Re-working a traditional and much loved myth is a big challenge and requires ensuring the familiar story features are finely balanced with new ideas and fresh imagery to retain the essence of the original while engaging new audiences. Award winning New Zealand author Tim Tipene took up this challenge with Maui – Sun Catcher and has hit that balance perfectly, delivering a Maui who is both mischief-maker and cheeky fella.
Bringing Maui into the 21st century sees him cajoling his brothers to help him capture Tama Nui Te Ra, the Sun, and force him to slow down so that all can get their work done and enjoy a full day. The brothers are modern day blokes and the dialogue between them is as Kiwi as it gets: ‘You think too much, said Roto, rolling his eyes and turning on the television. ‘Sit down and watch the rugby, man.’ The striking cartoon like illustrations depicting them in familiar clothing (jeans, mechanic’s overalls and school uniform), coupled with mentions of sunscreen and gassing up the car brings the myth well and truly into modern day.
In keeping with the magical capabilities of Maui the trickster, he is depicted in what looks suspiciously like a superhero outfit, complete with emblem on his top, fish hook slung low across his hips, and… is that a cape or a hoodie? Also setting him apart and adding to his mystery, is Maui’s speech which, in rhyming couplets, is the only rhyme found in the text; a feature acknowledged by one of his brothers: “Maui the poet, eh, always out to be the hero,’ Waho grumbled.”
When he and his brothers find the sun’s pit, they prepare to trap the Sun in a net made of magic flax. Maui steps up to challenge the Sun to slow down and, in this version, beats the Sun not with his fists but with his words – tricking the Sun into slowing down using flattery: ‘The Sun was quiet, He looked around. He liked Maui’s words of magnificence and greatness. They made him feel special.’
Presented in both te Reo Maori and English this bi-lingual modern retelling of a myth unique to Aotearoa is equally accessible to all young readers. It is beautifully presented in hardback with bright colours and bold illustrations and I do hope it is the first of many such re-workings presented by the Tipene, Waipara and Oratia Books team.
Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen
Maui: Sun Catcher
by Tim Tipene, illustrated by Zak Waipara, translated by Rob Ruha
Published by Oratia Books, 2016