Monday, June 4, 2018

Time to Laugh

Time to Laugh: Funny Tales from Here and There
by Phyllis R. Fenner
Recommended Ages: 8+

I bought a used copy of this book online because I found out that it contained a story that I read as a child, probably in an entirely different book. I had been searching for that story for many years, and the artificial intelligence of Google Books finally came through for me. Thanks to the bibliography at the end of this book (really more of a confession that all of the stories in it were taken from copyrighted works by other authors), I now have more information to work with, and can continue my search for stories that I either loved once, or expect to love in the future.

This is a nice, old collection of humorous stories, mainly of the "no-good urchin outwits everybody" type of folk-tale. Now that I've read all of them, and not just the one I was interested in when I placed my online order, I can verify that most of them are very amusing. My favorites will have to be "The Devil's Hide," in which a little Finnish boy outwits the prince of darkness, and "The Three Innkeepers, or the King's Legs," which still tickles me some 35 years after I first read it. Not all of them, perhaps including that story, will meet the standards of today's parental or pedagogical censors. For example, the punchline about two of the three innkeepers, plus the village witch/district nurse, running down the hill and drowning themselves in the harbor might not play today. The fairy tales in this book haven't had the gruesome violence bowdlerized out of them.

Unfortunately, it's the stories that don't ask to be sanitized for today's school-room that don't quite work for me. "The Ghost's Ghost," set on the island of Tobago, seemed like a nice chapter from a book I might want to read, but it didn't exactly cause me to throw my head back in a spasm of laughter. A couple stories in this book left me cold, or were at best charming but not particularly funny. The weakest ones, somehow, were the ones set in a modern period, rather than the fairy tales and tall tales of yesteryear - including a Paul Bunyan yarn, the Chinese story of how printing was invented, some Irish and Nordic tales, and the romance of "The Laughing Prince."

So, in spite of a few duds, this book has some great stories in it. These include some you may not know, as well as some (like Hans Christian Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes") that everyone knows these days. Authors who contributed to it include Lucretia P. Hale, Ruth Sawyer, Parker Fillmore, Seumas MacManus, G.W. Dasent, Howard Pyle, Richard Hughes, J.B.S. Haldane, Margery Bianco, Lesley Frost, Glen Rounds, Arthur Bowie Chrisman, William C. White, Gilbert S. Pattillo and Charles J. Finger. Some of them are authors I already value; some I have just started to appreciate. Finding this book enabled me to refresh my memory of not one but several beloved tales. But more importantly, it provides clues for my ongoing search for stories that bring joy.

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