Title: The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
Author: Sun-mi Hwang (translated by Chi-Young Kim; illustrated by Nomoco)
Publication date: 2013
Country/culture: South Korea
For this year’s Book Diaries, in a departure from my usual focus, instead of being inspired in a random fashion, I’m looking for inspiration that I can take to my writing. (See my general blog to find out why I’m doing this.)
Sprout the hen dreams of escaping the chicken coop, gaining her freedom and hatching an egg of her own. Her path towards this dream is a slow and hard one, but along the way she finds love and fulfilment in some surprising and unexpected places – and, perhaps most importantly, she remains true to herself.
- Read more information on Goodreads.
- Find the book in a library near you (worldwide).
- Support local bookshops (UK): buy the book from Hive.
What did I find out?
Animals are often given names in stories, but we are not always told where those names come from – or, if we are, it is usually from the humans responsible. I think this is the first story I’ve read where an animal has chosen her own name – and chosen it for very specific reasons.
‘Sprout’ represents the beginnings of life, the promise of new green shoots – and the help offered to that new life by the mother plant. Right from the start of this book, therefore, we have a clear insight into Sprout’s character: her name defines her perfectly, all the more so because she has not acquired it by chance; she has actively decided that this is how she intends to live.
It is a fantastic reminder of the importance of carving our own paths and choosing our destinies, rather than accepting what others thrust upon us. In writing terms, it’s also another prompt for me to consider the symbolism of names: I may be able to use my characters’ names to provide deeper insights within my own stories.
What do I now see differently?
I knew early on that this was a story about breaking free from the herd and honouring one’s individuality. As the book is fairly short, I’d assumed it to be a fable in a similar vein to Jonathan Livingston Seagull, with one clear overarching message: ‘follow your own path’.
However, as I progressed through the book, I came to see that it wasn’t that simple; the story was multi-layered in its treatment of not just individuality but also other issues. For example, in the story of Sprout the hen raising Greentop the duck as her own, we see tolerance – of diversity, of adoptive or step-parenting, and of mixed-race families – take centre stage. Clearly, tolerance is connected to the ability to think for oneself, but it is at this point that the tale seems to veer away from Sprout’s fulfilment of her personal needs and towards how she uses her determination and individuality to help improve the lives of those she loves.
One of the things I’m always trying to communicate through the Book Diaries is that different people will see different themes in the same book, depending on their own circumstances and worldview; The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a perfect example of this. It also illustrates that, even if a book seems to be short and simple, it may yet prove to be beautifully complex.
How will this inspire my writing?
My inspiration this time came almost instantaneously. I’d previously decided to write a short story for a competition being run as part of our local literary festival, but the plan had been on the back burner for a while: my novel had stalled, and I was trying to get myself back into the habit of making progress on that. However, on reading Hwang’s book, which (although definitely a novel) is a fairly short read, I was filled with renewed enthusiasm for writing my own short story. Maybe it would even kick-start the novel again…
Since finishing the book and writing this post, I have now completed the first draft of my story. It’s still rough around the edges and needs editing for sense and storytelling (not to mention word count), but I’m happy with my little tale. I’ve also got a fresh writing schedule in place for my novel – and I know it wouldn’t have happened without The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly.
I will be sure to report back on my general blog if the story places in the competition! Watch this space…
A musical interlude
This song is for Sprout rather than Greentop – I feel it describes her journey.