by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger
Reading The Tale of the Forest Guardians, spending time in its conjured world of myth, where fantasy meets folklore, is the best way for an adult to indulge in a book geared towards younger readers. Written and illustrated by Ryan James, an SCAD-educated Trinidadian who has previously collaborated with prolific children’s literature author Andy Campbell, the book was also part of NALIS’s 2012 First Time Authors Appreciation Programme.
A revisionist tale steeped in tradition, while seeking to reconsider our folklores through fresh eyes, The Tale of the Forest Guardians explores the potential history of two mythical heavyweights: Mama D’Leau, and Papa Bois. The things we understand about these larger-than-life figures needn’t necessarily be set in stone, as stories like James’ remind us. In his tale, the pair are cast as Alston and Naida, two star-crossed, headstrong warrior-hunters from opposing clans, whose passion for each other melds into their fates: that of protecting and upholding the sanctity of Trinidad and Tobago’s forests.
James’ art buoys a narrative already fuelled by great heart: the illustrations seem at once drenched in ancient, tribal symbolism, while hinting to a style that is fresh, forward-minded and crisp. Characters and creatures fairly leap off the page in their desire to be known to the reader; villages and battles rise up in thickly-inked rolling mountains, crossed spears and claimed victories. We can but hope that The Tale of the Forest Guardians is only the first of several creative projects by this talented, ambitious young artist, who dares to not only imagine our mythical origins differently, but to present them to the world in stunning print.