Thursday, March 30, 2017

mr. halibut goes to blogland

As either a belated Christmas present or an early joint birthday present (their birthdays are only a week apart) our girls recently acquired the full box set of Mr. Men books. We already had a couple, but this is the full 47-book collection. This is obviously great for the girls, but also for me as it allows me to relive some aspects of my childhood, as a specific aspect of a general regression towards childhood, and subsequently an inexorable descent into drooling senility and, ultimately, death.

I can't remember exactly which Mr. Men books we used to own, but it was probably half-a-dozen or so, definitely including Mr. Tickle, Mr. Happy and Mr. Bump, and almost certainly also Mr. Silly, Mr. Fussy and Mr. Strong and quite possibly one or two others. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that my recollection of the full book list on the back of the books was that Mr. Strong was the last one, and that I always viewed that list as the definitive one and the addition of the subsequent thirteen titles (Mr. Grumpy through to Mr. Slow) as late-comers and not quite "real" Mr. Men books in some ill-defined way (I refer you to the first of the Douglas Adams quotes here as an explanation).

Looking at the books' publication dates reveals that this limits me to quite a small window, since the books were published in (broadly speaking) three tranches of thirteen, the first (Mr. Tickle to Mr. Daydream) spread out over 1971 and 1972, the second (Mr. Forgetful to Mr. Strong) in spring 1976 and the third in spring 1978. So I suppose that dates my main Mr. Men-reading activities to before 1978, when I would have been eight, which I suppose sounds about right, although as both Emma and I have discovered before, childhood memories, even what seem like crystal-clear ones, can turn out to be suspect.

Just to complete the picture, the thirty-nine books accounted for above are the ones written and published during Roger Hargreaves' lifetime (he died in 1988). Those are just credited to "by Roger Hargreaves" in the regular way in our editions. There were then four (Mr. Brave to Mr. Cheerful) published in 1990 which are credited to "original concept by Roger Hargreaves", which isn't very clear but which I assume means they were cobbled together from some works-in-progress left after Hargreaves' death, with a bit of tarting up applied by other people (most likely his son Adam). The remaining four (Mr. Cool to Mr. Nobody) are credited to "written and illustrated by Adam Hargreaves". The reason the spines-first view of the books above looks a bit wonky is that the spine design - with each book carrying a seemingly random blob of black which resolves into some text when they're presented together - was obviously cooked up for a box set featuring the original 39 books, and it was deemed too much work to rejig everything for the small number of subsequent books, so these were left blank and the whole thing ends up looking oddly shunted to the left.

That smacks of a bit of laziness, though to be fair more on the part of the publisher than the author(s). There is just a whiff of a bit of authorial laziness in some of the titles, though: Mr. Happy and Mr. Cheerful are essentially the same person, as are Mr. Grumpy and Mr. Grumble, and the whole raft of vaguely wacky characters that includes Mr. Topsy-Turvy, Mr. Silly, Mr. Funny, Mr. Muddle, Mr. Nonsense and Mr. Wrong are all essentially the same. The yin/yang pairs of Mr. Noisy and Mr. Quiet , Mr. Small and Mr. Tall and Mr. Dizzy and Mr. Clever also tell much the same stories from two different angles. But I suppose there's only so many books you can get out of a narrow-ish range of kiddy-friendly emotions. The gnarlier stuff like Mr. Punchy, Mr. Drunk and Mr. Rapey would have been off-limits to Hargreaves' target audience, though of course that stuff is ripe for parody, of which there have been many, of varying degrees of will-this-do laziness.

A couple of further complaints related to specific stories now: firstly Mr. Clever. Now I've been bought a couple of bits of Mr. Clever-related merchandise (more on this in a minute) by people over the years, for reasons that I'm far too Mr. Modest to speculate about. But if you read the story, Mr. Clever turns out to be a bit of a twit, and all his fancy book-learnin' is no match for the simple homespun wisdom of a lowly worm, or some such shit.

The slightly sinister Mr. Neat and Mr. Tidy in the Mr. Messy book always remind me vaguely of the bizarre Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd characters from the generally bizarre Bond film Diamonds Are Forever.

Finally, Mr. Lazy. Now most of the Mr. Men are a sort of generic elliptical blob shape, with a few exceptions where their shape is dictated by their name in some way: Mr. Greedy, Mr, Sneeze, Mr. MessyMr. Tall, Mr. Skinny and probably one or two others. Mr. Lazy, however, is pretty explicitly a big pink arse (thereby making this parody superfluous). Take a look - I've erased the distracting features in the third picture to make the resemblance more obvious, although that does now make it look as if he's having a big splattery shit, or possibly a rectal prolapse.

I wouldn't want to quibble too much, though, as these are obviously children's classics, and the big bold magic-marker illustrations are very pleasing in a similar way to Dick Bruna's Miffy books. That simple design makes them perfect for slapping on a variety of merchandise, and sure enough a trawl round the house yields a few things - a pair of his'n'hers mugs, a similar pair of coasters and my beloved (and slightly threadbare these days) Mr. Greedy T-shirt.

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