Monday, February 16, 2015

HUMOR AND THE JAGUAR STONES - J&P VOELKEL GUEST POST



We're thrilled to be asked about the humor in the Jaguar Stones series, because it's such a large part of the story. Too many books and movies present the Maya as grim and humourless - and that couldn't be further from the truth.

            Ask most middle-graders to draw a picture of the ancient Maya, and theyll reach straight for the red paint to depict a human sacrifice. But if you ask them about the Romans, they dont automatically draw a slave being slaughtered in the Coliseum. (In fact, the Maya were nowhere near as violent as the Romans - and they were equally adept at straight roads, magnificent arches and indoor plumbing.) 

            So one of our missions is to highlight the Maya sense of humour (British spelling).

            When you study Maya art, you can't help but smile. Paintings running round Maya pots often depict scenes from mythology in a style very similar to comic strips. Its not just how they draw the figures, but how they tell the story, captions and all. The scenes are often very funny, with hidden jokes and wild facial expressions. 

            Another element that inspired us is the slapstick quality of Maya mythology. The good guys usually win through cunning and wit rather than brute strength. This makes a lot of sense when you meet the modern Maya and discover how much they love telling jokes and playing tricks on each other.
            But it's not all fun and games. The Maya Lords of Death, a gang of skeletons and putrid corpses, can be seriously scary. So we use humour to diffuse the fear. If you think of the movie Ghostbusters and how terrifying it would be if it wasn't so funny, that's the balance we're aiming for. 

            Sometimes the Maya do the job for us. Take Ah Pukuh, the god of violent and unnatural death. He rules the deepest, darkest layer of the Maya underworld and wears a necklace of human eyeballs. But, happily for us, hes also known as Kisin - the farter. Its not often you get to write characters that are pure evil and insanely fun at the same time, but that's Maya mythology for you.

            The other reason for including so much humor in the books is the age of our readership - wonderful, imaginative, giggling middle-schoolers who never heard a fart joke they didn't like. But more than that, most kids are wired to look for the funny. I've seen my own kids joke around where I've just wanted to cry: like, for example, when our car broke down recently on a freezing night in the middle of winter on a deserted New England road at just the point in the valley where there's no cell phone signal. 

            Kids are brave, creative and naturally funny. That's not to say they don't whine, but they seem to shrug things off faster than adults. That's why Max and Lola, our teenage main characters, can usually find reasons to laugh, even as they're battling the fearsome Death Lords.

            It's a fine balance, because we never make light of the modern Maya. They've endured centuries of oppression, their culture was almost destroyed and, as Lola points out, access to further education and healthcare is still limited. There's nothing funny about any of that. Of course, we can't be sure if our readers absorb the social messages in amongst all the fun and adventure. But, at the very least, we hope they realize that the Maya are still around - and still finding things to laugh about.


Keep up with the Voelkels: 

**GIVEAWAY ALERT!**

Comment below to enter all four books in the JAGUAR STONES series. Giveaway runs through March 2.

2 comments:

  1. Reading all of these posts this month reminds me to keep writing and never give up! I really like the idea of correcting those assumptions history books (and the History Channel) have given us about the Maya through great middle grade novels.

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  2. Thanks for this captivating and wonderful feature and giveaway. These books would be ideal for my grandson whose name is Max. Max is an avid reader and would enjoy these books. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

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