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Tales of the Peculiar: Ransom Riggs fills in back story, morality and a few comic gems


by Drew Rowsome -

It is a good time to be a fan of the peculiar. Tim Burton's adaptation of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is winging our way soon, and author Ransom Riggs has fleshed out the trilogy - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Hollow City and Library of Souls - with a book of back story and short fabulist fiction, Tales of the Peculiar.

The ostensible author/curator, Millard Nullings, Esq., EbD, MBCh, writes in her foreward (right after the publisher's warning to non-peculiars not to read this book as "you'd only find the stories contained herein strange, distressing, and altogether not to your liking. And anyway, they're none of your business"):

Tales of the Peculiar is a collection of our most beloved folklore. Passed down from generation to generation since time immemorial, each story is part history, part fairy tale, and part moral lesson aimed at young peculiars. These tales hail from various parts of the globe, from oral as well as written traditions, and have gone through striking transformations over the years. They have survived as long as they have because they are loved for their merits as stories, but they are more than that too. They are also bearers of secret knowledge.

Having set up a faux-academic structure, Riggs is free to riff on the tropes of fairy tales and lean heavily on the moral themes of his stories. The main moral is of course the same one that runs through the trilogy: the things that make one peculiar are also the things that make one special. It is a great theme that doesn't wear out its welcome and that is particularly resonant for us gay folk.

Though the characters in the tales are resolutely heterosexually oriented (and most traditional, if not all, fairy tales are) there are magical pink fingerprints throughout as characters learn to rely on themselves, trust their hearts, and to believe in love that isn't necessarily sanctioned by the world at large. There are no Prince Charmings, but there is a couple who bond over ghosts, a princess (with a forked tongue) who rejects her defined destiny in exchange for self-reliance, and a man who gives up everything to be with his father.

As much as I would like to claim Riggs as a gay writer and Miss Peregrine and her peculiars as LGBT metaphors, I have to accept that his vision is more expansive. "Peculiar" applies to any difference, any perceived deviation for the straitjacket of the norm or standardized appearance. So passing the books on to that niece, nephew or neighbour who just might just be gender or sexually fluid in the future is a good idea. But it will also be a relief to the kid who is a nerd or differently abled or suffering from that horrible angst that all children/tweens/teens seem to have of not measuring up to a mean girl world.

There are also tales that function to fill in the holes in the history of the Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children series. We meet the first ymbrene and learn how the loops were created. "The Tale of Cuthbert" is a heartbreaking expansion - as if Oscar Wilde penned an X-Men issue - on the founding of the peculiar animal sanctuary. "The Pigeons of Saint Paul's" is a less successful stretching of the history of peculiar pigeons. I won't speculate whether the stories will resonate as well with those who haven't read the trilogy, but my suspicion is that they would function as a gateway drug.

The morality tales are suitably heavy-handed and just the whimsical side of gruesome. There are few surprises, the stories unfold with the stately inevitable force of a traditional fairy tale. "The Splendid Cannibals" is particularly vivid and "The Locust" is Kafka with a touch of heart and hope. Riggs never gets as nasty, or realistic, as Roald Dahl but he also never gets as cute as the Disney fairy tale sanitizations. And he doesn't shy from ambiguity, "The Girl Who Could Tame Nightmares" breaks the mold and is an anomaly amongst peculiars and all the better for it. And it, of course, reads like a Tim Burton short. 

Plus Tales of the Peculiar is a beautifully bound book packed with tasty and tasteful illustrations by Andrew Davidson. It's a quick, light read - Riggs' prose flows with a nonchalant comical ease - but it will tide you over until the film and the rumoured next chapter in the Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children series. 

 

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