Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A tree's happy ending

A magnificent tree at Kent Ridge. 

GRAVITY was a great movie despite there being only one main character. A very entertaining movie with Sandra Bullock talking to herself most of the time. But unfortunately for me, there are not many examples in Literature where stories (sorry, plots) with just one or two main characters (and nothing much happening) made it to my "must read" list. I remember doing Waitng for Godot  by Samuel Beckett in the university and catching the play when it came to Singapore. I have to admit that I slept through much of it. (This is a play with only two protagonists -- two tramps engaged in meaningless conversations with each other.) Yes, I got the human condition thing. But I was bored stiff.

This (falling asleep) didn't happen when I was given The Giving Tree to read when I started work as a library officer. This story has only two protagonists -- a tree and a boy. Written by Shel Silverstein  and first published by Harper & Row in 1964, it has a certain bitter sweetness that is simpler than The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery and more subtle than The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde,

According to this article in Wiki, the author had a difficult time looking for a publisher. One said the story was too sad for kids and too simple for adults. But luckily, Harper & Row agreed to publish it with whimsical drawings of the tree and the boy.(From my experience as a library officer though, I don't think kids find it sad. They probably find it boring, like I did with Godot. A tree talking to a boy? Bah! )

In The Giving Tree, the saddest part was the ending when the tree said to the boy, an old man by then, that he can rest against its stump -- if that's what the boy (or rather the old man) needs. It has become a stump as it has given everything that it has ever owned to the boy. It has offered its branches for swinging upon when the boy was young,.Then, those were chopped off to make into a house for the boy. Later, most of its trunk was sawn off to make into a boat.

But finally, the boy's "I want" list comes to an end. He has become tired and weary and only wants a quiet place to rest. So he rests against the old stump... and the tree is happy. The end.

So much for a happy ending.  But I guess it's still not as sad as Oscar Wilde's Happy Prince (which by the way, has only a statue talking to a bird). If that isn't a sad story for both kids and adults, I don't know what is.

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