The following comments are related to Slovak creative writing for children and young adults in the 1990´s and in the first years of the new millenium. Just a brief reminder – after the fall of the totalitarian regime in Slovakia democratization of life led to greater diversity in the field of culture which was until then strictly monolithic. Substantial changes in literature for children and young people were made in just a few years. Of course, this process created many problems which in the late 90´s resulted in significant stagnancy of aesthetic and moral values in children´s literature. This was caused mainly by the commercialization of culture, rapidly increasing prices of books, poor management of distribution, lack of experience and professionality in some of the newly established publishing houses, the uncontrolled import of literary trash and, of course, the ever increasing influence of the mass media. The 90´s were (to quote O. Čepan) characterized by an „organic crisis“ which was caused by „exhaustion“ and depreciation of the prevailing aesthetic code in children´s literature, especially its imaginative-playful variety. Aesthetic standards of literature for children established during the 60´s were severely abused because there were too many provincial and amateurish literary works and hardly any remarkable works were created. Apart from lowered artistic standards a certain disproportion in the traditional genres of children´s literature became evident. A considerable lack of poetry was accompanied by a significant decrease in stories about children´s lives. The situation was partly saved by re-editions of classical and modern books for children. However, during the 90´s publishers and readers were quite cautious as if they had no trust in the autheticity of values created by the former régime or those which were ideologized by the totalitarian régime (this distrust was related mainly to prewar social prose for children). However, in the late 90´s some publishers came up with new editions of Slovak literature for children and young adults and they did so systematically; the credit goes to the publishing houses Mladé letá, IKAR, Perfekt, Buvik, Q 111 and others. The Golden Fund of Slovak children´s literature established in the 90´s also helped considerably.
After 1989 an old-new phenomenon came up in the context of new editions and original new works – spiritual literature for children and young adults – mostly produced by spiritually oriented authors of various denominations with an evident christianization and pastoral ambitions. Here explicit practical appeal prevails over aesthetic standards. In this context it is mainly the poetry of Milan Rúfus that is artistically authentic (Little Prayers, Modlitbičky, 1992; Little Zodiac; Zvieratníček, 1994; Album. Prayers for a Child, Pamätníček. Modlitby za dieťa, 1996), the prosaic works of Daniel Pastirčák (Damian´s River, Damianova rieka, 1994, Čintet, Čintet, 2000) and literary adaptations of biblical texts by Ondrej Sliacky ( The Bible for Children and Young People – Readings from the Old Testament, Biblia pre deti a mládež – Čítanie zo Starého zákona, 1996; The Bible for Children and Young People – Readings from the New Testament, Biblia pre deti a mládež – Čítanie z Nového zákona, 1998). Democratization of culture as such also stimulates the culture of minorities, namely the Romanies, who have a few writers for children and young adults. The most outstanding personality during the 90´s was Elena Lacková (Fairy tales of the Romanies, Rómske rozprávky, 1992; her prose The Violin With Three Hearts, Husle s tromi srdcami has not been published yet).
Creative writing for children was revived during the late 90´s thanks to activities of authors belonging to the middle generation and also young authors. Their presence and contribution to new creative trends could no longer be ignored. One of these trends is represented by a distinctive blend of practical information and artistic imagination. Literature of this kind is related to the tradition of „aesthesized play“ which was the main characteristic of children´s literature in the past, and it is also related to the possibilities of quick access to information within the framework of mass culture and an informational society. This kind of creative writing describes facts through personal experience, stressing knowledge as well as individual human perceptiveness. Instead of analyzing and reasoning it prefers personalized, emotional and empathic dealing with information. Encyclopaedic knowledge thus becomes knowledge by experience. There are many varieties of this kind of children´s literature: intimate poetical interpretation (Jozef Urban: The Sorrows of a Young Poet, Utrpenie mladého poeta, 1999), poetical comments on life (Daniel Hevier: They Call Me Hevi, Volajú ma Hevi, 1997; Spooky, Strašidelník, 1999; The Little Dog That Goes To Work, Psík, ktorý chodí do práce, 2000), playful poetical and imaginative geography (Štefan Moravčík: Merry Wanderings Around Slovakia, Veselé potulky po Slovensku, 1999; Want to See the Golden Bratislava?, Chcete vidieť zlatú Bratislavu?, 2000, Merry Wanderings Around the World, Veselé potulky po svete, 2001) and didactic narratives (Ján Uličiansky: Dragon Flame, Drak Plamienok, 2000). This kind of writing can be found in the works of younger authors too (Branislav Rezník: Snow, White as a Dog, Sneh biely ako pes. Tales About Slovak Painters, Rozprávky o slovenských maliaroch, 1996; Martin Môťovský and his fairy tale „textbook“ of English language Tales of the Little Girl Called Girl, Rozprávky o dievčatku Girl, 1998). Some attempts, of course, were of lesser artistic quality (didactic-utilitarian stories by Renáta Bočkayová-Vaseková Šťúplik and Chosen Words, Šťúplik a vybrané slová, 1998, Tatrankos, Tatrankovia, 2002 or Danuša Dragulová-Faktorová: Who Meets the Little Lion, Wants To Be Friendly With Him, Kto spozná levíka, rád si s ním potyká, 2002 etc.).
