Jaroslava Blažková and Her Free Fairytales

Jaroslava Blažková is a versatile author who also happens to be the fictional queen of literature for children and young adults. Whether it is her cult work - Ohňostroj pre deduška (Fireworks for Grandpa), Môj skvelý brat Robinzon (My Incredible Brother Robinson), Tóno, ja a mravce (Tony, I and the Ants), Ostrov kapitána Hašašara (Captain Hashashara's Island), Rozprávky z červenej ponožky (The Red Sock Fairytales) - or the lesser known Mirka a pyžaminka (Mira and Pajamina) and To decko je blázon (That Kid Is Crazy), the author's storytelling is defined by playfulness first and foremost.

When Jaroslava Blažková emigrated to Canada at the end of the 1960's, the first stage of her literary career was over and the merciless verdict read: not to be published any more. After the 1989 revolution, the author's original and imaginative prose regained its well-deserved dignity and admiration and it is cherished to this day. Blažková died in 2017 but we have her writing, sublimely original and timeless. 


Courage and innovativeness

Jaroslava Blažková has become part of the literary scene in the 1950's when she was still an editor at the daily Smena. After the political thaw, she started publishing her bold and for the time unusual short stories in the legendary magazine Mladá tvorba, thus becoming part of the group of young promising authors called Generation 56. 

Blažková's texts are defined by spontaneity and informal language, as well as irony and an ability to look underneath the surface of things, relationships and political constructs. Her debut Nylonový mesiac (The Nylon Moon) proved her maturity and stylistic and thematic uniqueness. 

In the eponymous short story - that became material for a film -, but also in her next short-stories collection, entitled Jahniatko a grandi (The Lamb and the High Rollers), Blažková opens up the taboo of women's freedom in erotic relationships and so becomes a Czechoslovak pioneer on the field of feminist topics (which some contemporary reviews criticized, naturally). 

Aside from its innovative aspect, Blažková's fiction communicates with readers through the courage to describe the inner worlds of its protagonists, the courage to speak their langauge, and lastly, the courage to firmly stand behind this testimony. 


Writing that breathes

At the end of the 1950's and during the 1960's, the author simultaneously publishes books for children and young adults, as well as for adults. She is increasingly popular with readers and literary theoretists alike. The breaking point comes at the height of her career when the political regime regained its power and the Warsaw Pact armies left no one in doubt about the direction the country was going. Blažková's husband, still shaken by the events of the 1950's, was resolute: the family must leave. Jaroslava Blažková is leaving her language, family, country and friends and with a broken heart, she flies to Canada to start a new, free life. 

As a writer, she is on hiatus; as a literary editor, however, she is active oversees as well. She works for Jozef Škvorecký's and Zdena Salivarová's publishing house '69 Publishers. In the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic she only gets rehabilitated after 1989 and when she starts to write again, her newer texts appear on the bookshelves. Aside from re-editions of the books from the sixties, she publishes new books for children, Minka a Pyžaminka (Aspekt, 2003) and Traja nebojsovia a duch Miguel (Q111, 2003), the fictional Svadba v Káne Galilejskej (Aspekt, 2001) and two autobiographical books, Happyendy (Happyends, Aspekt, 2005), which received the SME readers' award, and To decko je blázon (That Kid Is Crazy, Q111, 2013), both making the Anasoft Litera Award finalists' list. 

In 2017, the sad news arrived from Ontario, Canada, that Jaroslava Blažková had passed away after a grave illness. Her work, however, is still breathing. Already in 2018, the publishing house Buvik prepared a re-edition  of her legendary Rozprávky z červenej ponožky (The Red Sock Fairytales), illustrated by Jan Schmid (3rd edition, 1st edition by Buvik) and at the end of last year, Buvik also published the charming book from the author's estate, Mačky letia do Kanady (Cats Fly to Canada), accompanied with Martina Matlovičková's illustrations. 


