LITERARY BRIEFINGDeconstructing Malle
Jun. 13 - We've been loaning children's books from the library. Colorful, cardboard picture-books appropriate to a girl of Molli's limited literary development.
The other day I read one of them to Molli. Malle kan lide at lege, it was called. ("Malle Likes to Play," translated and with a change of heroine from the British "Maisy Likes to Play.") Molli snatched the book out of my hands and began chewing it. While she chewed I noticed and read the text on the back of the book.
Malle likes to play in the wading pool, and to dress up, and to dance...The ellipsis startled me. What was the point? Were the publishers trying to whet my appetite for the book by implying a mysterious plot twist? Or had the copywriter just become too bored to go on? Or was it simply for fear of reproducing the text in full? (The book consists of short declarative sentences enumerating seven things Malle likes to do, so naming three in the blurb may have been a bit of a spoiler.)
Malle Likes to Drive
As my daughter gnawed happily on the softening pulp of the binding, I let my mind wander. I'm looking for full-time work now, and I wondered if I might have a future as a jacket-copy writer for a children's publishing house.
Malle likes to play in the wading pool, and to dress up, and to dance... or does she?The entire book consists of 43 words, more than half of which are Danish for "Malle likes to." So the existing blurb is already a third as long as the book itself, and my own three-word extension brings it close to the half-way point. Some might consider that excessive.
But that's nonsense. The story is written for infants. The jacket copy must be targeted to the adult book-store browser. (Reflect on the importance of proper hyphenation in that phrase!)
The adult book-store browser is not interested in what Malle may or may not like. The adult book-store browser is sensible enough to realize that mice don't have inflatable wading pools, pirate costumes, or portable cassette players, and that even if they did, they lack the cognitive faculties required to form opinions as to whether or not they like them.
The adult book-store browser must be courted, I believe, as an adult.
"Malle likes to play," they said. But they never told us what.If you think I'm over-selling the story, you obviously haven't read the book. The first pages tell us that Malle likes to paint. The accompanying illustration of Malle at an easel seems to back that up. But Malle has just painted a smiling cat! Is that not shocking? Surprising?
The truth is as shocking as it is surprising.
Indeed, just a few pages later we're told that Malle likes to bake, and we see her working in the kitchen—with a cat!
The possibilities of political allegory are too rich to resist, whether from one side:
They told Malle cats were bad. They told her cats would torture and kill her. But Malle showed cats love instead of fear and reaped the rewards of new friendship...Or another:
Malle loved the otherness of cats—from afar. But when she finally met one, she was enslaved in the kitchen and forced to minister to the cravings of her feline master—whose appetite, Malle realized too late, could lead anywhere...The fact that Malle is clothed while her animal companions frolick in total nudity may also be worthy of mention.
Malle likes to play with her special friends, who scamper around her in glorious, full-color nudity...But now our adult book-store browser has become an adult-bookstore browser, and prancing naked rabbits, dogs, and ladybugs will appeal only to a very limited subset of them.
There's also the question of cross-selling. The adult buyer must be persuaded that although this book does its best, it still cannot exhaust the limitless mine of possibilities represented by what Malle likes.
Saying "Read also: Malle Likes to Drive," however, gives no incentive. After reading this book the adult buyer will already realize that Malle likes painting, dancing, bathing, baking, playing guitar, dressing up, and playing with her panda (sorry to give it all away). That this peripatetic rodent should also enjoy driving will come as a surprise to no one. It would be far more effective from a marketing perspective to entitle the sequel, "Malle Really Likes to Drive," or "Driving Isn't Quite Malle's Cup of Tea But She's Willing to Give It a Whirl." Something, that is, to suggest our heroine isn't merely shuffling through life liking things.
I will probably have to write children's books of my own to ensure that Molli is given the kind of literary foundation I want her to have...
Death and Taxes (and Death)
In early 1381 England imposed a new tax, which was called the "Pole Tax" because everyone got the shaft.
In the village of Maidstone, Kent, there lived a Pheasant (or Villain) whose daughter was about fourteen years old. The day the Taxman came around to collect, the Villain was away. Only his wife and daughter were home. The Taxman didn't believe that the girl was less than fifteen. She and her mother insisted that she was. At last the Taxman tore the girl's clothes off to see for himself.
After stripping her, he quickly determined that a more tactile examination would be necessary. When she resisted, the situation took a violent turn—and at that volatile moment, the girl's father came in and saw what was going on. Like any good father, he crushed the Taxman's skull and stomped on his brains.
News of the event spread. The Pheasants (Villains) of southeast England rallied to the father's support. They began Wat Tyler's Rebellion on June 13, 1381.
They made the skull-smashing father their leader because his name was Wat Tyler. Over the next few days, Wat Tyler led the Pheasants (Villains) against the government, burning the Archbishop of Salisbury at the Stake (whence the expression "Salisbury Steak").
The purpose of this rebellion was to secure a pardon for having rebelled. When Wat Tyler confronted King Richard II in Smithfield, he voiced this demand and was consequently stabbed to death, etc, by the Lord Mayor of London. Upon Wat Tyler's death, of course, it was no longer possible to have Wat Tyler's Rebellion, so everyone else went home (hence "Pheasants coming home to roost").
Many of them were later killed.
Further back in history, on June 13, 323 BC, a youthful Alexander the Great died in Babylon. The precise cause of his death has baffled modern science for thousands of years. Many historians believe he died of hybris, also known as Syphilis or the Greek Fire. Alexander had a horse named Bucephelas, and is best known for having devoured the Gordian Nut.
On June 13, 1917, fourteen German Gotha bomber planes flew over London in the first aerial bombardment in history (not counting Zeppelins); on June 13, 1944, Germany commemorated the anniversary by launching the first of its V-1 flying bombs on southern England; on June 13, 1990, East Germany began tearing down the Berlin Wall. The date apparently has some significance in the Teutonic psyche. Be gentle with men in lederhosen.
Today is the birthday of Malcolm McDowell (1943), Christo (1935), Paul Lynde (1926), and William Butler Yeats (1865), and it's Flag Day in Palau.
© 2005, The Moron's Almanac