…that’s the question that Little Brother prodded me awake with two mornings ago. I have to say that my response did not immediately live up to expectations… However, having ascertained from the child-who-swallowed-the-animal-encyclopaedia-whole that lagomorphs are “rabbits, hares and pikas”, I was eventually able to fudge an answer.
Later on, I returned to the question and said that I had chosen the rabbit in the moon, at which Little Brother laughed at me and told me, “That’s just a myth.”, but he was more than happy to curl up and listen again to the story, so beautifully retold by Naomi Adler in The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales from Around the World (Barefoot, 2006). We agreed afterwards that even though a heart of gold is not really made of gold, it is definitely worth striving for and is “much better than a heart of stone”. I felt reassured that he may be able to recognise the fantasy element in myths and legends, but his imagination is still caught up in the magic of a good retelling: and this collection is an excellent one for reading aloud. Naomi Adler is first and foremost a storyteller and her background in the oral tradition shines through. In fact, her narration on the accompanying CDs is a joy listen to. I also like the page at the end of the book where she describes her sources for each tale – all passed on through the oral tradition by someone first-hand from the country in question!
Amanda Hall’s illustrations also contribute to bringing the stories alive. She emphasises their cultural diversity, by incorporating subtle variations in style according to the country of origin. I love the different borders/motifs, which give each story its own space and identity within the collection.
This version of “The Rabbit in the Moon” comes from India and describes how Rabbit influences all the other animals to aspire to be kind and good. The “great heavenly spirit” disguises himself as a beggar and tests Rabbit’s vow to offer herself as food. Astonished that she attempts to sacrifice herself, he rescues her and sets her in the moon as a shining reminder that “if you give something precious away you may receive something back that is very special.”
This story of the Rabbit in the Moon appears in many different traditions – Cat Mallard at Darbling Wood Studios outlines a different version here, alongside her own whimsical watercolour. This is the version, featuring a fox and a monkey, that is included on the acclaimed Tell Me a Story: Timeless Folktales from Around the World CD, which proved to be an unexpected bedtime hit with The Lovely Mrs Davis’ young son… you can listen to extracts here. Looking Around the World pays a visit to the Tsuki or Moon God Shrine in Japan, where rabbits are particularly venerated – and Sarx has some beautiful photos of a rabbit wood-carving from there too.
Crackle Mountain relates this very different story from Japan of Hare making his way to the City on the Moon, after overcoming the wicked Tanuki (“a raccoon-like dog often mistakenly referred to as a badger”) – it’s a gruesome tale and reminds us of how some traditional stories have been sanitised over the years – but not this one. If you can’t stomach the story, though, I recommend looking at the accompanying artwork – the eighteenth century porcelain dish is exquisite.
And a story, which is definitely not traditional but requires a background awareness of being able to see a rabbit in the moon is Kae Nishimura’s delightfully witty Bunny Lune (Clarion, 2007). We read it again this evening and had a good giggle imagining what our different moons would be – not fields of carrots like Bunny Lune’s!