Fairy Tales and Fantastic Stories – Terry Jones
I’m rereading Terry Jones’ stories. It’s a large omnibus I found in Cheadle last Wednesday – 59p! Generously illustrated by Michael Foreman (I’ve been trying out his wet-on-wet watercolours this morning, painting silly pictures of cats shouting ‘Apples!’)
Rereading Jones – of cake horses, cabinets of magic glass and people turned into wood… and the story of the Fly-By-Night, who changes flight direction by seizing the whiskers of the cat he’s piloting – I realise how well I remember them all from reading them to my sister when she was small. I’d go home from Uni quite often in the early 90s and read to her each night I was there. These stories (along with Judy Corbalis’ books, ‘Oskar and the Ice Pick’ and ‘The Wrestling Princess’) have stuck in my head (and hers, too, I hope.)
Terry Jones’ tale-telling voice is filled with a silliness and endless inventiveness that’s very familiar.
Watching just recently the behind-the-scenes documentary about Monty Python’s live shows in 2014, it’s very striking how much the others rib him about his memory. You can see him slipping… He’s laughing and smiling at his own failings, trying to hang onto the words of, say, the chocolate frog sketch. It becomes a running joke for these crusty old men, irked and busy backstage. It’s a documentary about cross, topless old men donning drag and other disguises. They talk about money and the old days and various old conflicts.
Cleese comes out as the most irked of all. He turns on Jones mid-sketch, in front of the 02 audience, snatching his idiot board and reading out his lines for him. Everyone roars – and yet Jones blinks benignly and smiles… not quite in on the joke. He looks dazed. He looks like Mr Toad sitting in the wreckage of his caravan.
And, watching this on Netflix a few years later, you can’t help thinking – this memory loss is a serious one. You can see it in his face every time he’s in shot. He looks sweetly befuddled by everything.
I keep thinking – it’s the man behind those fairy tales. That good nature, that generous soul. It’s also the mind at the heart of ‘Labyrinth’, too. His is the voice that makes the whole thing human and silly and therefore real (‘Come inside and meet the wife!’) While he’s trying to remember the lines to these silly old skits and hold onto the tail end of Python, the world of those fairy tales and that labyrinth and all those fantastic things – they’re all in there, too. They’re looking out through his bewildered eyes.
It’s kindness that you read in them, and in his tales of boastful herring, lying tigers and brave little kids. His kindness is what shines through the whole lot.