Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay


One of the things that has always saddened me about Australia is our very short history of letters. Modernity came of age in the 1780s, at the same time that Australia was first being settled. There was never an Australian Christendom; only Australian modernism.

This makes it difficult to for an inhabitant of Christendom to find really enjoyable Australian fiction. And I hate to disappoint you, but this book is definitely not a rare example of Christendom in Australia. Its author, Lindsay, wrote plenty of other books unfit for human consumption and I have sometimes wondered whether this one is enjoyable only because the author has toned down his subject-matter for children.

That aside, I'm not sure I would recommend this book for children quite so much as their parents. Because The Magic Pudding, whimsical illustrations and all, is a comic masterpiece with a keen satirical edge.

Bunyip Bluegum, a gentlemanly koala, leaves his uncle and goes forth as a Gentleman of Leisure. At first he finds the life charming, but then about lunchtime he feels the pangs of hunger. It is then that he meets two old sailors—Bill Barnacle and Sam the Penguin—just sitting down to eat a steak-and-kidney Puddin'. The Puddin' is, of course, no ordinary Puddin'--eat as much as you like, but it'll always regenerate, and it'll always be the kind of Puddin' you want it to be—and it's terribly rude, runs like the wind, and is known as Albert.

The four characters get on so well, that after foiling an attack of dastardly Puddin'-Thieves (“One was a Possum, with one of those sharp, snooting, snouting sort of faces, and a the other was a bulbous, boozy-looking Wombat in an old long-tailed coat, and a hat that marked him down as a man you couldn't trust in the fowl-yard”) Bill and Sam invite Bunyip Bluegum to join the Noble Society of Puddin'-Owners and share their travels, their battles with the Puddin'-Thieves, and their Puddin'.

Much zaniness results, some of it legal.
I'm afraid this is unconstitutional,” said the Mayor to the Constable.
It is unconstitutional,” said the Constable; “but it's better than getting a punch in the snout.”
Bunyip Bluegum proves himself a koala of graceful eloquence.
As our misfortunes are due to exhibiting too great a trust in scoundrels, so let us bear them with the greater fortitude. As in innocence we fell, so let our conduct in this hour of dire extremity be guided by the courageous endurance of men whose consciences are free from guilt.”
Albert fails to behave himself.
No whispering,” shouted the Puddin' angrily. “Speak up. Don't strain a Puddin's ears at the meal table.”
No harm intended, Albert,” said Sam, “I was merely remarking how well the crops were looking. Call him Albert when addressing him,” he added to Bunyip Bluegum. “It soothes him.”
I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Albert,” said Bunyip.
No soft soap from total strangers,” said the Puddin', rudely.
And there is much incidental verse.
Then let the fist of Friendship
Be kept for Friendship's foes.
Ne'er let that hand in anger land
On Friendship's holy nose.”
One of the funniest children's books I know of, The Magic Puddin' is recommended for all audiences who know not to yell, “Eat away, chew away, munch and bolt and guzzle” at guests during dinner.

Gutenberg etext (without pictures)
Librivox recording (also without pictures)

3 comments:

Lady Bibliophile said...

Hi Suzannah!
This book looks very fun. I hope I can find it in the States. I've never read any Aussie lit. Is it at all like British, or does it have its own flavor?

Blessings,
Schuyler

Suzannah said...

Hello there! I would say Aussie vintage lit comes with a British flavour, but has its own distinctives. For a good example of what I mean, you might like to try the Mary Grant Bruce books (http://inwhichireadvintagenovels.blogspot.com.au/search/label/mary%20grant%20bruce), which I wholeheartedly recommend. You can find the first few on Librivox, I believe.

Radagast said...

Some of the illustrations are here.

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