A collection of reworked children’s stories from Thailand dismantle the moral disguises of these vernacular tales and embrace youthful imagination
A piece of string and an overarching mission rooted in Thailand’s vernacular storytelling traditions tie this eminently giftable boxset of nine reworked children’s folktales together. For the project’s coeditors, the age-old norms and hoary values percolating in many Thai stories are troubling, to say the least. Folkloric warnings directed at infants – ‘Don’t cry, or the gecko will eat your liver’ – may seem innocuous enough, but older children are spoon-fed cautionary fables that teach them ‘to stay within a moral framework ruled by social inequality’, they write, and propagate ‘toxic ideas of love and charity, loyalty engendered by fear, friendship that thrives on benefits, and desires that are constrained to gratify the individual’.
Financed by the Prince Claus Fund, an NGO supporting critical thinkers in territories where cultural freedoms are threatened, 9 Folk Tales is pitched as a small step towards scholastic reform and societal redress: told in English and Thai and metabolised through concepts such as ‘Emotions & Memory’ and ‘Voice & Noise’, each story is meant to spur readers along towards ‘our desired futures’. A few contributions by the 12 enlisted Thai storytellers and illustrators are foreign classics that now resonate locally – in ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, our caped protagonist meets a big softy of a wolf, then totters home through the woods feeling chastened by her community’s casual mistrust of outsiders – but most are tales that dismantle, or subvert, the perceived moral disguises of Thai tales.
Choose-your-own-adventure game ‘The Fisherfolk’s Journey’ and the anthropomorphic social realism of ‘Buffaloes Dream of Being Human’ both unambiguously align the project with the hardships of those at society’s margins. Others leave more to the young imagination. Inspired by the Thai saying ‘Don’t respond to a ghost’s call’, ‘A Ghost Story’ is a wistful, inspiring page-turner: fireflylike forms swarm and flicker excitably, then disappear in a desolate, inky explosion. Flecked with coils of prose that speak of wholesale disenfranchisement, the story offers readers a cosmic evocation of a popular uprising and its sudden and violent eclipse – although perhaps not the soothing sort of ‘lights out’ parents have in mind when reaching for a children’s book.
9 Folk Tales, edited by Rubkwan Thammaboosadee & Palin Ansusinha. Metabolic Modules, ฿690 (softcover)