Until recently, story time has been very different for Kasia than for Tigana at this age. Tigana loved having books read to her, as does Kasia, but Tigana also insisted on us telling her our own original bedtime stories.

When very young, we told Tigana the standard fairy tales, which would then have to be retold exactly the same way each night, until each story eventually reached saturation and we moved onto the next. Then Mary started a continuing series of stories featuring Peter (a Tom Thumb character) and “the little Girl” (who was of course Tigana). Tigana loved these stories beyond reason, as Mary retold the day’s highlights from the perspective of Peter. Tigana would always ask if she was ‘the little girl’, which Mary would neither confirm nor deny, but the events of ‘the little girl’s’ life strangely mirrored those of Tigana’s.

Then one time I covered off the Peter stories when Mary was away, not realizing that Mary considered them her special thing with Tigana. But the deed done, I was permitted to tell Peter stories when Mary was busy, so that we were soon alternating nights.

It was some time before we realized that we had quite different styles and had evolved the character of Peter in quite different directions. Mary’s Peter was mostly comical, getting himself into silly situations or misunderstandings, like the title character of the Amelia Bedelia books. My Peter stories were more plot driven and about Peter having adventures. Again, I wondered if this reflected a gender difference, or just personal style.

When Tigana was five, we moved to a new home in anticipation of Kasia’s arrival. Following a series of Peter adventures/misadventures over the move, I introduced the new character of Rhubarb, who lived in the Rhubarb plant in our new yard. As Peter and Rhubarb explored the new neighbourhood, they came into contact with a host of new characters who lived by the rules of magic I adopted holus-bolus from Dave Duncan’s A Man of His Word series. Bedtime stories became a 1,500 episode serial, building one to the next, and often ending on a cliffhanger to be resolved the next evening.

Like any B movie serial, much of each episode included stock footage. In our case the nightly prologue was getting Tigana and her companions out her bedroom window (stealing from Dave Duncan’s The Magic Casement) to the Giant’s castle in Cloudland, from whence her nightly adventures began. (Originally, Tigana and Peter had snuck out into the garden, and then out into the neighbourhood, but after the first couple of weeks of sneaking past Mom in the kitchen, the sequence started to lose credibility, and the storyline started to chaff against the confines of the neighbourhood. So I had the giant invite Tigana back to his castle in the clouds, and introduced the magic window to get her there. Once I exhausted the potential of Cloudland, I introduced the new characters of Dr. Who and Romana. Tigana was delighted with these characters -- and the infusion of 25 years of plagiarized episodes, adapted only enough to make Tigana the star of each adventure.

There were two problems with a continuing series of bedtime stories lasted over 1500 different episodes, First, having stolen every story idea I've ever read over the past 45 years, I was worried there for awhile that I might have ruined fantasy for Tigana. I could just see her discovering Dr. Who or Dave Duncan's books, and instead of the pleasure they have given me over the years, quickly discard them on the basis "They're not very original -- I've heard it all a hundred times before!" Fortunately, in the event, Tigana instead has discovered the dozen of new great authors writing for kids her age, and still loves fantasy. (Though lately she is into the preteen reading of novels about dating, most of which make my brain hurt. But that's another post.)

Second, since I wasn’t writing any of this down, I would frequently lose track of some of the characters or occasionally start to repeat a particular storyline. Tigana would immediately interrupt and ask, "Is this like where they went into the castle and found the bomb?" or "Is this like the time the got caught in a time loop?" "Somewhat similar," I would stall, improvising madly, "but in this case the time loop was running in the opposite direction!" or "No, no! No bomb in this one!" and then beat my brain against the bed post trying to come up with some different angle on an overused story steal. Explaining what had happened to the characters I left hanging from a cliff a couple of episodes back and completely forgot about was similarly challenging.

Some days I rose to the challenge magnificently, and would go out from Tigana's bedroom to regal Mary with the evening's story, and bask in her agreement that ''that was a good one!" Other days, not so much. On more than one occasion, I was so tired by the time we got Tigana to bed, that I would actually fall asleep before her... This did not, to the amazement of all, actually keep me from finishing the story. The first time this happened, I came back awake to Tigana saying, "That was terrific Dad, but I didn't quite get the part about the train."

"Train? What train?"

And Tigana recited back to me a whole 10 minutes of story that I had no recollection of telling, and which frankly made no sense within the context of the story I had started out to tell. But dream like, it had all sort of blurred together, and apparently my mouth had kept recounting as I drifted off to sleep. I wasn't entirely sure I believed this was possible until it had happened several times, and had been witnessed by both Tigana and Mary.

I loved telling Tigana bed time stories, and was sad when she finally out grew that nightly ritual in favor of her reading to herself. My only regret was that I never thought to record any of those stories/episodes. In retrospect, there were enough 'good' nights, and enough original material (given Tigana and in the latter years, her sister) were added to the standard fantasy storylines for me to have gotten the rough draft of a novel or story collection out of it. And then I thought maybe I could record my stories to Kasia, and was shocked to discover her complete lack of interest in anything other than the stories she dictated to me....

But then, at five and a half, it's early days yet. Tigana is insistent I don't tell Kasia any of my Dr. Who episodes, since in Tigana's view those belong solely to her, but as I begin linking together the stories of Princess HummingBird and her Pink Pony -- and more significantly -- the newly introduced character of tinyweenie -- there is hope yet that the process will repeat. I hope so.

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