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The Stone of Destiny: A Legend Eight Years in the Making

by Cori Falls

Homework With a Twist

Believe it or not, my first Kamishibai story, the Stone of Destiny, actually began as a tenth-grade English assignment about eight years ago. It was a World Literature class, and at the time, we were studying the unit on Greek mythology. The teacher told us to "write a Greek myth" as a homework assignment.

The paper wasn't due for a week, but as soon as I heard this, I started getting stressed-out. What was I going to write about? I mean, if it's an academic essay, I can just B.S. my way through it because I don't really care, but a creative endeavor? I have to be truly inspired for one of those! And inspiration isn't exactly something you can come up with on demand!

Well, I went home, and when my parents asked the old, "How was your day?" question, I told them about the assignment I had been given. My dad responded by saying, "Caesar was an Italian. There's your story!" (and he wasn't joking with that remark -- he really meant it!), but one thing that my mom said really stuck with me -- she said that with all of the T.V. that I watched and all of the video games that I played, there certainly wasn't a shortage of ideas to draw on.

And as I thought about it, I realized that she was right -- who said the story had to be based on The Iliad or The Odyssey or anything like that? This was MY story, and I could make it whatever I wanted!

So I turned to T.V. and video games for my inspiration (and keep in mind that this was around 1991-92 -- long before Hercules, Xena, or any other decent fantasy adventure series was on the air!). In the end, it was a video game called Dragon Warrior that spawned my idea. In all of my video games (I'm addicted to the things, even today ^_^), I noticed a common thread -- the hero was always a male, and the most substantial female role was that of the princess who needed to be rescued, or won like some kind of prize. (Remember, this was a long time ago.)

It was time to change all of that.

And, so, I created princess Esmeralda, a headstrong girl who refused to fit the traditional princess mold. After rejecting her suitors, she runs away from home. Then, a mysterious warrior arrives, and the king sets three tasks for him to complete. Predictably, the hero performs the three tasks, but when he finally unmasks himself, it turns out to be the princess. Proving that she doesn't need a prince to find self-fulfillment, Esmeralda runs away from home a second time and joins the Amazons.

Everyone's a Critic (Even Me)!

Well, my mom was blown away by that story. She told her friends at work about it, and one of her co-workers actually started telling it to her daughter as a bedtime story! I, however, was less than enthusiastic. I turned in the paper and ended up getting a "B" on it, and when I got it back, I just shoved it into my folder and let it vanish into the mists of time.

My mom, however, refused to forget it. As the years rolled by, she kept asking me where I put that paper, or if I was going to rewrite it. I kept telling her that I didn't want to, but she insisted on having a copy of the story, so I finally caved and rewrote it.

Now, this was about 1995, some four years later, and my writing style had changed and improved considerably since then. So, I created a new version of princess Esmeralda's adventures -- this one an actual forty page story with descriptions, dialogue, combat scenes, and more fleshed-out characters rather than a four page English paper. Well, I was somewhat happier with this one, but my mom was disappointed -- even though she liked this one, she liked the brevity of my original story better. So, since I wasn't happy with the story to begin with, and I didn't really want to write it anyway, I scrapped the idea altogether.

Rising From the Ashes (and the Paper-Shredder)

Fast-forward in time another four years to January 1999. My family finally had a computer with internet access (yes, we're pathetic =P), and my brother discovered an incredible web site by the name of Otaku World. It's here that the two of us learned about Kamishibai, the Japanese art of paper theater. Seeing all of the wonderful stories that people had written, we decided that it would be fun to make our own stories and submit them.

Instantly, my brother came up with "The Epic of the Lumberjack," and began work. I didn't have any ideas at the time, so I just helped him with his story (I came up with the name, Scott, and I found the wrapper from a roll of Brawny paper towels and the Keebler Elf pictures for him). But as his story progressed, I still wasn't getting inspired. I really wanted to write something, but I didn't know what.

Then, one day while I was brainstorming, I remembered my old Greek myth about Esmeralda. I didn't want to put THAT on Kamishibai, of course, but, hey! It was still MY story, and I could do whatever I wanted with it!

It was time for an overhaul. A MAJOR overhaul.

First of all, I moved the setting from ancient Greece to ancient Ireland. Now that Herc and Xena were on the air and well into their fifth and fourth seasons, respectively, I figured that the whole Greek myth thing had already been done, and I wanted something a little more original. Besides, I'm very proud of my Irish heritage, and I had developed a keen interest in Celtic mythology. So, the kingdom of Naxos became the kingdom of Connaught.

