Modernizing a Mythical Monster | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

SERIES STARTERS: (From left) Edgar Samar, Ani Almario and Asa Montenejo (PDI Photo/Jilson Seckler Tiu) PHOTOS BY JILSON SECKLER TIU
SERIES STARTERS: (From left) Edgar Samar, Ani Almario and Asa Montenejo (PDI Photo/Jilson Seckler Tiu) PHOTOS BY JILSON SECKLER TIU


MONSTERS play a big part in the enduring thrall that Philippine mythology has over us. From the giant ogre smoking a fat tobacco while perched on a tree to the winged half-woman flying in the night in search of human prey, to the wizened dwarf living in an anthill, these creatures have populated Filipino tales through generations, usually and remarkably in classic bedtime story form.

But recent incarnations have transformed these creatures, updating them for a younger, savvier audience.  Now it’s time for the tiyanak, that little predator masquerading as an abandoned baby, to get its makeover. And it happens in Adarna House’s “Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tábon,” written by award-winning author Edgar “Egay” Calabia Samar.

More than just modernizing a Filipino myth, “Janus Silang” is an attempt to build a new one—a Filipino young adult (YA) franchise, the closest thing we have to J.K. Rowling’s world-changing Harry Potter series. That’s because “Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tábon” is just the first of a trilogy built around a young Filipino hero with that most modern of interests—online role-playing games (RPGs).

The soft-spoken 33-year-old Samar first got the idea for “Janus Silang” three years ago.   “The idea would begin with the massacre of teenagers in an alternative San Pablo,”  said this San Pablo City, Laguna native who now writes from Marikina City.

Samar’s interest in YA is rather unusual for a guy whose first book is actually a children’s book, “Uuwi na ang Nanay kong si Darna,”  in 2005.  The assistant professor at the Ateneo de Manila University had not done any writing for younger readers since then, but has instead made a name writing dense, literary fare, among them the National Book Award-winning novel “Sa Kasunod ng 909,” Man Asia Literary Prize long-listed “Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog” and works that have won numerous Palanca Awards.

Last year, Samar received a fortuitous e-mail from Ani Almario,  vice-president at the Adarna House, asking about his ideas for their expanding YA line. “He said he already had something in the works,” recalled Almario, who is also the school director at The Raya School and mother to 4-year-old Jacinta.

Added Asa Almario Montenejo, another Adarna official:  “We were consciously looking for YA material because there are very few YA novels in Filipino.” An architect by training,  Almario-Montenejo is director for marketing at the publishing house who had lived for ten years in California as a full-time homemaker who also ran an online crafts shop.

Samar’s last novel sparked Almario’s interest in his next work.  “When we were thinking of coming up with YA titles, we wondered who out there could cross over. Egay was our first choice. He was already there at opposite ends—kids and adults—so he could marry them together.”

The serendipitous contact led to Samar writing the first draft in just a month.  The book was first released at the Summer Komikon on April 12, and can now be found in bookstores.

That one book quickly turned into a trilogy, as all classic YA titles should be. “We talked about turning it into a series,” Almario said.  While acknowledging that some people would see it as an attempt at doing a Pinoy Harry Potter, she said that she saw it as more like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Along those lines, several plot elements are thus left hanging at the end of  “Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tábon,” leading the reader to the next book.

Mixing magic with modernity, this audacious attempt at a YA franchise outside of graphic novels and romances is also a calculated one. The Almario sisters identify “Janus Silang’s” target audience to be tweens and teens, (their official target is 13 years and up). Ani Almario however noted that adults she had talked with readily admitted to reading YA novels, books she initially thought were too young for the 20-somethings.

“I think there’s a resurgence of adults reading YA books,” she said. Samar agreed. “I imagine this is the only book my high school friends would actually read and enjoy.”

“Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tábon” begins with the titular hero, a 13-year-old boy with an online RPG called “TALA Online,” TALA meaning Terra Anima Legion of Anitos. But when teenagers die in a computer shop (guess what they have in common), Janus is pulled into a dark, action-packed conspiracy that brings him face to face with the reimagined tiyanak. The monster is not what you expect.

Modernizing mythology has been a wonderful font for Filipino creators, particularly in graphic literature where Arnold Arre made it groovy in his graphic novel “The Mythology Class,” while the team of Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo made it urban in their ongoing “Trese” series.  Even cable TV has been in on the trend, with the ubiquitous aswang making an appearance on the American TV series, “Grimm.”

Samar clearly savored the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with the tiyanak. “I was just really excited with the mythmaking in this first book, with the way I thought I had reimagined the tiyanak. And in this second book, I reimagine another popular myth, but to say more would be a spoiler.”

“This is not the tiyanak of Janice de Belen,” Almario added,  referring to the cult classic 1988 horror film directed by Peque Gallaga, that featured actress de Belen and what is, for the longest time, the accepted version of the tiyanak.

Aside from being the start of a trilogy, “Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tábon” also represents Adarna’s bold step into the digital realm. Almario-Montenejo explained that the website Janus visits in the book——actually exists. “Right now, it has information about the book and we hope to build a community around it,” she added.

Janus Silang even has his own (in character) Facebook account, the older Almario sister said. “We’re really hoping people would contribute their fan art and fan fiction when they finally get to know the world of Janus Silang,”  she added.

Beyond the technological evolution, Samar’s book is also edgier fare for Adarna, complete with swear words and a darker complexity than expected based on its previous titles.

