The Strange Fables of Juan Artola Miranda

A painting of a barbarian man with a knife, haunted by a frail ghost. Painted by Juan Artola Miranda.

We’ve begun working with a new site, Word & Sorcery. It’s a site of short stories, particularly the ones which hold deep, lingering truths. It covers folklore, fables, legends, fairy tales, and parables, all in the words of Juan Artola Miranda, a modern fabulist living in the Mexican Caribbean. Some of the stories are classic, others are modern.

Artola claims that “classic tales crawl into the dark recesses of our collective minds, taking shelter there indefinitely, often long past the point where they are useful.” His writing attempts to make these stories useful again, breathing new life into them while preserving their heart, and blood, and wisdom.

Juan Artola Miranda's painting of a man with a leopard.

Retellings of Classic Stories

To get an idea of what I mean, the site has various retellings of Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories,” like How the Elephant Got His Trunk, How the Camel Got His Hump, and How the Leopard Got His Spots. Artola’s versions of the stories contain more modern, engaging prose while staying true to the spirit of Kipling’s original tales.

For example, here’s the first paragraph of Rudyard Kipling’s How the Leopard Got His Spots:

In the days when everybody started fair, Best Beloved, the Leopard lived in a place called the High Veldt. ‘Member it wasn’t the Low Veldt, or the Bush Veldt, or the Sour Veldt, but the ‘sclusively bare, hot, shiny High Veldt, where there was sand and sandy-coloured rock and ‘sclusively tufts of sandy-yellowish grass. The Giraffe and the Zebra and the Eland and the Koodoo and the Hartebeest lived there; and they were ‘sclusively sandy-yellow-brownish all over; but the Leopard, he was the ‘sclusivest sandiest-yellowish-brownest of them all—a greyish-yellowish catty-shaped kind of beast, and he matched the ‘sclusively yellowish-greyish-brownish colour of the High Veldt to one hair.

Rudyard Kipling, 1902

Kipling is a spirited writer, but that spirit often takes precedence over clear and concise storytelling. His tales teeter on the precipice of being excessively ornate—a tendency that could distance readers from the underlying message.

Here’s the first paragraph of Artola’s retelling:

In a time when the world was new, there lived a leopard as sleek and yellow as the golden sands of the African plains. This leopard, though large, was hardly seen by the other animals, for he blended in with everything around him.

Juan Artola Miranda, year unknown

It’s a simpler way of writing that retains some of the original spirit and much of the original message. What truly makes Artola’s retellings interesting, though, is how they occasionally and sometimes unpredictably subvert the original stories, adding newer, more nuanced morals. That isn’t to say that all of his subversions are ethical or even comprehensible; just interesting.

Painting of a toucan from the Fable of the Lonely Toucan. Painted by Juan Artola Miranda.

Fables & Fairy Tales

Here are some of my favourite of Juan Artola Miranda’s retellings:

Mixed in with his retellings are original stories, such as A Tale of Two Orangs and The Lonely Toucan. I’m not quite sure what to think of them.

Leave a Comment