Monday, 19 January 2015

The Darker Side of Bright.

Children's Stories - The Darker Side of Bright.

I love books, but good writing and stories can come in many forms. Stories for children should be a mixture of escapism and entertainment yet still show children the world. The best ones make them think, to look again to see the things below the surface, where things may not be quite as they first appear. Stories are not just a sparkly place, but a training ground for life ahead. Let's face it, life can be at times rather ugly and hard work.

There is a TV show that achieves this, Pendleton Ward's Adventure Time. It is colourful, wacky and fun, but each episode is surprising and so beautifully composed that I frequently find myself on the sofa asking my children for just one more episode, pleeeeeeease.

My absolute favourite episode is “I Remember You”. If you have eleven minutes or so I recommend watching it. 

Up until this point in many of the episodes the villain has been The Ice King, who steals Princesses in an attempt to marry them. Here, we finally see the reason for his irrational behaviour. The parallel with Dementia or Alzheimer's is so true to life, yet suspended safely in the fantasy world of Ooo. It made me cry.

Although my children didn't understand the very real disease, they noticed the change of view point. They watched enthralled as the baddie Ice King and the self assured Marceline the Vampire Queen were stripped back. Characters at home, away from the persona they show the world, vulnerable and well, like everyone else without flashy titles and magical powers. Just Simon and Marcy, depicted as unconventional family members and suddenly the viewer has a totally different understanding of who they are and why they behave as they do.


It took me back a few years. My father had Parkinson's and just like Ice King, he would at times behave strangely, so determined and set on the most peculiar things (although never capturing Princesses, he had happily married his many decades earlier). But there would be that moment when I would get him back. My wonderful Dad, just as he always was, just like Marcy gets to see Simon. It was there, even if it was just for a fleeting moment. Like he had escaped, not from the Ice crown, but from the mists of flickering synapses unable to reboot. There, bobbed to the surface, his normal smiling self. My heart would flip with joy to see him and hope he would stay this time. But, he never did. The illness was wrapped too tightly, waiting to drag him back under.

So like Marceline, (but with hair that is no where near as cool), I would feel hope, happiness, anger, disappointment, but to the world we tried to seem normal. It is only when normal dissolves that you realise how difficult it is to achieve.

I was in my 20's when my father was diagnosed and my children were still babies when he died. I could already see my son's realisation that something was amiss with this old man we loved.

There must be other children who see it in their Grandparents or maybe, as sad as it is, in their own parents. The more we discuss things and show children, the more we can help them to make sense of things, to understand.

For now my children understand that a baddie isn't just bad and that Marceline is edgy because she has been through some difficult times. This vulnerability has let the children inside and made them love these characters more than they did before.

So when I am writing I will not stray from seemingly difficult or scary topics, but try to switch the perspective, to open it up so children can step inside and explore it for themselves.

I hope one day that I can write as well as the creators of Adventure Time. The key to this episode I feel is that the viewer gets inside the relationship. To see Marceline read and sing the words long ago written by the Ice King when he was still Simon, to the then little girl Marcy he cared for. Instantly the words are drenched in emotion, so deeply suppressed. We realise they have a long history and the powerful, crazy Ice King is shown as an apologetic old man, confused and erratic with his exasperated Granddaughter of sorts. Only she's older now and holds the power in this relationship as the role of protector shifts, a feeling I remember.

I'll leave you with the words she reads.

“This magic keeps me alive,
But it's making me crazy.
And I need to save you,
But who's going to save me?
Please forgive me for whatever I do,
When I don't remember you.”

Adventure time