The books that I will write about today caused me quite a dilemma: shall I list them among literature for children or for adults, because author of both addresses them to all. We also cannot tell, among which category of readers he has more fans, even though his stories have such a special seriously humorous tone.
Toon Tellegen visited Slovenia at the end of this January for the n-th time. He says that he has a special relationship with our country, so he is returning so many times. Around the time of his last visit two of his books were published: In the Middle of the Night and The Cricket and his dark feeling.
In any case, we can not say that the Dutch writer and poet Toon Tellegen is a new discovery in the Slovene literary field, since already in 1999 the book Fun on the Moon was published, followed by Small Night Flame Cake in 2004, and Tomorrow was a party in 2010. In 2012 there was also published a comprehensive selection (about 130) of his poems. Last year, the publishing house Miš also published a story The Whale’s garden.
As Tellegen said in an interview for the national newspaper Delo in 2012, he has often wanted to stop writing, but he can not by any means write the last story. Although he began writing only at forty years age, his work is comprised of more than 30 books and about 30 poetry collections. He invented stories for his children instead of evening readings, but although they were already grown up, stories did not stop coming. So they had to find the way into the written and then in the book form. For the good luck of the readers, young and old.
Although Tellegen is a physician by profession, his writings tell us that he could be also an extraordinary psychologist, if not even a psychiatrist. His sense of the human psychic states he attributes to the animals in his stories is so brilliant that it seems he deals with patients all the time. And what is especially interesting: all animals – from ants to elephants – are equally large, and their characters are not at all stereotyped. It is also understandable that his books are liked by all age groups. If children and youth enjoy word games, jokes and situational twists, older people can dive deep into the contemplative, melancholic, even depressing feelings that the author conveys to us, and then internalize them or take a critical distance through a silent internal reflection. In any case, Toon Tellegen is an author who can not be overlooked.
In the middle of the night is a collection of 32 short stories in which Tellegen deals with insomnia or the inability to fall asleep (back). In the middle of the night everything is different in comparison to the daylight. At that time, when it is dark outside, it seems that everyone, except us, is sleeping. That we are alone in this world. At that time, everyday things seem completely unusual, over-dimensioned, extraterrestrial, and scary. And not only that, our reason completely breaks us down. If suddenly something awakens us from sleep, we don’t know anymore, whether everything is really happening or we are just dreaming. The anxiety that originates from a sense of loneliness and desertion brings us to purely metaphysical questions, such as How do you find something just because you want it (and not by chance)? (squirrel); For whom do I actually glare? (firefly), What if a frog disappears and never returns? (heron), How do you know that the worst thing is already passed? (shrew) etc. During insomnia we can only find irrational answers to these questions. We even can go so far that we completely lose our personal dignity, our self-esteem is destroyed as a worn out locusts coat, or we become violent towards ourselves as a rat in this book. The fears, the mirages and the weight of the night seem to be an excessive burden for every living creature – regardless of whether an elephant or an ant. But when each of them drops off his heavy burden, they easily fall asleep again.
The dark feeling that creeps one day into a cricket’s head is nothing but a depression. We don’t find out why this sad and devastating feeling appears in little bugs head but in this book Tellegen reveals all the shades of depressive state that people can experience – from the initial hope that this unusual feeling will soon disappear, to the pursuit of self-destruction and suicide. If it seems from time to time that the cricket will lose the battle with a dark feeling in his head, at the end the support, care and love of all members of the community in which he lives, saves him and breaks him free of this emotion. As a counterweight to a depressed cricket Tellegen presents an elephant that desperately wants to climb on the tree but every time he falls down. The elephant in this story is such a powerful hero and an example of perseverance, patience, and unwavering, even fatalistic will to live, that we undoubtedly believe he will succeed in his action.
“Now I’m thinking that I will not fall, that I will never fall again,” said the elephant. “It’s so easy to think … It happens just by itself!”