Option #30:"Gotita de Dragon" and Other Stories by Nick Joaquin
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There lived a poet in Pasig for whom twilight sometimes gathered while the sun was still a-nooning. When that happened, he could understand the language of animals, and also of flowers, kettles, and chairs.
One day he was having a pre-lunch aperitif when what should drop into his drink but a lizard. It was a baby lizard no bigger than a pin, and not yet expert at cruising ceilings. "Crawling upside down takes a lot of practice," its mother had said, "so we'll begin with something easier, like crawling down walls." Which was what she had been training her baby to do, every evening, at the sound of the Angelus, when, as we know, good house lizards kiss the ground in homage to the Virgin . . .
-- from "Gotita de Dragon"
The last time I read a Nick Joaquin story for children, I was a child myself. I especially loved one Western faerie tale that he retold in a "groovy" Philippine setting . . . but it's not in this collection and may not be reprinted for many years yet. On the other hand, I'm pleased to report that at least one more faerie tale once passed through the prism of his imagination, that we will find it here, and that it also happens to be the faerie tale that spilled its secrets to me this Giveaway season. Don't you love it when stories do that?
Joaquin's style is very uneven--almost rough--in his novels, but he always has just the right touch in his shorter pieces. Here are my even shorter reviews for all five stories in this book . . .
Many years ago, in the melting pot of personalities that was my international university, I met a girl whose younger brother had been refusing to eat animals since he was five years old . . . and another girl who said that if any of her children tried to do that, she would say, "God made some animals to be our friends and some animals to be our food." Well, at the start of this Christmas-set story, the adorable piglet Lechonito is in danger of being both. (Yes, 90s Kids, just like the movie Babe--but better!) Can there be a happy ending for both our hammy hero and the human revelers? Joaquin says yes, with a resolution that gets the full approval of the patron saints of this blog. Holy Innocents, pray for us and keep us safe from vegetarianism!
Seven orphaned brothers named after the seven days of the week find a beautiful girl baby abandoned in a dump. Yes, it's Snow White in the heart of Manila! An older Manila where magic could still happen, whether we're talking about the curse of a sorceress or the possibility of a comfortable middle-class existence. Apparently, the Philippines in the 1960s was an economic paradise--and it seems that every flourishing industry and decent source of livelihood in the period is represented in the hard work of of the seven brothers, who are able to give their adopted sister Blanca everything . . . except protection from the envy of another woman.
What I love about Joaquin's stories is that they could take place absolutely nowhere but here. This story combines ancient legends of "split women" with the bright splash of Philippine pop culture that is the jeepney. I'll be writing more about jeepneys next week, but I already have some stuff on the "split women"--also known as asuang--in my review of Skyworld, Volume 1 (which is Option #22). But unlike that violent fantasy, this little story lets dark creatures show a more sympathetic side. It's enough to drive Catholic Fantasy author Michael O'Brien completely crazy. LOL!
"Returned natives" are a huge part of the cultural landscape these days, but they were still as weird as the proverbial little green men when Joaquin's artistic antennae picked up on them and got him to write this story. It's a much lighter look at rootless Filipinos than you'll find in his novel Cave and Shadows (Option #12), but strangely enough, also more horrifying. You can read more about the "haunted house" our balikbayan mother and son move into in Locus Focus: Take One Hundred and Five.
Hands down, this is the jewel of the entire collection! It has absolutely everything you could hope for in a Fantasy story for children, without any of the usual tropes, but with perhaps too much of something else thrown in for spice. For when the mischievous Joaquin sends the innocent house lizard Goti on a quest to do good deeds, he drops our hero off at . . . Manila's red light district. (Like most of my favourite stuff by Joaquin, this was probably started after three or four bottles of beer. LOL!) Now, it's not a sordid story . . . but it reminds me that children are often exposed to sordid things in real life, with nothing but their innocence to shield them. Goti is a kind, sensitive and brave protagonist, who just happens to be growing up in a really bad part of town, as many children already do, through no choice of their own.
You should choose this book in the giveaway if . . . you're tired of the "princess" formula and other cliches of children's stories.
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Image Source: "Gotita de Dragon" and Other Stories by Nick Joaquin