By DAPHNE LEE
I’M in the midst of editing a collection of stories based on traditional tales from the region (Malaysia and Singapore).
When I first thought of collecting stories for this anthology, I imagined it would be for children. I didn’t grow up with Malaysian fairytales, myths and legends. Like many Malaysian children from English-speaking families, I was raised on the stories of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. I was baptised in the Catholic church and so Christian mythology was part of my life.
As an adult I felt something was missing. Why did I know European fairytales, myths and legends and not the fairytales, myths and legends of the country in which I lived and belonged? The obvious reason was because my parents never told me any of the latter. My mother would occasionally relate bizarre stories, of Chinese origin, about a filial son who went to incredible lengths to prove his love for his aged mother, but for most part she (and my sisters) read me stories which included fairytale staples like Snow White, Cinderella, The Goose Girl, The Bremen Town Musicians (my favourite) and Rumplestiltskin.
We had a few lovely hardbound copies of fairytales by Andersen and the Grimms. We did not own any collections of Malaysian traditional tales. This was why I thought of compiling one. However, this was several years ago and since then a few anthologies, including two fully-illustrated ones, have been published for children.
I think it’s interesting how the oral nature of folktales meant that they would change every time they were re-told. They were, after all, subject to the teller’s powers of recollection, and influenced by his/her moods, beliefs and intentions, as well as whom the stories were told to.
At some point, these tales were recorded – written down – and stopped changing. There are several written versions of most “folktales” and writers who re-produce these stories for collections tend not to stray from these accounts. It’s as if there is something sacred about these old tales and they can’t be touched. For the collection I’m editing, the authors were encouraged to re-invent the stories and, if they chose to, deviate from their accepted incarnations. These new versions of old tales are written with older readers (teenagers and adults) in mind – readers whose knowledge of the fairytales, myths and legends of this region is, at best, vague and, at worst, non-existent.
Many of the writers who contributed to the collection were in the same boat as I was – without an intimate knowledge of regional tales. We all had to educate ourselves in order to write our own versions of the stories we picked to re-tell.
I’m hoping that readers will be entertained by the stories we have included in the anthology. I also hope that they will be encouraged to find out more about the traditional tales that served as an inspiration for these stories.
N.B. Malaysian Tales: Retold and Remixed was published on 19th June 2011.