She is an island

Mačky letia do Kanady and Rozprávky z červenej ponožky are quite different thematically but they both carry the artistry particular to Blažková's work. When British author Andy Stanton published the first book from his Mr. Gum series in 2006, both readers and literary critics raved about his inovatineness. They said that Stanton tore down the myths of what a children's story should look like with his unconventional humor and the way he disturbed the textual structure. 

Well, there was another personality who did that - long before Stanton. Jaroslava Blažková's literary style is hard to cathegorize. She alone is an island. Imagination, humor, deconstruction of text, playfulness and lively authentic language are the pillars upon which this island is built. 

Mačky letia do Kanady is a slight book page- and topic-wise. The main characters are two cats from Bratislava who get invited to visit aunt Jozefína in Canada. "Princess had pink eyes and a blue apron, Lizzie had blue eyes and a pink apron." The furry protagonists are excited, getting ready for their journey. They pack a poncho, a ball of sheep's wool, an earring and other important things and they are headed for the airport where they are almost stopped by security because their wrapping paper starts the alarm on the conveyor belt. 

They enjoy dreaming about Canada and are excited when they think about becoming globe-trottets and devouring yummy food served by the flight attendant. In short, they feel free and happy in their cat skin. This is the overall feeling of the book as well. A lightness of being, merriness and openness to new adventures. The story is infused with funny moments and feline shenanigans. Blažková works skilfully with each motif and triumphs with unprecedented linguistic freedom. This is, however, not calmly flowing, tender storytelling. Gentle, yes but calm, no. 

Mačky letia do Kanady is a playful, dynamic read. The children are drawn into the story thanks to its ability to boost their imagination and concentration. At the same time, it does not force them to look for moral messages or any other lessons. It simply invites them on a trip that promises fun and entertainment. This is partially due to Martina Matlovičová's mischievous, colorful and slightly unbridled illustrations. 


A well of ideas

Rozprávky z Červenej ponožky are a larger and more dense work by Blažková. It holds a cult status, speaking to generation after generation. During Communism, the book was blacklisted even though the author was awarded a prize for it. The books were destroyed, the future unknown. Luckily, after 1989, the fairytales garnered well-deserved acknowledgement and today, a charming re-edition is available to children. The Fairytales consist of numerous captivating, cheerful and somewhat crazy stories, together creating a compact whole that is attractive for the reader. 

The central character is not so much little Marek who cannot fall asleep in kindergarten, but rather his toes, peeping out of his sock one after the other and turning into excellent storytellers. Sergeant Big Toe tells Marek about two gingerbread generals competing who is the bravest. Green Hunter a.k.a. Middle Toe offers his own nap-time story. It is about the great battle between the Poppy Dwarfs and the evil Piži (because since each thing has its own good spirit, the poppies in the field have their Poppy Dwarfs). 

Were it not for the evil hecklers - the creatures called Piži - the Poppy Dwarfs would have a good life. After a naughty provocation, the Poppy Dwarfs must consolidate and teach the Piži a lesson. "But the Piži did not clap. They just stared. And stared. When the first one came to his senses, he grinded his teeth and yelled: So you're bragging about singing? Well, what else could you do? You, so common, so tiny! You thimbles! You needles! You little cottons! Who are you making fun of? Us, the Piži? The terrible giants? You're not going to make fun of us!"

The most recently published work of Blažková offers children a potent source of ideas, games and fun stories. It teaches them the freedom of thinking, the freedom of reading and interpreting of a text, and cultivates their sense of humor and imagination. Her writing is free in every aspect and that is why it is completely irrelevant when it was written. 



Jaroslava Blažková: Mačky letia do Kanady (Cats Fly to Canada)

Illustrations: Martina Matlovičová

Bratislava: Buvik, 2020


Jaroslava Blažková: Rozprávky z červenej ponožky (The Red Sock Fairytales)

Illustrations: Jan Schmid

Bratislava: Buvik, 2018



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