Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Salamander Dream by Hope Larson

Quiet is severely underrated in art. Noisy is obvious and demanding -- you never can ignore or avoid noisy. But quiet sits there and waits for you. It doesn't need to demand; it's entirely separate from you and will do just fine even if you never come around.

Hope Larson's first graphic novel, 2005's Salamander Dream, is quintessentially quiet: it's the story of one girl, a patch of semi-wild land, and a creature who may be mythic or supernatural or imaginary. That's all: Hailey walks out into that patch of land three times, at about ages six, twelve, and eighteen, hears some stories, and then goes back. Salamander Dream is entirely the story of those times, out by that creek and in the shadows of those trees, and the stories that Salamander tells her and that she tells Salamander.

A reader could ask who Salamander is, and if he's meant to represent anything -- but then, a reader could do anything she pleases. It doesn't mean any of those things would be worthwhile or useful. Salamander is, and he functions in this story like Crow or Fox or Hare might in another folktale: he tells Hailey stories about his adventures, about swimming with Minnow and flying with Hawk, and he's happy to see her when she comes into his land.

The third time Hailey meets Salamander -- the end of this book implies they may have met other times, and Salamander may have told Hailey other stories, but Larson is smart enough to focus on these three, since the number three always has power -- the story flows the other way, and Hailey tells Salamander what she's learned, about cells and nuclei and electrons and even smaller nuclei. She's grown, you see: she's not just a girl who listens to stories, but someone who can tell them as well. And telling stories, as we all know, is important.

Larson tells this story -- or these stories, if you prefer -- with color more than line, black and white and green spaces dancing across the page. The figures are drawn, defined by lines, but the world they move through is blocks of various kinds of green and black. Salamander Dream is quiet, but, if you take the time to listen to it, it definitely has something to say.

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