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Seven Fathers (2011)

Retold by Ashley Ramsden

Illustrated by Ed Young

Cut paper collage

A Neal Porter Book

"I was intrigued by this uniquely Nordic version of a spiritual quest," writes Ed Young. "No one thought it was ideal children's book material, even though I've always maintained that children are perfectly capable to comprehending much deeper thoughts and feelings than we are willing to acknowledge."

This is an Ed Young book, and that mean it is going to be beautiful to look at, beautiful to flip through, beautiful to hold. So damned artful in it design and presentation. I love the brown pages, the splatter of white paint for snow, the rough, charcoal outlines of his characters.

"One winter's evening, a lone traveler trudged down a winding forest road looking for a place to spend the night." A more classic beginning to a folk-tale than any I've heard. Coming across an old house where an old man chops wood, the traveler asks for a place to stay.

"You'll have to ask my father," is the response. "He's around back, in the kitchen."

Inside is another old man, "older than the last," and the traveler again asks for a place to stay.

"You'll have to ask my father. He is in the parlor."

The trick of the narrative begins to unveil itself. Indeed, in the parlor, sits an old man, "much older than the last." On and on. Ramsden's writing becomes more playful the further in we go. The traveler meets, "a very, very, very, very, very old man. His head was small and shrunken with just a wisp of white hair on the pillow."

Followed by: "a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very old man, so small, so shrunken, he was no bigger than a baby."

The traveler closed his eyes and listened for a reply, bit all he could hear was a gurgling noise than fluttered and quivered and shook until finally he was able to make out some faint words: "I am not the father of this house."

I couldn't help but think of ill-fated astronaut Dave Bowman, navigating his way through the interior of the monolith, and wondered if Kubrick had any Nordic blood in his directorial veins.

"In the storytelling tradition, we often say, 'Behind me is the one I heard this story from... and behind that storyteller the one who told them the tale...' and so on," writes the author, who is himself primarily an oral storyteller. "Amongst the first peoples there was always a profound sense of how we are all connected to the one who came before us and the spiritual origin that underpin our entire existence."

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