Tuck Everlasting

When Winnie Foster decides to run away, a rather curious set of adventures unfolds. The 10 year old is the rather lonely only child of the wealthiest family in Treegap, a small village on the edge of a rather mysterious wood.

One afternoon around twilight, Winnie and her grandmother hear mysterious music wafting from the wood and Grandma reports it is “fairy music” which she has heard throughout her life. Winnie’s curiosity is piqued as no one ventures into the private woods owned by her family; even the cows circle around the forest rather than passing through.

Winnie’s family are visited by a “man in a yellow suit” who is asking questions about families in the area. When Winnie shares about the fairy music from the wood the man questions her more closely, almost greedily.

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Despite her every move being monitored and scrutinsed by overbearing grandmother and mother, Winnie manages to escape her iron fenced yard one morning, to run away. She ventures into the forbidding wood only to discover a delightful grove and clearing with a giant tree and spring.

Here in the wood she meets 17 year old Jesse Tuck. What unfolds next is an adventure in which Winnie is “kidnapped” by the Tuck family for discovering their secret – a spring granting immortality.

The family share their story with Winnie of how they came across the the spring by mistake and have been frozen in time ever since, never ageing a day. They have kidnapped Winnie to protect the secret and intend to return her home once she agrees to protect their secret also.

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Little do they know that “man in a yellow suit” is following them and eavesdropping on their conversations. His intentions for the forest and the magical spring are less than pure and so Winnie, Jesse and the Tuck family must work together to thwart his plans to sell the spring water for profit.

Written in 1975 by Natalie Babbitt,  Tuck Everlasting has sold over 5 million copies and is listed as one of the “Teacher’s Top 100 Books for Children”. The story wrestles with some big questions about life including mortality, morality, land ownership, and love.

The Tucks attain what is so enviable, eternal life. And yet in the words of Angus Tuck, to stop ageing naturally is to become like a rock on the stream of life, unmoving along with all the other elements in dynamic relationship with each other. It is a constant grief to the Tucks to see life pass on without them and to live forever. At any cost they must stop the “man in the yellow suit” from selling to the public what seems so desirable and yet what would wreak havoc on space and time.

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Winnie too faces the decision to run away with the Tuck’s or to live on, a mortal life, and take with that the joys and sorrows of ageing and finally death. Natalie Babbitt’s story is a bitter-sweet meditation on the gift of life, the decisions of love and the mystery of nature including ageing and death.

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Momo

Michael Ende is best known for his novel “The Never Ending Story” [1979] however, the German author was a prolific writer of fantasy and children’s fiction, selling more than 35 million copies of his works in his lifetime and having them adapted into  films, plays, operas and audio-books .

His fantasy novel Momo [1973], also known as The Grey Gentleman explores themes of modernism and materialism and the power of a young girl to simply give people a most valuable asset, her attention and time.

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Set on the outskirts of an unknown Mediterranean city, perhaps in Italy, the story centres around a neighbourhood of simple folk and an orphan, Momo.

Living in the ruins of an amphitheatre, Momo does not know how to read or write, nor does she know her own age. She however has a unique gift for truly listening to people. Momo is considered to be somewhat of an advisor to all the people of the neighbourhood for helping them solve their petty problems by simply listening.

Momo does not say much but her gentle ability to listen to people helps them untangle their problems themselves. Momo’s closest friends are Beppo, the street sweeper and Guido, a tour guide.

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Into the tranquil world of this community come the Men in Grey, bald men with greyish skin and grey suits who represent the Time Savings Bank. These men indoctrinate the people of this town to the value of ‘saving time’ which requires depositing time in accounts in order to gain interest on it.

Gradually, activities perceived to be time wasting such as socialising, art creation, imaginative playing or even sleeping begin to be replaced by hectic work and stress.

Momo remains immune to the powers of the Men in Grey. As her friends no longer come to her for counsel, she perceives the irony that the more time people save, the less time they have.

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Momo is assisted by curious creature called Cassiopeia, a tortoise who communicates with words illuminated on her shell and who has the gift of future-sightedness.  Cassiopeia introduces her to the Administrator of Time,  Professor Secundus Minutus Hora, who grants her one “hour lily”, freezing time for one hour, long enough for Momo to infiltrate the lair of the Men in Grey.

Momo discovers the the Men in Grey are not real humans but are in fact parasites living off the time deposited in their bank by people. The cigars they smoke are made from dried “hour lilies” deposited in the bank for saving and without these cigars, the Men in Grey perish.

It is Momo’s challenge to deprive the Men in Grey of their cigars while simultaneously releasing the trapped “hour lilies” kept in the bank for safe keeping, and return them to the people who have lost them.

