Monday, August 8, 2011
Bluer Than Blue
And so the story goes that when cartoonist Pierre' Culliford, who the world would come to know as more recognizably as 'Peyo', could not, for some reason or another, remember how to say “sel” (“salt”) while dining with a friend, he asked his companion to pass the "Schtroumpf".
Colloquially speaking, Culliford had what we in the USA would call a brainfart. He ended up pausing for a moment after saying, in his native French, "Can you please pass the..." and then searched in vain for the right word. Unable to find it he asked "the thingie"* or "le schtroumpf". His dinner mate, Franquin, took the opportunity to mock and tease Culliford and replied (as translated into English), “Here’s the Schtroumpf. When you are done schtroumpfing, schtroumpf it back.” The two, on vacation together, shared a laugh and found a new game; for the rest of the weekend, they continued substituting “schtroumpf” and derivations thereof for various words.
Now Peyo was a cartoonist and one of his comics was Johan, the tale of a page in medieval times. In October of 1958, Johan and Pirlouit (Johan's trusty if comedic sidekick) encounter a strange, little blue man who leads them through the enchanted forest of The Cursed Lands** and into the hidden, mushroom village of his people. Needing a name for these faerie like creatures, Peyo dubbed them Schtroumpfs or in English...Smurfs.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The Schroumpfs/Smurfs were so popular in their first appearance that Peyo brought them back a few times until they received their own spin-off. A few books in and the Smurfs were a smash hit. Now distributed world wide and translated into dozens and dozens of languages, the Smurfs remain a favorite of childern and adults alike.
There are several interesting elements to note about the Smurfs that may not seem obvious at first. Canon information is in blue. My own ideas and interpretations are in white.
Their appearance resembles the faeries of various sorts but most notably early descriptions of pixies (more accurately the root term 'Pictsies', little Picts, which were often said to be blue).
The color actually came from Peyo's wife, who was at the time the colorist on many of his works. She felt green people would fade into the background as the Smurf stories mostly look place in the forest. Red would stand out too much and be too jarring. Yellow? Well, believe it or not, Yellow is considered an unlucky or unfavorable color to the French-Belgians. The only logically color left was blue.
Now lets take a look at the Smurfs themselves for a moment.
There are originally 99 Smurfs, plus Papa Smurf, all male.
Smurfette and Sassette (two of the three known female Smurfs) were created by means of magic and clay. The origin of the third female Smurf, Nanny, is unrevealed.
The Smurf Village, also known as the Mushroom Village, was originally located in a region called 'The Cursed Lands'. As time went on this was dropped and the dark forest began looking much more hospitable. Only the area around Gargamel's house was sometimes depicted as not as nice as the rest of the land.
The Smurf village is protected from discovery by an enchantment. The only way for a Human to find it is to be lead there by a Smurf, or be considered a trusted friend of the Smurfs.
The Smurfs are each 100 years old. Papa is 542 years old. Smurfette and Sassette are more recent creations. The Smurflings were normals Smurfs magically reduced in age (they count within the 99). Grandpa Smurf is twice the age of Papa Smurf. It is said he was Papa Smurf when Papa was a regular Smurf. Nanny's age is unknown but considered a contemporary of Grandpa. Lastly, Baby Smurf was brought to the village by Stork on the night of a rare Blue Moon.
So...many questions arise...
Why is Papa so much older than the rest? Where are the other Smurfs of his youth?
Likewise, if Grandpa is twice as old as Papa, well the same query applies.
Where did Nanny come from?
What was the curse of the Cursed Lands and is it still in effect? If they stopped calling it that and the place kept being illustrated nicer and nicer perhaps the curse faded. That would explain...Holy Smurf! I got it!
So there is a curse on this land nestled somewhere in middle-ages Belgium that makes it very difficult for magic or faerie folk of a good nature to exist. Black Magic, Dragons, Trolls and other nasty things do just fine (Peyo's Johan and Pirlouit - Peewit in the USA and England - featured such things).
There is a spell that can summon, for a time, a small village of magical creatures to help the caster do good. When the village is brought into existence it contains but a single, tiny, blue, bearded inhabitant. A Papa Smurf.
The Papa Smurf determines if the the caster's goals and intentions are good and just and if he feels they are he brings forth 99 additional, identical Smurfs. Over time, if any of these Smurfs show a strong interest or predisposition toward a particular emotion, mindset, occupation or hobby, they will be gifted with becoming 'that' Smurf. (Hefty, Handy, Brainy, Grouchy, etc.).
Problem is, as I imagine it, the curse of the Cursed Lands means the village won't exist indefinitely. Eventually, the village will fade back into the realm of Faerie. Now, let's say a Smurf was not at the village when it leaves this world? Well, it would seem they stay here. Grandpa Smurf was on a quest for a magic stone and far from the Cursed Land (when it disappeared?). Nanny was lost in an enchanted castle.
Now, if Papa Smurf and his era of Smurfs allied with Johan, Pirlouit and the good natured king of their kingdom, perhaps he made inroads that made more good than evil in the land and as such, the curse is lifting. Also, the originator of the curse was perhaps an ancestor of Gargamel and since Gargamel is such a lousy wizard, he hasn't the power to keep the curse going.
If the curse lifts and good faerie magic can return in ernest, then when the next blue moon appears in the night sky, a stork will bring a new baby Smurf, a great sign that evil is fading.
More to smurf,
* By 'thingie' I don't mean to imply that 'schroumpf' actually means thing. It is a purely nonsense word created by Peyo on the spur of the moment.
** It is interesting to note that 'The Curse Lands' of Johan and Pirlouit were fairly well worked out and make for a interesting setting in their own right. I don't know that too many fantasy RPG supplements focused on the cultural and geographic region of Belgium during the Middle Ages.
Considering the history of the country and it's connections to the Franks, the Dutch and many other groups, I think setting the Smurfs RPG in a magical medieval Belgium would be fascinating.