Ebony and the Auntie of the Starlight, a Caribbean Cinderella story has made it for Independence, August 6. In fact, she was up and ready for Emancipation Day. The significance of Independence was that instead of Ebony meeting the prince at a ball, she meets him at the Independence Parade. I do not know if there is any symbolism in Emancipation. I would not ascribe such links between the story and the symbolism of Emancipation Day. It might even seem somewhat disrespectful. However, in all seriousness, there is the emancipation from mental slavery that Bob Marley sang about.
I have sent out notices to all the people in my address book, which you guys know I hate, because it seems so pushy, so I’m glad that’s over. I have to develop a better marketing strategy. For one, very few people on my list will buy the book as an e-book. We are not into e-books yet for children. For two, it’s not a targeted group. Many of the people on my list may not even be interested in children’s books.
So come with me as we step awhile into the creation of Ebony as a Caribbean Cinderella.
Differences and similarities are interwoven; they go in and out like maypole dancers (which are both European and part of our Jamaican heritage, as you may remember).
First, Ebony is in the Caribbean, and is an orphan in a children’s home, not related to the stepmother figure/villain figure as in the original fairy tale. However, the evil villain character, Mrs. Redeyeness, still has two mean daughters.
The fairy godmother has been replaced by the Auntie of the Starlight, and her transforming of Ebony from the kitchen to the parade, mirrors Cinderella, even as it creates humour at what is different. Ebony it seems, remembers the Cinderella story, and wonders if the steps to her transformation will be the same. ( I love to do this by way of showing that the old folktales can make links with our stories today. I did it in Cordelia Finds Fame and Fortune, but just a mention.) So back to Ebony.
“Oh, Auntie of the Starlight, thank you, thank you!” she cried. “But are you sure I can walk in glass slippers?”
“They aren’t glass, chile. Everybody knows glass would break,” said the Auntie of the Starlight. “I don’t know where you get that idea of glass slippers. Pure foolishness! They are plastic.”
“Oh,” said Ebony, “I thought I heard it in a story. So should I have a coach made from a pumpkin? Or maybe not. . .”
“A coach! No! What would you do with a coach? If you wished for a car. . . but you didn’t,” said the Auntie of the Starlight. “So run, chile! Run and catch the parade before it pass.”
The prince is not a prince, but the son of the owner of a spice factory called the Spice Kingdom, therefore prince-like as far as the people in the district are concerned.
Symbolism and Character in the Story:
Ebony is an orphan in a children’s home. This beginning has never been auspicious for anyone anywhere. Ebony rightly concludes she has no future. This is what she has to overcome in the story, if she can. I clearly describe Ebony’s physical appearance and hair (that which we do not wish to mention) as celebration of the African part of us.
Mrs. Redeyeness: the fact that she is not related to Ebony by marriage makes her behaviour all the more dreadful. The term ‘red eye’ refers to someone who is envious, grudgeful, jealous and has pure 'bad mind'. She so dislikes the fact that Ebony has grown into a lovely woman and that she is genuinely a sweet person, that she goes out of her way to be unkind to her, by inviting her into her home to become a drudge. See how Mrs. Redeyeness rejoices as Ebony’s beauty seems to fade under all the hard work she has to do:
“Ebony will just look like a poor bedraggled butterfly.” Every time she thought of it, she laughed, “Ha ha! Ha ha! A bedraggled butterfly! Ha ha! Ha ha! A bedraggled butterfly!”
Auntie of the Starlight: we first see her in the Christmas story I wrote light years ago, which I usually put on my blog ever Christmas. I developed her in place of the traditional fairy godmother. Auntie is a term of respect here, and I love starlights, such excitement when I was a child. Such magic. Perhaps she is also partly the wise old woman who features in our stories, mine included, the mother-female/the grandmother-female.
The song sung by the Auntie of the Starlight, celebrates our trees, links to the fact that Ebony’s name is that of a tree, and so perhaps that allows for extra magic; who knows? for additional help for this daughter of the island, daughter being a respectful term for a young woman. Perhaps I got the term from Rastafarian speech. I don’t know. Things seep into the psyche and reappear in stories.
The spices celebrate our spices, that I think we could really develop and access niche markets.
Alfred ‘the prince’ is noble and handsome and good, and sees who Ebony really is. He will respect her, we know. That is very important. His character rather than his position, indicates why Ebony could love him.
Plot: Aha! By the time I’d got to the part where Alfred has done his ‘some day my prince will come’, asking for Ebony’s hand in marriage, and then Mrs. Redeyeness and daughters cling to Ebony, declaring their love and need for her, and Ebony is wondering if they really love her after all, and maybe she shouldn't leave them, I was pretty fed up with the ‘too-good’ Ebony. She redeemed herself in my eyes, however, by working at the spice factory, gaining shares in the spice factory as part of her wedding settlement, along with the ring. Mercenary? Not at all. Modern little girls need to know that a certain amount of security is important, especially when they work for it. In addition, she brought other girls from the orphanage to work there and was training others to do so. Female empowerment, sisterhood, and yes, girls from children’s homes can have a future if they can work for it - independence.
After that Ebony deserves the wonderful wedding with dancing to reggae and soca. ( a nod to the ‘Caribbeanness’ of us all) and in describing the dancing, I chose words which to me give exactly that feeling, that movement of the feet and body. . . . sway, sway, sway, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle yo, yo yo . . . I hope that they succeeded.
There is no ‘happily ever after’ statement (which has fooled up all us females, all our lives) except that which Ebony can make with her life. “And Ebony realized that she had a bright future after all, and she smiled to think how happy she was.”
Many of the old-time fairy tales/folktales were morality tales of a sort, warning tales, even if today they have been so sanitized and changed that we have forgotten whatever that was about. Does Ebony and the Auntie of the Starlight have any of these elements? Yes, although I did not set out for it to be so. I think that 1) the message (especially for ‘sweet people’) is do not let people take advantage of you, under the guise of love and affection, and 2) stand on your own two feet even when you think your prince has come.
The main purpose of the story is enjoyment, the creation of our own Cinderella facing one of our possible realities. Children know the original Cinderella story and so I hope they will also enjoy these differences, and claim this as their own. One does not expect them to understand the symbolism, but for our present-day girls, I hope the modern twist resonates with them as they are growing up.