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Storytelling at Fort Edmonton Park


Here is an audio link to my storyset at the 26thannual TALES Storytelling Festival,
(The Alberta League Encouraging Storytelling),
Held at Fort Edmonton Park, May 24-25.
This is the first time I have told at the festival in ten years, and I had the good fortune to tell again in St. Michael’s Church, an acoustically rich, beautiful old church on 1905 Street. My set is an hour in length. Enjoy.

Dystopian Young Adult Fiction and the Future of the Future


The latest film to feature teenagers in a dystopian future is Divergent, directed by Neil Burger and starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, and Kate Winslet, and based on the novel by Veronica Wroth. I haven’t yet seen the film, and the book struck me as a rather clumsy representation of the future, in which society has divided into factions based on allegorized personality types. Triss, our teenage girl hero, is Divergent, which means her abilities extend to more than one of the factions in this future society.
But I’m not interested in reviewing either the film or the book. I’m interested in what lies behind these dystopic renderings of the future featuring teenagers as their central characters. Commentator’s on young adult fiction and teen fantasy offer many reasons why the genre lends itself to depictions of the future, not the least of which is the nature of adolescence itself as a time of emotional upheaval and physical changes in the crossing of the threshold between childhood and adulthood.
Having said this, one of the major tropes that finds its way into teen fiction is that of the love triangle: a teenage girl, often the narrator, who sees herself as plain and sometimes bookish, and who finds herself suddenly in love with two boys, both of whom find her compelling and irresistible. Think of the Twilight books. I know you’ve read them too.
Two of the best examples of this type of teenage fantasy set in the future are the Matched series by Ally Condie and The Hunger Games books by Susanne Collins. While most books of this type have the girl hero caught between the love of two boys, The Hunger Games offers a more complex and compelling variant of the story.
My question is, has this particular story of teenage romance in a dystopic future burned itself out? Will we continue to get characters such as Triss, Cassia, and Katniss who have to negotiate their way between romance and the politics of the future? And why the wide appeal? These are, after all, books and films that focus on seventeen year-old girls. Is the popularity of such books and films fast becoming a teen fetish or a cultural obsession with adolescence?
I have love dystopian fiction since first reading H. G. Wells the Time Machine at age twelve. The teenage romance novel is one that seeks to find a home inside other genres, in particular the supernatural. Perhaps it will eventually tire of wearing dystopian clothes and move on to dominate some other genre.
By the way, if you want more dystopian fiction that isn’t really about teenage romance, read Lois Lowry’s Son, the conclusion to the series that began with the giver. Intensely frustrating books in their own way, but still good dystopian stuff.

A Life-Long Adventure


As a kid, I was never much of a reader. I looked at my dad’s newspapers, the covers of my mom’s novels, and I flipped through the pictures in the National Geographic. In grade five, we had a series in our class that was supposed to help with reading comprehension. I was put in the orange readers, halfway between the books for dummies and those for the average kids in the class.
The summer after grade five I was blinded in a car accident. I spent four months in hospital because of a badly broken leg. My world had changed. Apart from trying to adjust to being blind after eleven years of running, biking, and rough-housing, the unspeakable boredom of the hospital bed nearly drove me crazy.
One day two women from the school board came to visit me. They brought me an oversized, open-reel tape recorder and some recorded books. One of those books was J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
The world of The Hobbit was the world as I had never imagined it. I had thought elves were diminutive shoemakers, while dwarfs were funny little characters with funnier names who helped runaway princesses.
In Tolkien’s world, the dwarves–not dwarfs–still had funny names, but they went on quests to steal back dragon-guarded treasure, while elves were tall, beautiful, and a little threatening. And what was a hobbit?
After the traction came off my leg, they put me in a body cast: three months flat on my back, and I was finally able to get up. One night after the nurses had done their rounds, I maneuvered myself out of bed, and hobbled and cruched my way down the hall to the schoolroom, the room for all the kids who were too damaged or messed up to go into the regular hospital classroom. In that room, at the root of a mountain, the strangest creature I had ever met waited for me; for me and a little hobbit, who was lost, in the dark, and all alone.
Meeting Bilbo, Gollum, and Smaug introduced me to a world of books that became my lifeline and my world. It took the place of the life I had lost, and it gave the visual center of my brain something to do. I imagined myself into every book I read, sometimes scaring myself into nights of wakefulness, as I did with H. G. Wells the Time Machine and later Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I have been on that road ever since, and it all began at a round, green door with a pipe-smoking hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, and an unexpected adventure to lands faraway.