am, I think, a snob. Not about everything in the world, maybe, but
about literature, indubitably. (Hey, look at that, how often do you get
a chance to use indubitably? It's very satisfying.)
Anyway, while I may not be a literary snob in the most expected ways (for
instance I'll read just about any trash with great pleasure, as long as
it doesn't pretend to be something it's not), on one particular
topic I get a little touchy: authorship.
Once I realized that not all the Curious George books were by the Reys,
and that some were only based on books by the Reys, I became very
skittish, checking to see which one each was, trying to avoid the
thing about this sort of snobbery is that you have to have at least a little knowledge to get started. It's easy to get it all wrong. I was blathering on about how I read the actual
book of Flowers for Algernon instead of seeing the movie like everyone
else, when my husband pointed out that the book was a novelization of the movie, which in turn was based on
a short story that was the real, authentic Flowers for Algernon. Oops.
And then there's Babar.
love Babar. I love The Story of Babar (yes, yes, there's the harsh
shooting-of-the-mother incident, but once someone told me to stick
those pages together with toothpaste and just turn past them,
everything was cool). The whole story is just so crazy. The old lady. The king dying
of a bad mushroom. The suit of clothes. None of it makes any kind of
sense, yet it all makes sense because it's true to its own crazy self.
The same holds for all those original Babar books. Yes, there are
certainly questions of colonialism and all that, but the whole war with
the rhinos is just so whacked out it's irresistible, especially when
the elephants paint circles on their giant rear ends and prevail.
There's a certain irrational confidence about the whole series,
something that's rare. True great books that have nothing to be consistent with are only beholden to their own nutty narrative
When Diana was tiny,
she fell, and fell hard, for Babar. A friend who lived in France gave
us a stuffed version of King Babar, and Diana ran around the house with
it introducing it to everything, including the floor and her Band-aid.
We went on a Babar quest, and as a result of that, found Babar Learns
to Cook on alibris.
I didn't notice, at first, that this was written by son, not father. All I
noticed was that it was excellent. She loved it. She loved it until the
book actually disintegrated from over-reading. First the cover was
gone, then the title page and the back, then we were reading it in two
sections, and then—gone.
The later books–Babar does yoga, Babar's ABCs, all the marketing
offshoots that uncoil from a successful character—never really meant
anything to us. But this? Even thinking about the existence of this
silly, dessert-centered wonderful book makes me happy.
And it wasn't written by the original author. And if I had been true to my own prejudices, we never would have read it. It's a very good thing to be wrong, sometimes.