Saturday, February 16, 2008

Julie Andrews Edwards

The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles
by Julie Andrews Edwards
Recommended Age: 10+

Yes, this is the same Julie Andrews who won a Best Actress Oscar for Mary Poppins. Besides being an actress, did you know she is also an author? And if this book is representative, she is quite good. It reminds me a little of the Daniel Pinkwater stories, a little of Bedknob and Broomstick and even a little of Mary Poppins - but mostly, it reminds me of Roald Dahl, that great naturalist who first described many of the species that appear in this story.

It's a story about the world of imagination and imaginary creatures, and how a Nobel-prize-winning geneticist guides three children (two brothers and their baby sister) on a magical journey to Whangdoodleland to meet the very elusive and yet lonely Whangdoodle himself.

Interestingly, the story takes place in the USA, and the characters speak a distinctly American dialect. (Edwards seems to have written it in Switzerland, though). Ben, middle child Tom, and angelic Lindy befriend Professor Savant, the geneticist, who has been trying for years to see the last surviving member of the legendary Whangdoodles--who have been dying out as fewer and fewer people believe in them.

The Whangdoodle is the king of Whangdoodleland and can be described as a sort of intelligent, talking horse with short legs, the antlers of a stag, a very sweet tooth, and bedroom slippers that he grows on his hind hooves and every year they fall off and a new and entirely different pair grows in their place. He is hard to get to, though, because first the children have to be trained to use their imaginations, then they have to elude the various traps set for them by the Whangdoodle's oily Prime Minister, the Prock, though they are aided by their friend the Whiffle Bird who only talks in clich├ęs. They meet such nefarious creatures as the High-Behind Splintercat, the Oinck, the Gyascutus (a giant bird), the Sidewinders, the Tree Squeaks, demonic motorcycles, chewing-gum trees, and the ultimate soda fountain.

The professor and the children are endearing characters. Their adventures are very amusing and exciting. And the final solution to the Whangdoodle's problem is decidedly unconventional, yet at the same time very fairy tale-ish. The way the story is written, you can tell Julie A. had a movie in her mind's eye, because she sets up "shots," achieves "special effects," and even describes "sound effects" in a kind of screenplay-like manner. It would make a fun animated or semi-animated movie. For an actress, though, she has a good imagination and writes quite well. It was an enjoyable yarn.

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