recess radio program

2/17/04
The Morrisons Got Game
    by John Cech

There's a new series of books out from the Nobel Prize Laureate, Toni Morrison and her son, Slade, with pictures by Pascal LeMaitre. The series is called Who's Got Game? and each of the three titles that have appeared thus far is based on a classic Aesop's fable: "The Ant and the Grasshopper," "The Lion and the Mouse," and "The Man and the Snake." But the similarities end with the basic plot lines and central characters. The idea of these fresh retellings is to move away from the absolute, either/or morals of the original stories. Fables are traditional teaching tales -- their connection with what's "fabulous" has to do with the fact that, in the stories, animals are used to represent human characteristics. There's much speculation, and no real certainty, about whether the Aesop of ancient Greece, created these animal stories because he was a slave and thus not allowed to speak openly about the weaknesses of the human condition he observed around him, and so had to make his points once removed.

Whatever the history, the Morrisons have reinvigorated the stories with contemporary questions. Should the industrious ant literally turn away the hungry, cold grasshopper because he is an artist and thus not constitutionally capable of storing up food for the winter. Shouldn't there be some compassion in this world, and some true sense of valid difference? Besides, as the Grasshopper points out, "I quenched your thirst and fed your soul, you can't spare me a doughnut hole?" "Who's Got Game?" -- that is, who's got, not just the physical leverage but the moral authority in these complicated human dramas. And rather than closing off debate, as the traditional morals of the fables tend to do, the Morrison's open the stories up, present the ambiguities, and invite discussion.

The tales are told in rhymes -- hip-hoping, free-form, street-smart, inspired rhymes -- that are further energized by LeMaitre's comic book style. He stretches out the short, fable form into picture panels that give an expressive fullness and sustained drama to the whole. Fables began as quick stories, to be told during work or on a jostling journey, or to efficiently and elegantly serve up a particular point. But the Morrisons are taking the form in a new and certainly more democratic direction. Some critical purists have been muttering their disapproval of the liberties that have been taken with the originals. Perhaps we should give the old and the new versions of the stories to a group of young people and ask them: "Who's Got Game?"

Today's program featured the following work:

Copyright 2004 John Cech

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