Volume 20 Number 6
The Potter is the story of a mysterious old man who lives in a cavern beside the sea on a sinking island. He spends his time creating beautiful clay pots that can speak. The nearby villagers, alarmed by flashes of fire in the night sky, begin to believe that the potter possesses supernatural powers. Their suspicions are fuelled when they see a shiny blue and gold clay palace rising near the cavern.
Jealous and greedy, they plot to kill the potter and capture the palace, but the speaking pots warn him and he whirls around the world, taking all of the pots with him, hiding them, burying them, or tossing them into the sea. When the villagers attack, he transforms himself into a lump of clay and spins up into the air. As he passes over the palace, he loses momentum and falls to the ground. The earth heaves, fire shoots skyward and the sea rises in gigantic waves. The potter, still turned to clay, once again spins around the world, breaking into many fragments as he goes. Then the island where all this happened sinks into the sea. Bits of the pots are said to be found to this day.
The publisher's notes say that the setting for this story is the Greek island of Santorini, but nothing in the text indicates this fact. The notes also say that a volcanic eruption occurred there in the seventeenth century B.C., but the word "volcano" is never used in the story. The reader is only told of "flashes of fire and thick smoke" and that "the earth heaved" and "the sea rose up." There doesn't seem to be any connection between the volcanic activity that causes the island to sink into the ocean and the story of the potter, unless you could say that the villager's greed is their undoing. Anyway, Santorini is alive and well above sea level today.
The story is related by the potter's daughter in the style of a traditional folk-tale, but no mention is made of her except as the narrator. The illustration shows that she belongs to the twentieth century, yet her father seems to have lived in the far distant past. We are never told where the lovely palace comes from, or why. In general, the text suffers from a lack of clarity.
Stephen McCallum, who has worked for the National Film Board, provides some excellent illustrations, one for each page, to evoke a Mediterranean seascape. The pictures are more explicit than the text. Done in soft hues in the painterly style, they vary from broad landscapes to close-ups. The faces of the angry villagers are especially powerful. The many pots, with their intriguing shapes and intricate designs, are equally fascinating.
This is not a retelling. It is a newly invented folk-tale, and with some much needed editing, it might have potential.
This well-illustrated but muddled pseudo-folk-tale tells nothing of the culture or history of the Greek island on which it is set.
Maryleah Otto is a children's author and a librarian at St. Thomas Public Library in St. Thomas, Ontario.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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