The second title in Samar’s trilogy has the working title “Si Janus Silang at ang Digmaang Manananggal-Mambabarang,” and hints of an expanding world for the hero. It is due in November this year, while the third volume comes out in early 2015.

“We’ve never come out with a series like this,” Almario said. This change in thinking is also indicative of the new direction being forged by the second generation at Adarna. Founded in 1980 by National Artist for Literature Virgilio “Rio Alma” Almario, Adarna House is famous for its 7” x  9” children’s books, mostly about Filipino myths, folk tales and legends that are illustrated by young artists.   Almario’s children have taken over:  Ani as VP, Asa as marketing director and youngest sibling Agno Almario as the guy in charge of Adarna’s digital offerings.

“Now that the three of us are here, there’s a more concerted effort (to make things work),” said the eldest Almario sibling.  “I don’t think it’s so much a change as a natural progression for us,” her younger sister clarified.  “Our books were, for the longest time, meant for readers ages 6 to 10, so now we’re reaching out to the other end of the spectrum. From babies, to YA,”  she added, referring to the board books for babies that Adarna also produces.

“I think we’re very conscious about trying out new things,” said Almario. “We’re super excited for YA because people always look for these from us.

They’re hoping young Filipinos will continue to read Filipino books as they grow older instead of shifting completely to English, now that there are books like Janus Silang to bridge the gap.”

“I actually don’t think of Janus Silang’s market as readers age 13 and up. I think of its readers as readers of any age who play, love, or simply appreciate role-playing games. So its prospects are good,” says book blogger and young readers’ advocate Tarie Sabido. “Our teen readers gobble up YA novels from the US. They’re reading! We should give them Filipino YA novels to gobble up.” The Philippine Board on Books for Young People, of which Sabido is chair, is putting together a 2014 middle grade and YA novel writing workshop called “Kabanata.” “We hope the workshop will produce 10 novels in English and 10 novels in Filipino.”

For Adarna’s 35th anniversary next year, there are a lot of big plans afoot.  In the meantime, the publishing house has even more monsters in mind.

Samar is writing “101 Nilalang na Kagila-gilalas,” what Almario described as an illustration-heavy compendium of mythical Filipino beings,”  due to be unleashed in November this year. Indeed, in these pages, there will be more monsters.

He is also busy researching a book on serial komiks in Liwayway Magazine and the final volume in what he calls his “Numbers” trilogy, following his novels “Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog” and “Sa Kasunod ng 909.”

Right now, Samar is really psyched for the adventure promised by his new trilogy.  So is Almario who confessed that Adarna House is dreaming of selling Janus Silang merchandise should the series prove successful.

These are big dreams. It’s like Adarna trying to weave its own magic spell to see this fantastic concept fly. As Montenejo puts it: “We all believe in this book. •

For more information, visit

Excerpt from “Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon”

Matagal na pinaghandaan ni Janus ang tabang ito. Pinakamalaking tournament ng TALA Online sa bayan ng Balanga. Bawal manood ang hindi kasali. Walang miron. Seryoso ang laban. Ipananala umano ng Malakas Internet Shop ang mananalo sa major tournament sa Maynila na 50K ang premyo. Naplano na ni Janus  ang pagkakagastusan ng pera kapag nanalo siya. Mountain bike at bagong cellphone. Ibibili rin niya ng damit ang Papa niya. Pabango para sa Mama niya. At si Juno, ang anim na taon niyang kapatid, ibibili niya ng PSP. Tapos, yayayain niyang mag-Enchanted Kingdom si Mica. Pipilitin niyang makapanalo ng teddy bear tapos e didiskarte siya ng kiss ditto. ¡®Yung totoong kiss. Hindi ¡®yung smack na ibinigay nito nung nag ¡©field trip sila

Ang hindi naisip ni Janus bago matapos ang gabing ito, mamamatay ang mga kalaban niya. Hindi sa laro lang. Totoong mamamatay. Mamamatay na parang tinuklaw ng ahas. Parang tinamaan ng kidlat. O parang nilunod ng Berberoka sa hangin o sinipsip ng Sigbin ang dugo sa mga anino nila, tulad ng sa TALA kapag hindi malampasan ang Level 4 o Level 5.

Nakaupo’t nakaharap pa rin sa mga computer ang lima niyang kalaro, pero madilim at malalim na balon ang dalawang mata ng bawat isa sa mga ito. Dilat na dilat pero wala nang alaala roon ng huling nakita. Sa liwanag ng monitor ng mga computer, pare-parehong hindi na humihinga, at may bitak ang mga balat sa mukha¡¯t braso na parang lupang dinaanan ng lindol o mahabang tag-init. Waka nang ibang tao sa Malakas. Kung bakit nawala kahit ang mga nagbabantay…

…Strategy game ang TALA. Dalawa ang kalaban ditto. Una, ang computer-generation na Legion of the Soulless na iba’t ibang nilalang ng dilim sa mga mito;t kuwentong bayan at kahit sa iabng urban legend. Iba-iba ang pakana ng bawat isa parapigilin ka sa paglampas sa isang level. Ikalawa, siyempre, ang mga kapwa mo gamer na bumuo ng sari-sarili nilang Bayani at Anito na nakikipag-unahan sa iyong matagpuan si TALA, ang Bathaluman ng Liwanag. Isa lang ang mauunang makatagpo kay Tala. Komplikado ito dahil kahit kalaban mo sila, katulong at kasangga mo sila sa paglaban sa mga Soulless, hangga’t di kayo nakararating sa dulo.