The creative trend directed at „aesthesized materiality“ with its specific use of fantasy and imagination is not in conflict with the increasing hegemony of fairy tale genres. It would seem that the fairy tale (folk as well as modern) is the most productive, both in quality and in quantity, genre in Slovak literature for children. Within this genre, most innovative works appear, most artistically remarkable books, most promising authors. The trend towards magical realism as shown in epic narratives or dreamy absurd plays of associations definitely contributes to the blurring of lines between children´s literature and literature for adults. This type of writing is used by some authors of the middle and older generation but has gained more strength thanks to authors who started to publish during the 90´s. For example fairy tales with elements of nonsense, humour and inventive play within the genre by Ján Uličiansky (Snowman´s Islands, Snehuliacke ostrovy, 1990; We have Emma, Máme Emu, 1993; The Squirrel Called Veronka, Veverička Veronka, 1996; Mister First-Grader, Pán Prváčik, 2002; Tales of Seven Seas, Rozprávky siedmich morí, 2003). Uličiansky´s prose as well as fairy tales by Ján Milčák (The Lantern Boy, Chlapec Lampášik, 1996; Susie and Mister Odilo, Zuzanka a pán Odilo, 2004) or the first book by Peter Karpinský (How We Knock-knocked With Knock-Knock, Ako sme s Ťukťukom ťukťukovali, 2001) – all these books put stress on the elementary values of life and human relationships. In some cases the metaphorical character of the fairy tale became more important, deepening its philosophical dimension (Daniel Pastirčák: Damian´s River, Damianova rieka, 1994; Čintet or End of the World Sea, Čintet alebo More na konci sveta, 2000; Erik Jakub Groch: The Little Tramp and Klára, Tuláčik a Klára, 2001) Sometimes the fairy tale verges on fantasy (Daniel Hevier: The Gurd Land; Krajina Agord, 2001).
Many fairy tales have a strong affinity to the playful and grotesque. Such a fairy tale sometimes takes on the form of a postmodern compositition on a chosen topic (Viliam Klimáček and Dezider Tóth: Leg to Leg, Noha k nohe, 1996) or the magical grotesque (Jaroslava Blažková: Minka and Pyžaminka, Minka a Pyžaminka, 2003) or subversion and mystification (Júlis Satinský: Tales of Uncle Sausage, Rozprávky uja Klobásu, 1996; Dušan Taragel: Tales for Disobedient Children and Their Caring Parents, Rozprávky pre neposlušné deti a ich starostlivých rodičov, 1997) and sometimes even satire (Július Balco: Wizzard´s Christmas, Strigôňove Vianoce, 1992; Wizzard´s Vacation, Strigôňove prázdniny, 1994; Wizzard´s Year, Strigôňov rok, 1999). For the most part fairly tales offer simple but playful ideas (e.g. Alžbeta Verešpejová: Dainty Tales, Maškrtné rozprávky, 2003). The genre of fairy tales is however overwhelmed by a strong realm of commercial and amateur writing.
Poetry as one of the „traditional“ genres of children´s literature is evidently stagnating. One of the reasons may be the burnout of aesthetic orientation at word games prevailing in the last few decades, which after all does not have endless possibilities. Another reason may be the lack of young poets. Children´s poetry profile is still determined by authors of the middle and older geneneration, namely the works of Štefan Moravčík (Blue From the Heavens, Modré z neba, 1995; King of Words, Kráľ slova, 1996; Our Dog Has a Chicken´s Head! Náš pes má kuraciu hlavu! 2000; Let´s Have Fun! Vyhoďme si z kopýtka! 2004). Daniel Hevier no longer writes poetry and his work is now focused on other genres (epic and dramatic). Since the late 90´s the meditative poetical works of Milan Rúfus are coming only in re-editions. The works of other authors are characterized by playful poetry of the Hevier- Moravčík kind (František Rojček, Danuša Dragulová-Faktorová) or nonsense-imaginative poetical play (e.g. Valentín Šefčík: The Book to Be Married, Kniha na vydaj, 2000; Boris Droppa: The Pony From Poníky and Beetroots on Bicycle, Poník z Poník a cvikly na bicykli, 1998; Laktibrada Is Looking for a Little Woman, Laktibrada žienku hľadá, 2000; The Flaming Crab and the Magpie With No Beak, Rak ohnivák a straka bez zobáka, 2002). Quite rare are poems focusing on the social-cognitive aspects of children´s lives (Ľubica Kepštová: The Chimney Man, Komínový panáčik, 2001; Jana Šimulčíková: Merry Phone, Veselý telefón, 2004). Like fairy tales, children´s poetry is mainly represented by conventional works of unremarkable authors. Evidently, there is practically no poetry for teenagers apart from „functional poetry“ of popular songs lyrics (D. Hevier, P. Nagy, B. Filan, J. Urban, M. Zeman etc.). They are often published in book form and their quality is comparable to that of authentic poetry.
