World of fantasy
Lion Boy shows that Fantasy as a genre is continuously reinventing itself without losing grip on its remarkable past, writes PREMA SRINIVASAN.
THE most striking feature of fantasies written today for children is that apart from reflecting our times they simultaneously seem to transcend the time element. Today when children's fantasy is seen moving towards the post modern and metafictive, the boundaries between reality and psychological fantasy have become increasingly blurred. The various complex ways in which writers have approached fantasy writing in the recent years assure the readers that this genre has become a part of the fabric of literary culture.
In Lion Boy, published by Puffin, Ziou Corder retains the wonderment and the joy of the olden tales with a liberal pinch of the customary "heartache and nightmares". As in Harry Potter, the author uses the fantasy element to deal with the adult world. Charlie Ashanti has an unusual gift he can speak the language of the cats. This comes in handy when he discovers that his parents are kidnapped and only cats can help him rescue them. He sets out on his dangerous quest like all heroes of myths, aided by friendly cats and circus lions.
Charlie also is trying to escape the clutches of the villainous Rafi, who has masterminded the evil plot. Charlie's adventures in the ship in which he travels as a stowaway and his friendship with the six circus lions who need his help to escape to Africa is the main frame of the story. The setting moves from the scents of the fisherman's wharf in England to the circus ship Circe and onwards to Paris, exotic Venice and finally to Bulgaria.
His parents are well known scientists who are abducted to work for the evil masterminds. They are forced to divulge the secret of the asthma cure worth billions, while Charlie realised all the time he has the secret with him written out on a parchment with the blood of his mother Magdalen. Something tells him he must keep it safe and carefully carries it with him on his adventure. The ending only points out the ray of light at the end of the dark tunnel, unlike the customary happy ending in children's stories. Charlie is still a long way off from rescuing his parents and the lions are enjoying the hospitality of the king of Bulgaria, unaware of the subsequent passage to native Africa. But as the oldest lion wisely remarks, "we are warm and dry ... we are together ... we have a friend with power and knowledge... now we are safe."
The style is pedestrian but reader friendly without compromising on the quality of the prose. Tomorrow may bring about uncertainties and further adventures before reaching Charlie's parents but, for now, they are free and happy. Charlie enjoys his moment of reprieve gambolling with the big cats who are his blood brothers. Earlier, he recalls his adventure as a baby in Africa when his blood accidentally intermingles with that of a leopard club. The author's validation of a romantically constructed incident makes the fantasy convincing.
Anthropomorphism has always been a recurrent motif in children's books right from the days of Aesop's fables. In the folk tales of primitive societies " talking animals" have occupied a highly ambiguous but a definite fantasy space. Very often these animals represented moral traits, depicting different natures of good and evil, centrally located with viewing conduct in ethical terms. Corder's use of fantasy element remains relevant to his choice of theme. By choosing Charlie, an African boy, as his protagonist the author has the liberty to use a different kind of cultural material to build his alternative world of adventure for children. While reading Lion Boy the adult reader gets the impression that fantasy as a genre is continuously reinventing itself and moving in new directions without losing grip on its remarkable past.
Lion Boy, Zizou Corder, Puffin, £3.99.
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