As soon as Loukas ended his prayers of gratitude, Thera and the children ran to him.
“Papa, Papa,” the children cried. They wrapped their arms around their mother and father while the two embraced.
Reaching into his satchel, Loukas brought out the gifts of nature given him by the enchanted sisters, the dried up river, and the raging mountains.
To his son, Petros, he gave the sprig of dried heather. He wished him days of good fortune.
To his daughter, Sophie, he gave the myrtle leaves. He wished her a long and happy life.
To his beloved wife, Thera, he gave the purple amaranth flowers, now dried. He wished her a richness of health from that day forward.
When Loukas’s and Thera’s parents joined the reunion, the families together sang an earnest prayer of thanks to their God, their saints, and the spirits that watched over them.
When the new day dawned following Sun’s momentous performance, Sun resumed casting his energy from east to west. He once again took up the daily cycle assigned him since he first whirled into the galaxy millions of years ago.
As for Loukas, Thera, and the children, for forty days and forty nights they opened their doors and hearts to their neighbors. With their neighbors, they celebrated their blessings with food and drink, and they danced to songs Loukas played on his magical flute.
When the festivities ended, every family member, young and old alike, pledged to desire nothing more than a future endowed with peace, good health, and a favorable destiny.
For generations, islanders have told tales about the fateful game of chance that could have kept Loukas from his family and cast him into deep despair.
They told of Loukas’s courageous journey into the depths of the island’s forest to beg for mercy and healing from Destiny, Sun, and Moon.
They told of the clemency granted Loukas for his love of family.
They told of the pardon Loukas had received for his devotion to Lambros, the mysterious talking, dancing snake who had brought enduring happiness to Loukas and everyone within Loukas’s circle of reverence and respect.
They told of the freedom Loukas gained from Sun’s miraculous passage from west to east on a suspenseful day long past.
They told of the songs Loukas had sung from village to village in praise of the lessons he had learned from his loss and recovery.
He had sung the song about pride’s power to blur the boundary between right and wrong.
Pride’s lure, he had learned, could be weakened through acts of kindness and through sharing his wealth with unfortunate folk.
He had sung the song of awakening to greed’s bewitchment.
Greed, he had learned, could be repelled by living each day with deepening gratitude for his revered family, his good fortune, his blessed, renewed fate.
For as long as Loukas lived, he never once took for granted the happy moral life Destiny, Sun, Moon, and Lambros had allowed him to regain and savor.
Loukas and the Game of Chance is based loosely on two Greek folktales. There are different versions of the tales, but they all focus on a character who sets out on a treacherous journey to try to alter his fate after he ruins his life. In every version of the tale, a poor, unnamed character becomes friends with a magical snake. The snake rewards the character’s kindness with an endless supply of gold coins because he loves being entertained by the character’s flute music. Unfortunately, the character foolishly loses a bet that strips him of his fortune and the family he adores. That’s when he takes off on a wild trek through an eerie forest in search of Destiny; her son, the Sun; and her daughter, the Moon. They’ll certainly help him win back his fortune, his family, and his honor, won’t they?
I had worked on a retelling of one of these tales, “The Snake Tree,” for a collection of Greek folktales I co-authored with Soula Mitakidou. After that experience, I kept wondering about the strange relationships and events in the story. I kept returning to the mysterious bond between the snake and the flute-playing boy. What if I gave the snake a background, a heritage, and a community in a far-off realm that could be made known to the boy he befriends? What could the snake, whom I named “Lambros,” and the boy, whom I named “Loukas,” learn about trust, loyalty, and commitment as their friendship grew through mutual acts of kindness and respect?
Destiny; her son, the Sun; and her daughter, the Moon also sparked my curiosity. In my imagination, they had a lot of power. In two versions of “The Snake Tree,” Destiny was simply “a good old lady” or “a middle-aged lady.” Yet to me, she appeared elegant, regal, and all-wise. For some storytellers, her son, the Sun, was either a hungry, human-eating ogre or a laid-back guy who’s eager to help Loukas regardless of what caused him to become so unlucky. My sun would be tense, jittery, fickle, and arrogant. He could be the kind of son who would easily defy his mother’s decision to allow Loukas a better fate and, thus, a better life. Or, he might be in the mood to save Loukas from despairing and send him off with the promise of a good life. The Sun needed to be carefully watched.
Destiny’s daughter, the Moon, is a character I invented. She doesn’t appear in any of “The Snake Tree” tales I read, and she came into being when Nikki, a member of my writers’ group, suggested that the Moon could bring an interesting perspective to Loukas’s dilemma and to the tense drama he finds himself in when Destiny, Sun, and Moon put him on trial. From the moment the Moon came to me, I saw her as watchful, opinionated, and, like her mother, fair and just. I always knew Moon should have a gorgeous singing voice.
Keeper of the Forest is another character I invented. He’s like the sage folktale characters typically meet on the road right before their quest begins. The sage offers counsel, forewarning, and hope. The hope is given only if the character complies with whatever prophecy the sage offers. In Loukas and the Game of Chance, the sage was first cast as a wizard. Then, Donald Babisch, the illustrator of this book, challenged me to develop a sage completely different from the ubiquitous wizard. Enter Keeper of the Forest. This kind-hearted being is part magician, part environmental steward, part protector, part caregiver, and part writer. He also adds a bit of comic relief to an otherwise dark storyline.
When I think about why I wanted to reimagine “The Snake Tree,” I always come back to my wish to entertain readers with a story that awakened them to life’s struggles and mysteries. I had in mind the inevitability of hard times and loss, as well as how courage and perseverance can open the way to hope and recovery. I also wanted to honor the Greek cultural belief in the power of a story to comfort and give advice. This belief, I discovered, can be traced to the etymology of the Greek word for folktale, paramythi, which in turn derives from the archaic Greek verb paramytheome, meaning to advise and console.
We’re all in good hands among earnest storytellers, writers, and readers.
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