The situation in real life stories about children and young adults was marked by a certain hesitation in the late 90´s. The first decades were rich in autobiographical memoirs of varying literary and moral quality. Many were just straightforward records of childhood and growing up, some were mainly realistic descriptions, but there were some books that fulfilled higher literary ambitions of their authors. However, no distinctive literary achievement in stories inspired by memories was noted during the late 90´s. The crisis of teenager literature became more evident. A few books at least tried to respond to the problems of the present day youth. Among them the novel for boys by Ján Navrátil Lucia Club, Klub Lucia (1996), novels for girls by Mariana Komorová The Diary of Majka from Maják, Denník Majky z Majáka (2002), Vincent Šikula´s Gabriela the Angel, Anjel Gabriela (2000), Jana Šimulčíková´s On the Swing, Na hojdačke (2000) and Don´t be a Fool. Flying to the Antipodes, Nebuť labuť. Úlet k protinožcom, 2003), a feminist analytical prose tackling the theme of girls‘ adolescence by Jana Juráňová (Just a Girl, Iba baba, 1999) and some others. Peter Glocko´s novella Three Lines for the Ospedal Orphans. Dancing in Shackles, Tri vety pre ospedalské siroty. Tanec v okovách, 2003) focuses on sensitive issues in children´s lives such as unemployment, alcoholism and domestic violence. However, the literary image of current social problems in the lives of today´s youngsters (i.e. drug addiction, bullying, sexual freedom) still lacks authenticity. It seems that despite obvious willingness the real world of present day youngsters is still a big unknown. Young authors who grew up in the new social environment after 1989 have not started writing yet.
The same goes for realistic fiction for younger children. Apart from the traditional literary works of experienced authors (Paula Sabolová, Ján Beňo, Božena Lenčová, Rudolf Dobiáš, Peter Ševčovič) among the best are stories full of humour by Zuzana Zemaníková When We Were Grownups, Keď sme boli veľké (1996) and especially the lyrical prose of Jana Bodnárová (Broken Necklace, Roztrhnuté korálky, 1995; The Girl From the Tower, Dievčatko z veže, 1999, Barbora´s Cinema, Barborkino kino, 2001). Most popular among readers are funny stories by Gabriela Futová (Our Mom is a Witch, Naša mama je bosorka, 2000; Looking For a Better Mom, Hľadám lepšiu mamu, 2001; Don´t Get Mad, Mom, Nezblázni sa, mamička, 2003; If I Were a Witch, Keby som bola bosorka, 2003) in which the realistic blends with fairy tale fantasies and children´s imagination. This kind of prosaic work becomes a syncretic formation which stands somewhere between a social or psychological prose and a modern fairy tale (e.g. recently published Ester and the Albatross, Ester a Albatros, 2004 by Hana Naglik).
There are quite a few good authors within the genre of detective stories for children like Jela Mlčochová (Adriana´s First Case, Adrianin prvý prípad, 1997; The Lost Egyptian Treasure, Stratený egyptský poklad, 2003). There is a considerable gap in science-fiction for young people as opposed to the first half of the 90´s.
The folk fairy tale and legend is still very much alive. Many tales from the famous collection of fairy tales by Pavol Dobšinský are retold by different authors. Ľubomír Feldek recently retold some of his fairy tales (The Great Book of Slovak Fairy Tales, Veľká kniha slovenských rozprávok, 2003). The legend witnessed a certain boom and this trend continued throughout the 90´s. Maybe it is the reaction of a small nation to the new social and political order, the lasting interest in the legend can be explained as the nation´s need to express itself in terms of space, national identity and history. But it could also be a self-preserving reflex responding to the globalization of life and culture, an effort to preserve its geocultural and mental identity and peculiarity. Anyway, the legend belongs to the most frequently used and misused genres. A certain quality is guaranteed namely by the project of Slovakia´s „map of legends“ (published by Vydavateľstvo Matice slovenskej in Martin). This means reconstructing the folk variety of our history in legends from all regions. Of course, many legends are marked by a certain amateurism.
With the exception of legends there are only a few other historical works of fiction. These are represented mainly by Nora Baráthová and her story/legend Stars Under the Tatras, Hviezdy pod Tatrami (1995), some adventurous stories from the historical period of Great Morava and Samo´s Empire (František C. Kubernát: Pribina, Pribina, 1996; Zuzana Zemaníková: Lulukaj, Lulukaj, 2003), a romanticizing „historical novel of Bytča and Žilina“ by Zuzana Kuglerová (The Witch of Petrovice, Čarodejnica z Petrovíc, 2004), or the fictional reconstruction of Hans Christian Andersen´s visit to Bratislava in Peter Glocko: Prešporok Spells of Mr. Christian, Prešporské čary pána Christiana, 2004).
The stagnation in literature for children and young people after 1989 was probably most deeply felt during the years 1994-1997. Very slowly young authors begin to make their appearance on the literary scene and that together with the activities of some distinctive authors of the middle generation offers some hope that Slovak children´s literature will prevail.
Translated by Alena Redlingerová