Black Hat and the Willie Chronicle
Cecile Ghosh was a librarian living in Rigaud, Quebec.
This story is a fairytale about a horrible Canadian witch named Black Hat and a myna bird named Willie from Ceylon. Willie escapes from Sunshine Zoo and settles down in Tarry-Not-Forest, the witch’s home. Willie’s singing spreads happiness to a hitherto gloomy forest and invites the witch’s wrath upon Willie and his friends, the cedars.
The tale contains classic fairy-tale motifs, with some variation. There is a dark forest, an ugly witch, a hero who fights evil, and a happy ending. Some of the differences devalue the universal appeal of the fairy tale because they blatantly state what should be imagined. (For example, we are told that Tarry-Not-Forest is in Canada, and comparisons are made between the Canadian forest and Willie’s Ceylonese forest. And at the end of the story, they lived “happily Canadian ever after.”) Witches and fabulous settings transcend the everyday world, whereas witches and specific geographic locations undercut the magic of the fairy tale by introducing rational elements. The story is cute and humourous and moves along at a fast pace. Key words are capitalized throughout the story for impact, but ironically, the story is rampant with trite expressions that neutralize the effect intended: “quick as a wink” (p.3), “She was fit to be tied” (p.8), “drew him like an invisible magnet” (p.3), “a tomb of silence” (p. 11). Clumsy sentence construction is equally distracting: “Tension could almost be smelt, it was that strong” (p.11) or, describing the witch’s movement: “Back and forth like a caged tiger or panther” (p.8). The illustrations are unnecessary to the story, since the witch is the typical Hallowe’en crone and the myna bird resembles a canary. The story is about the power of one person to do harm and conversely about the good that one soul can have in neutralising that evil. In keeping with that theme, the myna bird should have been more handsomely drawn.
Unlike most fairy tales, in this one the witch is not destroyed in the end but undergoes a change of heart; she and Willie live happily ever after. This difference and the two-character story line have much to recommend them, but the patriotic overtones and the trite syntax reduce the account to a caricature of the fairy tale.