Title: How the Stork Lost its Tail
Date Started: June 2011
Date Finished: June 2011
During a rather lonely dig in my garage one day, I happened to come across something that had been one of the mainstays of my bed-side table.
An extraordinarily old and lovingly battered copy of “Fairy Tales from all Around the World”. It’s funny that I can still remember when and where I got it from – at the Belmont Forum carpark swapmeet (which you can still go see if you have a Sunday morning free) at the usual stall from which my mum would pick up her weekly hit of Romance novels.
I, of course, picked it up, dusted out the three or four silver-fish that had taken up residence, and took it inside to read.
The stories – which were indeed from all around the world – were exactly as I remember them: re-told in simple languages tinged with the quaint racism of everything published before the late 1950’s (especially when it came to the Chinese, the African and, funnily enough, the French!).
But what struck me the most as I paged through the stories was that – regardless of which country the short collection of stories came from – there was always at least one story that contained an animal character that would behave undistinguishably from their human counterparts. It was as though – as a whole and regardless of geographical differences – humanity was incapable of preventing themselves from anthropomorphizing their animal counterparts.
And we do that with everything. Our propensity to find faces in clouds, to give inanimate objects like our cars names and to project emotions into our pets and animals is something so uniquely human that I doubt we would be the creative creatures we are without it. This sort of cross-species empathy is what has given us the tools to build grand mythos and elemental stories – mired in nature and driven by life.
So in celebration of that fact, I decided to draw out a scene from the story: How a Stork Lost its Tail. I cannot re-write the exact story for you here – I have a feeling the original book in which the story is contained has disappeared once more into the hungry maw od my garage – but I can re-tell it.
Which is how all beloved fairy stories should be told.
Here it is:
There once was King much beloved in his land. So beloved was he, that even the Kings of the Animals would sometimes stop by to visit his grand palace, and walk beside him in his fields of wheat and gold.
One day, the king fell so violently ill, and his long time friend – the King of Storks – began to worry that he might never re-cover. So in a fit of mercy and compassion, he called amongst all his subjects – the birds of the earth and air, of water and mud – to his chambers, and put amongst them this question:
“Who amongst you will venture forth to retrieve for me the Waters of Life and Death?”
Upon hearing this question, there was a great murmuring within the crowd. From between them, Father crow – who though old still retained within him the mischief of his youth – stepped forward and asked:
“Is this not the Waters that reside between the skirts of the moving mountains?”
“Indeed it is” replied the King of Storks
“And do not these mountains, (which are very far away indeed), do they not behave unlike any mountain you have known before?”, he added, with a sly glint in his eye.
“Indeed they do not”, replied the King of Storks, as regally as before.
“Do they not”, and here fther crow licked his lips wickedly, “do they not instead pick their skirts up in dance, and crash together like the rolling of thunder, crushing all those that stand between them?”
At this, the whole crowd of birds burst into panicked noise, for nobody, none amongst them, wished to place themselves in such danger.
It was in this cacophony of sound, that Father Crow retired to his nest.
“Indeed it does!”, cried the King of Storks, “Now whom amongst you will go?”
And this statement was said so commandingly and so calmly, that all the birds in company fell into abrupt silence. And for a good long while, neither from the mudlark, nor the chitterling, was a single sound heard. For after all, none amongst them were brave enough to fetch the Water of Life and Death.
Until, at long uncanny last, a single unlikely voice was raised.
And to the shock and amazement of both the whole of the kingdom of birds, an old and bedraggled stork limped to the front.
And he was very old indeed. His wings were grey from countless hours of flight, and his beak chipped and brittle. And down one leg could be seen the outlines of broken and badly set bone, where he had been caught once by a crocodile and mercifully let go….
This was the part of the story I began to draw. Just after the old stork was selected for the task, he set off towards the realm of the moving mountains.
I have chosen to depict him as a Stork with the face of an old man, with a beak-mask crudely tied onto his face with string. He carries a crutch under one wing – a uniquely human object, but he still possesses wings that he once may have used to fly. I wanted to use the opportunity to draw something that would reflect my own idea of what the animals in our fables are – that is – humans with those traits we identify in ourselves, but amplified by our perceived nature of the animal (for example, the slyness of a fox, or the self-lessly life-bearing attributes of a stork). I really enjoyed drawing this particular piece, as it required very little prior study beyond pulling references of storks from the internet. I decided to modelt he composition after conventional storybooks, placing the stork both outside the story and within it – in order to mirror our own similar manner of enjoying a story. Just like watching a movie – most of our storytelling experiences involve giving ourselves up to the emotions felt by the characters within the tale, while still remaining very much outside of it. Overall, I was quite happy with how this piece came out, and hope to one day ink it – woodcut style – and blend it with simple colours.