I’m With the Bears


First Sentence:   Of all the folktales collected by the authors in the Autonomous Kurdish Region during 1998-99, the following modification of the Thomas-Bredon Cluster 14b (On the Inadvisibility of Geronticide) [Narr. Ukbar Kishkiev /male /c.75 yrs /farmer /Guurjev Valley /1999 /trans. Avril Bredon and Bruno Thomas from Kurdish] illustrates best how an archetypal wisdom-narrative (one found in cultures as diametric as West Greenland Inuit [La Pointe & Cheng 1928], the Solomon Islands [Daphne Ng 1966] and Central African Republic [Coupland-Weir 1989]) can be mutated by the host-culture’s folkways, topography and belief-hierarchies:

Here’s a story I had from my wrinkled old aunt, who used to tell it as she worked on her loom, click-clacketty, click-clacketty, click-clacketty.

After the first graphic novel in Book Atlas, we now have the first collection of short stories not by a single author. This book, subtitled Short Stories from a Damaged Planet is a collection of tales from authors including Margaret Atwood, T.C. Boyle and David Mitchell amongst others. All the stories paint a picture of the world greatly altered due to climate change, with all royalties from the book going to 350.org. The story I chose to focus on is the David Mitchell one (again!), entitled The Siphoners. It really is a marvelous story. Full of everything we’ve come to expect from Mitchell’s writing, it is a very fine story in a very worthwhile collection. Definitely one worth looking out for.

* * * *

Last Sentence:    “Look about you: hasn’t the country of Youth become the country of All Ages?”

Last Sentence explained:     This story begins with the telling of a folktale called The Country of Youth.  In this folktale, the elderly are given poison on their sixtieth birthday to make way for the young. During the telling of this tale we are brought into ‘the present’ and we realise it is an elderly woman called Avril reading the story. Avril is in an unbearable future where oil is too expensive for most people and the internet has been down for eight years. She is caring for her senile husband Bruno and the reason her reading was disturbed is because there are men outside trying to steal her fuel. It is a very bleak dystopian future being portrayed, and brings to mind a pre-Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After. The men come to siphon the fuel, and they do so, emptying Bruno and Avril’s supply. It is then they are informed by the bandits that new powers have been put in place, and women over thirty, and men over thirty-five are now considered refugees and will not be let into The New Cordon. Without fuel or food or protection, it seems they have little choice, and their story ends when Avril is debating with herself what to do about their future.

She begins reading the folktale again.

In the folktale a man, Haji, has hidden his grandmother in the woods after her sixtieth birthday. Before Haji goes into battle, his grandmother teaches him tricks which prove invaluable in combat. Afterwards, after a resounding victory, he is summoned by the Emperor to explain how he knew exactly what to do and how to do it. Haji confesses his crime, and says his grandmother taught him everything he needed to know. He says:

Unless we respect our old people and listen to their wisdom, we damage ourselves and our future more than ten thousand bandits ever could.

The story then ends with the narrator of the folktale’s “wrinkled old aunt” saying the final words above. Something that just isn’t true in Avril and Bruno’s world anymore. Powerful stuff…

Sample quotes from the story:

“Well, summer passed, and autumn rusted the valleys.”

“…a balloon of grief inflates in my throat, and hurts.”

“I file his toenails, discolored like rhino horn, and the daylight dies.”


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