Seven Fables: an Interview with Mark Stephen Meadows

Mark Stephen Meadows is the author of several books on interaction, including Pause & Effect: The Art of Interactive Narrative. Mark is currently in the process of Kickstarting his new project “Seven Fables”, an interactive ebook with a companion volume in old-fashioned codex form. (Leather-bound, no less.) Being a sucker for retellings of classic stories, I was curious about the project. Mark has kindly agreed to talk a bit here about the interaction in “Seven Fables” and what he hopes readers will take away from it.

ES: Who is your ideal audience for “Seven Fables”?

MSM: The same folks that read the Grimm fable collections, back in the 1800s. I’d like those folks to be reincarnated, iPad in hand! That would be adults, mostly in their 30s. In the 1960s and 1970s Disney did a fine job of both sterilizing and infantalizing fables like Snow White, but the real, undiluted fables are pretty intense. There’s real horror and joy in old fables, so I like to think that we adults can read them, too. Fables have generally been read by many generations, because they can be read on many levels, so I hope we can span that gap.

The Grimms did it, and I’m mostly copying them. I went out and collected nautical fables from Japan, India, Europe, North America (generally while visiting those countries), and I’ve rewritten some of the words, changed a few of the characters, illustrated them, and now i’m trying to get them into a modern outfit. But the stories are wicked old, and
already quite popular in some ports, so I like to think they’ll be enjoyed by many people as they’ve already been proven to be valid tales. I think this will naturally both attract and filter an audience.

Ideally, I’d also like hard-core fans of fables to read this work. There’s a terse language, a tight form, and a meaty metaphor in the fable genre, which is why I like them so much. From a literary perspective, a good fable is a bit more like poetry than anything else (there’s often even repeating stanzas), but if that’s true then it’s a lazy-poet’s poetry, and its for a reader that wants a little sugar with his philosophy. The genre is very constraining, and I look forward to knowing how people think we’ve done, if we’ve preserved that tightness and form in these interactive versions, or if we’ve flopped by expanding reading options. That’s a big challenge, and it will also determine who our readers are.

So it’s an experiment for those of us that were raised outside of Disneyland.

ES: What is the experience you want to create for your player/reader through the interaction?

MSM: Exploration punctuated by moments of surprise. I want the reader to enter an amazing world, a world where even Jim Woodring would be wide-eyed, and to explore things, test things, evaluate their actions, and try to suspend judgment until the outcome of their actions are clear.

There’s this fable about the old Chinese man whose horse ran away. All the villagers said, “Oh, that’s bad!” and the old man said, “We will see, we will see.” then, two weeks later, the horse came back, and it brought another horse with it, and all the villagers said, “Oh, that’s good!” and the old man said, “We will see, we will see.” Then, two weeks later, his son was out riding the new horse, and it threw him, and he fell and broke his hip. All the villagers said, “Oh, that’s bad!” and the old man said, “We will see, we will see.” Then two weeks after that, the army came and they were recruiting young men for a war, but the old man’s son could not be recruited because he had a busted hip. All the villagers said, “Oh, that’s good!” and the old man said, “We will see, we will see.”

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