Boy Meets World, for all of its flaws and jumping the shark, was one of my favorite television shows growing up. There were a lot of goofy moments and slapstick antics, but you could always count of Mr. Feeny’s character to provide wisdom and put everything in perspective. One particular episode he becomes disgusted with his class and their lack of pursuing lasting knowledge. He goes on a rant, saying the following to them: “Gutenberg’s generation thirsted for a new book every six months! Your generation gets a new web page every 6 seconds. And how do you use this technology? To try and beat King Koopa, and rescue the princess. Shame on you. You deserve what you get.”
These words ring truer today than they did some 15 to 20 years ago, but I would add to it that we also now use our technology to produce subpar children’s (and adult’s) literature that is making us dumber with every word written. Great publishers like The New York Review of Books (NYRB) find us obscure classics that are long out of print and bring them back to life. Unfortunately, they aren’t as well-known or sold as Captain Underpants and the like. Therefore, I would like to spend today shining a small spotlight on two selections from NYRB in the hopes that more people can discover them.
The Night of Wishes intrigued me when I first learned of it because it is by the same author as one of my favorite books The Neverending Story. Within The Night of Wishes we are presented with two less than savory characters in Beelzebub Preposteror and his Aunt Tyrannia. Both of them had a longstanding deal with the devil that they would perform so many evil deeds per year, but on New Year’s Eve, neither had met their quotas. Knowing they were in trouble if they didn’t do something, they concocted a plan to brew the Notion Potion. With this evil drink distributed to the masses, anyone who makes a wish will receive exactly the opposite of what they wish. Little did the evil duo know that their “faithful pets,” a raven named Jacob Scribble and a cat named Mauricio di Mauro, are attempting to stop them at every turn. Will good or evil win?
This was a very interesting book, and I don’t use “interesting” as a throwaway word for not wanting to decide if it was good or bad. It was a book that relied more on word play than character development or story advancement. Since this is an English translation, sometimes that word play came through cleverly and other times it was a bit clunky. As for the story and characters themselves, you never felt any sense of urgency with what was going to happen. Yes, the animal protagonists faced setbacks on their path, but you never really felt like good was not going to prevail. Overall, I am glad I read it, but it hasn’t replaced The Neverending Story as my favorite Ende story.
Fletcher and Zenobia is a small hardcover book that tells the story of a cat named Fletcher, who is stuck in a tree. As the book points out, this isn’t a very uncommon circumstance, but the problem is that Fletcher cannot get down. While up in his tree, he eventually discovers an old trunk full of hats, a very bizarre discovery to find in a tree. Digging further into the trunk, he finds something even more peculiar: a papier-mâché egg. Within this lovely decoration is a little doll named Zenobia, who was locked in the egg by a thoughtless little girl. Still stuck up in the tree, the new pair decide to throw a party with food and, of course, the hats. An unexpected visitor shows up to their party in the form of a giant moth, and this lovely guest also proves to be Fletcher and Zenobia’s method of escape. Overall, this was a cute book. Looking on Amazon, I see there is another title in this series, and I hope that NYRB will publish this one as well!
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Copyright 2019 Stuart Dunn
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