Sunday, March 22, 2015

Tinder by Sally Gardner

Tinder is more than a gothic retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's The Tinderbox. It's an exploration of the psychological trauma wrought by war, as seen through the eyes of an 18-year-old soldier. In the author's note, Sally Gardner reveals that her inspiration came from conversations with soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who found it difficult to adjust back into civilian life. She chose to set her story in the time of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), one of the most devastating conflicts in European history.

So, yes, there's a magic tinderbox that calls powerful wolf creatures to the soldier's aid, and there's a trapped princess to be saved... but much more is going on in Gardner's version. The tale is told in the voice of Otto Hundebiss, and begins when he evades death after a bloody battle in November, 1642.

   "I lay injured, a bullet in my side, a sword wound in my shoulder, watching night creep through the trees. Maybe I should have gone with Death when he offered me his bony finger."

12th-century half-beast half-man on
Saint-Pierre-es-Liens church in
Gluges, near the Dordogne river.
Instead, Otto is saved by a sort of shaman ("half-beast half-man") who tends his wounds.

   "Next time I woke it was daylight and I had a thirst on me of which a river would be proud."

He tells the shaman:

   "I was born in war, raised in war; in war I lost my family. I was fourteen when the soldiers came to our farm looking for food."

His entire village was burned to the ground and Otto was recruited to the Imperial army. Parallels are clearly drawn with the contemporary use of children as soldiers. Otto has frequent nightmares related to the horrors that he has witnessed. On the page, they are separated from the rest of the text by being printed in white against a black cloud.

The shaman has a prophecy for Otto:

   "When you fall in love, that is when you will come into your kingdom. Not a day before."
Otto falls in love with an elusive princess named Safire.
Illustration by David Roberts in Tinder.
And so Otto's adventure begins. It's a mesmerizing historical fantasy with suitably sad and sinister illustrations by David Roberts.
Roberts' illustration at right reminded
me of the massive doors of the 14th-
century Sainte-Marie church in Sarlat.
I took this photo while on a walking
trip in the Dordogne in 2009.
"Light spilled through their
splintered planks." 

Tinder is currently on the CILIP medal shortlists for both the Carnegie (for outstanding writing) and the Kate Greenaway (for outstanding illustration).

Illustrated readalikes: Through the Woods (Emily Carroll) matches most closely Tinder's spooky, haunting yet delicate beauty; A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness & Jim Kay) for menacing suspense and a folkloric creature, but in a contemporary setting; The Sleeper and the Spindle (Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell) for the twisted fairytale retelling; Poisoned Apples (Christine Heppermann) for modern resonance using various fairytale tropes; Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses (Ron Koertge & Andrea Dezso) for rather more lighthearted, yet still bloody, retellings.

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