Saturday, March 1, 2008

Carol Kendall

The Gammage Cup
by Carol Kendall
Recommended Age: 10+

This “novel of the Minnipins” is an unusual but very enjoyable story. It is partly a social satire, set in an idyllic country ruled by a sort of traditional “wisdom” that, by its rigid changelessness, has become foolish. And it is partly a fantasy-adventure yarn in which five free-thinkers come to the rescue of the society that has cast them out.

Central to the story is a plump, tender-hearted, common-sense young woman named—brace yourselves, Potter fans—Muggles. I kid you not. At first reluctantly, then wholeheartedly, Muggles throws her lot in with the oddballs of the village of Slipper-on-the-Water in the land of the Minnipins. Most villages can learn to put up with a few local eccentrics. But this village is ruled by the “Periods,” descendants of a revered historical figure who want everyone to wear the same color and to paint their front doors the same shade of green.

The Periods, so named because they have names like “Etc.” and “Ltd.,” want their village to be judged the best in the isolated Land Between the Mountains in which the Minnipins have lived for 880 peaceful years. They want to win the prize of having the Gammage Cup enshrined in their town museum. And the Periods think that people like Curly Green (who paints her front door bright scarlet) and Walter the Earl (who is always digging for buried treasure and questioning the official version of Minnipin history) will surely cause the village to lose the cup. So Walter, Curly, and the mischievous rhymer and scribbler named Gummy are resented and shunned off the bat. When Muggles, along with Mingy the Moneykeeper, share Walter the Earl’s concern that the Minnipins’ ancient enemies are preparing to invade the land, the Periods have had enough. All five of them, branded as disturbers of the peace, are banished from the village.

The five outlaws start to build a new life for themselves down the river at Gummy’s country house. And Muggles discovers unexpected leadership qualities within herself, out of range of the intimidating power of the Periods. But the idyll of their fresh start is darkened by the growing menace of the Mushrooms, a.k.a. Hairless Ones, who have found a way through the sheltering mountains that surround the Minnipins’ peaceful valley. What can five people, whom no one in their home village will listen to, save the land that they love? The answer lies, in part, in the “secret of the swords,” and again, in part, in the brightness and valor hidden in the heart of even the silliest and meanest Minnipin neighbor. But before the tale is told, five outcasts will be heroes, two matches will be made, and a triumphant army will arise from timid villagers and long-buried armor.

The Gammage Cup is full of wit, song, natural beauty, thought-provoking ideas, and excitement. The characters are interesting, the setting is unique and detailed, the unexpected is always just around the corner, and the irony is sometimes very biting. A lot of what makes the Minnipins so special is their ignorance of the outside world, so that what little knowledge they have of it is deliciously skewed. Take, for instance, my favorite bit in which three Minnipins each take a stab at literary criticism of the revered but mysterious poem, “Mary had a little lamb.” The maxims of Muggles are also a joy to ponder, such as, “When something happens, something else always happens.”

This 1960 Newbery Honor Book has a sequel called The Whisper of Glocken, which I ordered as soon as I finished reading this book!

The Whisper of Glocken
by Carol Kendall
Recommended Age: 10+

This sequel to the delightful Newbery Honor Book The Gammage Cup features a new group of unlikely heroes from the Minnipins, river folk who dwell in a sheltered, isolated valley, for whom the outside world is such a distant memory that it has passed from history to legend.

Only five years have passed since the five heroes of Slipper-on-the-Water conquered the invading Mushrooms, and already they are held in awe by Glocken, the young carillon-player of the village of Water Gap. Only he soon learns that heroes are only ordinary people who do what has to be done. Glocken reluctantly becomes one of five New Heroes, sent out of the Land Between the Mountains to find out what is causing the river to flood. The way of life of everyone in the valley depends on them: the bell-ringing dreamer, the stubborn custodian of the village’s ancient treasures, the smelly presser of oil fish, the pretty young slip of a girl, and the weird loner who lives across the river from the village.

Armed with little more than magical swords that become “bright when the cause is right,” these five traverse a desert full of deadly perils, befriend a tribe of strange creatures, and confront a race of giants whose well-meaning meddling threatens the lives and livelihood of everyone they love. They discover the eerie truth behind the silly “pretend tales” passed down through generations of Glocken’s family, and they prove that size, strength, and superior technology can be beaten by goodness and determination. With the help of a little magic, at least...

I think you would be delighted by this book, so full of brilliant imagery, poetic language, haunting dangers, and memorable characters. It is as good now as it was in 1965. I’ll even give you a taster...
He would just rest here while he waited for the next thing to happen. No hurry about opening his eyes to see where he was. If he was dead, he wouldn’t be able to open them anyway; and if he was alive, he didn’t feel up to facing whatever had to be faced just now. After a while it occurred to him that he had no business being dead. You couldn’t just selfishly go off dead, leaving your friends to their fate, and still feel easy in your mind.
UPDATE: Carol Kendall has also written several other children's books, including The Firelings (apparently another Minnipins book), The Wedding of the Rat Family, and Other Side of the Tunnel.

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