In keeping with this new theme, I went out and bought plenty of books on Celtic folklore and Irish history. (It takes lots of reading and research to write good stories.) One of my favorite books, which I highly recommend, is Legendary Ireland. In addition to snippets of Irish folklore, it also has many beautiful photographs of Irish landscapes. (I used some of these pictures as backgrounds in my Kami! ^_^) I also bought a little Irish-English dictionary, and that's where I got the new name for my hero. (I wasn't happy with Esmeralda anymore -- it didn't sound very...Celtic.) So, I changed it to Callaigh, which is the Gaelic word for "witch." It sounded like a good name to me -- strong, pretty, and very fitting considering that she was going to have the ability to use magic (more on that later). I also chose the legend of Lia Fail to be the mythological crux of my new story, since it fit with the theme of the power-struggle. (According to legend, Lia Fail was an immense standing stone at the capital city of Tara. The stone was said to scream if a true king touched it. I adapted this legend for my own purposes, however, making it so that a person could only be king or queen if they posessed part of the stone -- thus, the reason for Callaigh's quest!)

I liked the premise of my original story -- a strong, independent girl performing heroic tasks, but I didn't like how the hero had to dress herself as a boy in order to do it. The male disguise was an important part of the plot, no doubt, but I wanted Calli to be the hero as a girl and not have to make any apologies for it. So, I changed it so that she only appears as a boy before the king. During her training with the Druids and her quest for the Stone of Destiny, we see Callaigh as she truly is -- a girl! And in Celtic mythology, this isn't such a far-fetched notion -- the ancient Celts valued the strength of women as highly as that of men. (In fact, the legend of Boadicaea, the warrior-woman who slaughtered thousands of Roman soldiers, is one of the most popular and well-known tales of ancient British history.)

I also introduced a greater element of the fantastic into this new story. My old story had only a few mythological details, but now, I was going all-out! I drew not only on Celtic mythology and European folklore for this new tale, but role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons (I'm an avid player ^_^), the Final Fantasy series, Warcraft, etc. as well. This wasn't just going to be a myth -- it was going to be a full-fledged fantasy adventure!

And fantasy adventure it is, but it's also something of a fractured fairy tale. I've always enjoyed fairy tales, but like in the video games of old, female heroes who take action rather than sit around and just let stuff happen to them are few and far-between. If this was going to be a fairy tale, it was going to be a fairy tale with some major twists.

Fairy tale convention #1 -- The hero is usually a girl (be she peasant or princess) whose mother has died, and who loves her father dearly. The villain is usually the evil woman that the father takes as a new wife. (The wicked step-mother)

Plot twist #1 -- What if the hero isn't "daddy's little girl?" What if she hates her father, and the feelings are mutual? In my story, the father never remarries after his queen dies -- he takes on the wicked step-mother role himself!

Fairy tale convention #2 -- The heroes don't have magical abilities. Instead, magic is limited to the supporting cast, such as Fairy Godmothers and Wicked Witches. (Cinderella wouldn't have been nearly as suspenseful if she could just wave her hand and make the dress and glass slippers appear herself. And the tale of Rapunzel wouldn't even exist if she could teleport out of the tower and zap the Witch into oblivion!)

Plot twist #2 -- The hero is a wizard-in-training. The main reason for the enmity with her father is that she would rather study magical tomes than take a husband. But instead of taking from the story, Cal's ability to use magic only deepens the intrigue of this fairy tale. You see, since Callaigh is a doer, the stakes of her quest are higher. She's not waiting around for some prince to rescue her from the goblins, banshees, and trolls that are after her -- she's out fighting them herself!

Fairy tale convention #3 -- One of the obstacles that the heroes must overcome is a spell that a wicked witch places on them. (Sleeping Beauty was fated to prick her finger and sleep for 100 years, and the Frog Prince had to receive a kiss from a princess in order to be restored to his true form, for example.)

Plot twist #3 -- The hero IS the wicked witch! Well, as you see, she's not really wicked -- she had her reasons for turning that rotten prince Beaumont into a frog! It's just that all we've ever heard before is the Frog Prince's version of the story. Now, we see that the witch is a person, too, and that the prince got what he deserved!

And the Rest, as They Say, is History....

Since I'd written this story before, I already knew how to start it and how it would end -- it was just a question of how I was going to interweave these new elements throughout the plot. But once I started writing, it all just came together.

I actually wrote the story out on my word-processor first, and then, I adapted it for Kamishibai (I abridged the story considerably), but in the end, I was happy with both versions. The author's cut is the first thing I ever wrote that I can actually say I'm proud of. (I'm my own worst critic, I fear. In my opinion, 90% of my work is crap, no matter what anybody else says!) And the Kamishibai version, with pictures, animation, music, and sound effects is something that I'm equally proud of. I consider this work to be my breakout piece -- my first story that I'm not ashamed to share with the world!

So, do I have any other adventures planned for Callaigh? I can answer that question with a definite yes. It may be awhile because these ideas are currently on hold (like I said, I only write about something when I'm truly inspired), but she definitely hasn't seen the last of her wicked father, and if you thought the first installment of her saga had some major plot twists, then you haven't seen anything yet!

The End?

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