Among all of us at Mandarin Companion, it seems that the personal favorite story thus far is “The Monkey’s Paw“. We decided that we needed a horror story to round out our first set of books. I remembered years ago watching a Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” Halloween Special where Homer buys a magical monkey’s paw and Bart & Lisa make wishes that totally backfire. This was the singular time in my life where watching The Simpsons came in handy. After reading the original story, John and I decided this was the one we were looking for.
Originally a short story by W.W. Jacobs, The Monkey’s Paw was excellent to adapt into a simple Chinese graded reader: there are only four main characters, the whole story takes place in one house, and work safety issues abound in China. We adapted the setting to 1980’s China, a short time after Deng Xiaoping famously instituted China’s new policies of “Reforms and Openness“. Industry was booming and factories were popping up everywhere.
Without giving away too much of the story, the son, 张贵生 (Zhāng Guìshēng), is involved in an accident at work.
As noted, he was standing by the machine working when the machine had a problem. His colleague heard him cry out, ran to him, but when he got there it was too late. He was already in the machine, dead!
This being one of the critical parts of the story, we wanted to have an illustration depicting the workplace accident. Our illustrator wasn’t quite sure how to handle this. This is the first sketch of what we got back.
His hand sticking out of a machine. We didn’t quite think this captured the moment well. Besides, the dials made the machine look like a creature that was eating the poor kid. How did he get in there anyway? Back to the drawing board.
Well, we traded a gruesome hand for a gruesome body, perhaps a bit too gruesome! And did he really get caught in that machine? Doesn’t look too lethal. For all we know, he could have been shot and conveniently fell dead over the machine. Maybe adults could handle this, but surely we’d have some young readers for whom this would not be appropriate. We asked him to take out a bit of the gore and make it less disturbing. Here’s what we got back.
Brilliant idea: how about we just stick some machinery over the body? Yea, but we’ve still got a body stuck in the machine (besides, it didn’t look like you could fit a body in there). It still didn’t capture the moment and I thought it still might not be appropriate for some readers.
John and I put our heads together on how to tackle this. As opposed to showing the accident itself, we decided that the accident couldn’t be drawn to be as gruesome as a person can imagine it. Besides, the climax of this horror story (at the very end) hinges upon the readers imagination. We gave the illustrator our ideas and sent a couple reference pictures of machines we thought might work well. A few day’s later, he sent us this.
“Wow, that looks really scary!” was my first reaction. Falling with no chance of recovery into the menacing gears below paired with his expression of pending doom. Perfect! It was later colored and put into the speech bubble of his factory manager as the final image in the book today.
Gruesome enough? Depends on your imagination…