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Written at the end of modernsim and at the cusp of post-modernism and the flowering of neo-spiritualism, Ende like the Romantics before him, lamented the gradual erasure of the mystical, spiritual or esoteric from human life in favour of utilitarianism, materialism and economic rationalism.

To Michael Ende, children such as Momo are unique symbols of resistance to adult preoccupations such as materialism, work, stress and time saving.

His story is an essay to the magic of friendship, the importance of time, the power of stories, the significance of compassion and the value of the small but pleasant things that make life more worth living.

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Our unlikely hero is Momo, whose invincibility lies in the fact that her childish imagination can see through the Men in Grey, and her love for her friends leads her to courageously challenge the establishment which would rob them of their most precious asset -time.

 

The Velveteen Rabbit

First published in 1922, by Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit is a classic children’s tale, often rated as one of the Top 100 Books for Children.

It is a simply tale, of a toy rabbit who dreams of becoming ‘real’. Made of velvet corduroy fabric, the velveteen rabbit is given to a young boy for Christmas. Initially overlooked by the boy, the Velveteen Rabbit hears from one of the oldest nursery toys, the old Skin Horse, that toys can become real due to the love of their child. To the Velveteen Rabbit his chances of becoming real are slim.

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One night, the boys Nana gives the rabbit to him at bedtime, and soon he becomes the boy’s favourite, accompanying him on picnics and outings. At one summer picnic, the Velveteen Rabbit encounters some real rabbits who point out he cannot hop and so is not ‘real’.

When the boy falls ill with Scarlet Fever, the doctor orders him away to the seaside and all his toys and books burnt. The Velveteen Rabbit, shabby and old,  is taken out in a sack to the garden where he sadly remembers his life with the boy. Here he meets a Nursery Magic Fairy who grants him a kiss.

The following spring, the boy is visited by a rabbit who reminds him of his old toy, the Velveteen Rabbit.

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A precursor of the very popular “Toy Story” franchise, this story inhabits the world of a child’s imagination, the realm of their nursery and the toys who live there and are active when the lights turn off.

Moreover, it explores the life of these imaginations and whether they take a life of their own, due to being loved.  Not unlike the story of Pinocchio, it examines the journey of a toy, to become “real”, a journey for which Pinocchio must follow the character arc of a “heroic quest” to become reborn as a “real boy”.

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Either way, these stories illustrate human existential questions. What is beyond this mortal coil? Are we but toys in a grand play room, to become moth eaten and discarded?

If we love and are truly loved, must there be something beyond, a greater “reality” to which be belong- something that lives on because of love?

 

The Revenant: A Tale of Revenge

revenant

ˈrɛv(ə)nənt/
noun
noun: revenant; plural noun: revenants
  1. a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead.
    “he was three hundred years old, a terrible living revenant”
 Leonardo Di Caprio is Oscar nominated for Best Actor at this years Academy Awards for his role in The Revenant. He plays Hugh Glass, a fur trapper and frontiersman who endures great physical hardships in the Montana wilderness of the 1820s.
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The film is based on the true story of Glass, who endured a mauling by a she-bear and abandoned by his companions,  survived quite miraculously to cover several hundred kilometers of harsh wilderness and return to the nearest settlement.
The story has been retold in many forms, mostly examining what incredible fortitude was required to not only survive the ordeal but to cover so much territory alone.  Upon arrival Glass, sought out his two companions, the ones who left him for dead, and promptly forgave them.
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Versions of the story including this film explore the nuances of Glass’s journey and what motivated him – primarily a quest for justice. In this case – revenge.
The film is set against the backdrop of a warring Indigenous group the Arikara, a benevolent tribe the Pawnee, bloodthirsty French, British and American fur traders and the harsh North American winter.
It flips Hollywood stereotypes of whiteman vs Indian, showing up the wickedness and bloodlust of both sides, each with their own complex motives for revenge. Most significantly it draws on a lesser known detail of Glass’s life, that he married a Pawnee woman and had a child by her.
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Revenge is so closely tied to love. One cannot simply rest when one we love is killed or hurt. In a world without justice, one man is left to seek it anyway he can find it.  The justice of the tale then is the harsh wilderness they inhabit.The Indigenous people have their own rough justice and honor system. Amongst it all, Glass is one man, who both loves deeply and endures, in an herculean effort to return to face the man who did him wrong.
Revenge is a dish better served cold is perhaps the phrase to underscore the film. The Revenant is an epic tragedy with great performances. Not for squeamish or the faint of heart.