Author photo

By Midge Lyndee
Book Review 

Stories within Stories

The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment


May 13, 2023

On blistering hot summer days my mother would call out to me and my friends languishing and complaining on our front porch, to come in and sit around our kitchen table. She would have her coffee cup filled and give us each a mug of Kool-Aid. Then she would begin telling us stories of her childhood. They were filled with country roads and a Model T Ford, her grandfather's rural mail route, asking a stranger for a drink of cold water from an old fashioned hand pump, opening a gated road with a wild bull on the other side, and stopping at a meandering stream to catch a few fish for dinner. It all seemed magical to us city girls.

Today as I look back, I see my mother feeding our imaginations while redirecting our boredom. I also see her as both the child she had been and the woman she had become, and she herself had a story within a story. This led me to making a list of well loved books that also tell stories within stories.

One of the best examples is found in "The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights." Of Persian origin from 750 AD, it was translated from Arabic to English in 1814. Changes were made along the way, but the basic premise always remained the same. The king discovers his queen has been unfaithful. He kills her, while proclaiming that all women are unfaithful. He then enters into one new marriage after another, only to kill his bride the morning after each wedding night. Until he marries Sheharazad. She does not want to die, so she tells the king one riveting adventure after another, holding the endings from him until the next evening, then begins a new story. These were stories of Aladdin and other tales that left the king always wanting more.

"The Princess Bride" is a more recent example as William Golman and others relate the story of a young boy sick in bed. His grandfather tries to entertain him while reading about Buttercup and Westly with castles, pirates, snow sand and rodents of unusual size, a good hearted giant and a prince with evil intent. The young boy loves the sword dueling and the adventures, but balks a bit at the mushy ending. If you have only seen the movie and have not read the book, you are in for a treat.

"Watership Down," written by Richard Adams and published in 1975, is an adventure of a group of rabbits needing to relocate due to the intrusion of man. During their dangerous journey, Fiver tells the other rabbits stories in order to give them courage and strength, to persevere through perilous times. He also relates foreboding dreams.

"The Neverending Story," the graphic novel series "The Sandman" and even Shakespeare's "Hamlet" use creative stories imaginatively told by their main characters. This tool continues to make its way into new publications.

On May 2, "The Secret Book of Flora Lea" by Patti Callahan Henry made its debut. Beginning in 1939 with Operation Pied Piper, over 800,000 children were led from their homes to safer areas of England. Fourteen-year-old Hazel and 5-year-old Flora find themselves in a quaint village with a young mother and her son providing safety. Hazel fills Flora's days with secret stories as she misses her mother terribly and fears the violence of war that took their father. When tragedy strikes and the little girl disappears at the river's edge, the lives of Hazel and all those around her change forever. Then some 20 years later, the very secret stories appear in a new children's book from America. No one else knew of Whisperwood, the secret glowing doors, the ability to change into whatever you desire. Yet there it was, from page to page, the stories with pictures that Hazel had imagined herself. Did Flora survive?

As I look into books and then out into the world, the lines between life and imagination blur. Pieces of our real lives wrap tidily around make believe. My mother led me here, to recognize and appreciate the value of stories within stories. To be open to my own story and the stories of others. To not question their validity but rather accept the journey they offer, while sometimes adding a little magic along the way, which in these days equates to hope.

Good books. Good reading.

*Midge Lyn'dee is a fictional character used for the purpose of entertainment though the reviews are real and sincere.


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