Trading youth for filthy lucre

Fairy tales often leave you with more questions than answers. When the people of Hamelin refused to pay the piper, where did that pied minstrel take their children and what did he do to them?

Fairy tales often leave you with more questions than answers.

When the people of Hamelin refused to pay the piper, where did that pied minstrel take their children and what did he do to them?

After killing the giant of the beanstalk, did Jack search out other titans to slay? If so, what would he do once he killed the last?

And what the heck was the Tooth Fairy doing with all of those teeth?

These are just some of the questions that author, illustrator and puppeteer Judd Palmer has tried to tackle in his five-book series, Preposterous Fables for Unusual Children.

The puppet version of one of these books, The Tooth Fairy, will be taking the stage at the Yukon Arts Centre this week.

The play is being performed by The Old Trout Puppet Workshop.

As one of the founding members of the workshop, Palmer wrote his children’s book at the same time that he was collaboratively creating the play.

The idea sprung from the realization that the story of the Tooth Fairy is a little odd, Palmer explains.

“For one, it seems kind of creepy, with a creature sneaking into your room at night to take your tooth,” he said.

“Teeth themselves are kind of disturbing things, being exposed bone.”

Then there’s the odd idea of an initiation ritual.

A sacrifice made (the tooth) grants the reward of adulthood.

This is signified not by responsibility or celebration, but by something kind of base: money.

“And there’s never any plausible reason provided for why the Tooth Fairy would want to collect all those teeth,” he added.

The play and book are an effort to draw out the larger significance from the strangeness of this familiar story.

The play was originally written for Dandi Productions in 2001, but because of delays Palmer decided that he and the Old Trouts would put it on.

He later wrote a second show for Dandi, The Maestro, about the missing children of Hamelin.

Turns out the Pied Piper secreted the children off to a mountain hideaway and forced them into becoming his own private orchestra.

The play was also written for puppets and actors, with the now adult children of Hamelim being played by a live symphony orchestra.

After writing these two plays, and the books that went along with them, Palmer realized that he had a series on his hands.

He ended up writing three more.

“What I wanted to do with the series was use familiar stories as a launching point for my own nefarious plans – the aftermath, generally, of stories we know,” he said.

“The particular story is chosen mainly because there’s something that’s bothering me about life that seems to mesh with a story I’ve heard or read. And it goes from there.”

After the Tooth Fairy and Pied Piper, Palmer looked at the aftermath of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Jack and the Beanstalk and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

He’s currently working on two new books but is done with the Preposterous Fables for now, he says.

And even though two of his books have been shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Award for Children’s Literature, Palmer considers writing a sideline.

The Old Trout Puppetry Workshop is his day job.

And he’s part of a band, the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir, which has played the Yukon in the past.

The multi-talented Palmer also illustrated all of his books.

“I grew up wanting to be an illustrator, but puppets intervened,” he said.

“Puppets are kind of like illustrations come to life, so it’s not so far off.”

The last time the Old Trouts came to town, it was to perform the adult puppet show, The Erotic Anguish of Don Juan, which featured a giant puppet with an equally giant puppet penis.

This time around, the show is appropriate for younger audiences, but adults will still have a good time.

“The show was originally intended to be a fairy tale for adults – which is to say, a show in the mode of a children’s show that adults would watch,” said Palmer.

“The show was for people looking back on losing their baby teeth, not in the process of it.”

However, when the troupe went to take the show on the road, their first gig was at a children’s festival in Ottawa.

The puppeteers reworked the play to make it acceptable for kids and the play was a hit.

“Truth be told, we’ve always thought that the division between children’s theatre (or books) and theatre for adults is a bit contrived – children deal with the same issues as adults do, and have the same fears and hopes,” said Palmer.

“So any art for children that doesn’t try its damnedest to tell the truth as the author knows it in his bones (or her bones) is just false condescension.

“And any show for adults that doesn’t respond to our imagination and sense of play and the essential weirdness of the world, well, it’s not any fun, that’s for sure.”

The Tooth Fairy will be showing Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights at 7:30 at the Yukon Arts Centre.

Tickets are $20 a piece, $10 for children and seniors, and $5 with the Teen ArtRUSH pass.

Contact Chris Oke at