MULTIMEDIA artist and author Rubadiri Victor has released Anansi & The Book of Night, the second novel in the seven-part New Adventures of Anansi series, the next stage in his plan for an epic franchise based on the folklore trickster.
Victor, in an interview last week with Newsday, explained the new novel is a magical detective story set amidst the kingdom of animals.
"There's a mysterious disappearance of one of the royal animals, the King of Bats. This sets into motion a sequence of mysteries that begin to multiply and conspire to bring the kingdom down."
The novel, which features 24 original illustrations by Victor, sees the return of Anansi's grandmother, the protagonist from the first novel Anansi & the 10 Dragons. Victor explained the aim of the 21 books is to establish the Anansi dynasty: "(To portray) the family lineage what leads up to creating the character we all know and love."
The first seven books will focus on the female Anansi, seven books on Anansi’s father as a young spider, and finally seven on the Anansi on the traditional Anansi character.
He said the series begins with Anansi's grandmother, who is a brash young spider who does not care what the rest of the animals think and is something of a loner. Victor added she has more at stake in the second novel, and things begin getting more complex as both the mythology and cast of characters expands.
"People already have their favourites which they love and hate. And we will be getting to know all of them a lot more, and their motivations."
Myth-making and family stories
On the complexity of the series, Victor said he is a student and fan of mythology, both ancient and modern, from Zack Snyder's Justice League to Harry Potter to African and Greek myth.
"I love all of it. Everything kind of influences me."
He said his main influence here is the Anansi stories and the West African and Ghanaian mythology from which it originated. He added there were events in Caribbean and world history, both current and past, that influence the stories, with some things being obvious and others more layered.
Victor said with each new instalment of global mythology the audience gets more sophisticated in its demands.
"I want this to feel immortal, like old myth, but it also has to feel like a Zack Snyder Justice League or Avengers: Endgame. The same epic kind of feel."
Victor said the first book did very well and sold out each of its printings by his publishing company, Passion Fruit Publishing.
"Now we have no more. But people want to get it before (they) move on to the second book. So we are racing to see if we can get it into print again to fulfil the demand. Meanwhile, we are still selling a lot of Book of Night."
In a statement, Passion Fruit Publishing described Anansi as one of the most important characters of West African and Caribbean folklore.
"‘Anansi tales originally came from the Ashanti/Akan people of Ghana, West Africa and crossed to the Caribbean and New World with captives during the horrific Atlantic Slave Trade. A handful of the stories survived the brutality of the plantation and thrived in the Caribbean where Anansi is celebrated as a symbol of resistance and survival, with the trickster often able to turn the tables on powerful oppressors by cunning and wit."
Asked if he was surprised by the huge demand for the books, Victor said of the eight things he does as a multimedia artist, publishing is what he is most successful at.
"All our books have sold out."
He added that while sales of 400 books are considered a bestseller in TT (apart from schoolbooks) his company sells thousands.
And what about the story's appeal to readers?
"I am a reader. I love to read. I grew up reading. I am writing what I want to read and the things I find that are missing. Because the work comes from that kind of place it makes it work."
The book is for ages six and up, but Victor stressed it can be enjoyed by adults as well.
"When I was growing up there was family entertainment – Primetime TV and movies, books, that the whole family used to sit down and experience together. Now everything is segmented into demographics. There isn't a fireside any more where the whole tribe and family would sit around and listen to a story. But I like that idea."
Victor said he liked the "sweet spot" of pop culture where kids swarm to a property and adults disappear into it equally, like Star Wars and Harry Potter.
"I am trying to write something that has that same magnetism and layers and language that does not dumb itself down for kids. I remember as a kid I always loved stuff that did not try to speak down to me but met me as a human being. I appreciated that from (George) Lucas and (JK) Rowling and from Lord of the Rings. That's the idea. To create stories and a universe that people of all ages want to disappear into."
Victor said each of the first seven books will have a different mythological style and narrative structure, and the next will be a "hardcore magical fantasy.
"Each one frames a different aspect of the adventure."
The play's the thing
The franchise began its life as a television screenplay in 1997 for series of new folklore called Myths of a New Time which was never shot. Anansi & the 10 Dragons became a play in 2015 when Victor started Wire Bend Folklore Theatre and it was the company's most popular. He then adapted the play into a novel in 2018.
"The story had an opportunity to be worked on and refined by a number of actors. All these things helped create that universe. Ten Dragons will always be special to me because it went through so many iterations to make it what it is."
He recalled after the opening night of the play he was sitting alone in the theatre and saw a vision of Anansi on stage and a chalk outline in front of her.
"She was contemplating it and lights started to go down in the theatre until it was pitch black. Then glowing eyes popped up all around her. When the lights came back on she was surrounded by a set of bats dressed in traditional Carnival masquerade and with crowns on their heads.
"Now had to go on an adventure to figure out what that image was. Is it a murder? Did Anansi commit it? Did the bats commit it? What is her relationship to the bats? Is it antagonistic?
"That was the beginning of the book."
He said the sequel was where the Kingdom of Animals and character "really starts to sing." He explained Ten Dragons is like classic quest mythology like Greek heroes Perseus and Ulysses, while Anansi & the Book of Night is a detective story in the vein of Secret Seven, Famous Five, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes.
"I loved the immersive interactivity of the detective thing. And I loved the idea of a complex detective story set amidst our landscape and animals we grew up with."
Victor also plans to do a stage production of Anansi & the Book of Night in 2022 when theatre reopens after covid passes. He explained Wire Bend uses a format of elder and younger artisans working together to build costumes and sets and the Anansi plays require puppets and fantastic animal creatures. He described the company as a cross between the work of late American puppeteer Jim Henson (one of his heroes) and masman extraordinaire Peter Minshall and his Callaloo Company.
"Mine is a baby version of that."
The Anansi universe
Victor also plans to take his franchise to the big screen, which would be something of a return to its origins. He reported a team of young filmmakers and film-school graduates who independently read his first book contacted him about turning it into a film.
"I told them we have a team and they can come on board. On its own, we are acquiring a nice team of filmmakers."
He said, however, his father's illness and eventual passing, combined with covid eventually halted the process.
"We have to see how this post-covid world works and figure out how to get it done. And financing everything is different now both in covid and post-covid."
And Victor also has 19 more books to write in the series.
"I think when I told myself I would do 21 books, I must have been a complete madman."
And he has a vision of a franchise with 21 film adaptations, cartoons, comics, jerseys, posters, toys and merchandise.
"A whole universe of stuff from this world. That is the dream."
Anansi & the Book of Night is available at Nigel Khan Booksellers nationwide, Paper Based Bookshop, Normandie Hotel, St Ann’s and the author.
For more info: New Adventures of Anansi and Wire Bend Folklore Theatre on Facebook, via rubadirivictor on Twitter or Instagram or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via the website http://rubadiri.org/