Monday, November 13, 2017

Bibliophile's Corner

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine
by Mark Twain and
Philip Stead, with Erin Stead

Flap Copy Description:
In a hotel in Paris one evening in 1879, Mark Twain sat with his young daughters, who begged their father for a story. After the girls chose a picture from a magazine to get started, Twain began telling them the tale of Johnny, a poor boy in possession of some magical seeds. Later, Twain would jot down some rough notes about the story, but the tale was left unfinished . . . until now.

Plucked from the Mark Twain archive at the University of California at Berkeley, Twain’s notes now form the foundation of a fairy tale picked up over a century later. With only Twain’s fragmentary script and a story that stops partway as his guide, author Philip Stead has written a tale that imagines what might have been if Twain had fully realized this work:

Johnny, forlorn and alone except for his pet chicken, meets a kind woman who gives him seeds that change his fortune, allowing him to speak with animals and sending him on a quest to rescue a stolen prince. In the face of a bullying tyrant king, Johnny and his animal friends come to understand that generosity, empathy, and quiet courage are gifts more precious in this world than power and gold.

My Thoughts:
The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine took me to that rare place that transcends space and time; it was as though Mark Twain was telling this tale directly to me! The iconic American author has been gone for over a century, but Philip and Erin Stead are very much alive...and so are their incredible literary gifts. It's hard to imagine how Mr. Stead could have created a more intriguing text, and one that flowed so perfectly and seemed to embrace this quote by Twain:

Narrative should flow as flows the brook down through the hills and the leafy woodlands, its course changed by every boulder it comes across and by every grass-clad gravelly spur that projects into its path; its surface broken, but its course not stayed by rocks and gravel on the bottom in the shoal places; a brook that never goes straight for a minute, but goes, and goes briskly, sometimes ungrammatically, and sometimes fetching a horseshoe three-quarters of a mile around, and at the end of the circuit flowing within a yard of the path it traversed an hour before; but always going, and always following at least one law, always loyal to that law, the law of narrative, which has no law. 

In addition to being a well-told tale, the artwork by Erin Stead was magnificent. There couldn't possibly have been better illustrations to illuminate this extraordinary tale. They were reminiscent of a bygone era, and yet felt extremely avant-garde as well. Consequently, I highly recommend The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine to readers and art lovers of all ages - and, especially to fans of of the great Mark Twain.

Click here to check out a recent interview with  Philip & Erin Stead.

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