Tuesday, March 4, 2008

John Bellairs, Part 2

The Pedant and the Shuffly
by John Bellairs
Recommended Age: 10+ (+++)

Here is an interesting contradiction: a fully illustrated "picture book," complete in less than 80 pages, many of which have only a handful of lines of text on them, and filled with giggle-inspiring words and images... and yet, at the same time, a book that can intrigue, provoke, and possibly even mystify many well-educated adults! The Pedant and the Shuffly is all that, and I know not what else.

I ordered a used copy of this book online, and it arrived one afternoon as I was preparing to step out to a symphony concert. So I took the book with me, and read most of it during the intermission (which says something about how short it is). I must have gotten some strange looks from the concert-goers around me as I threw my head back and laughed out loud. The book is that funny - and right alongside its sense of humor is a profound sense of oddity and absurdity. In fact, if there were an award for books tiptoing along the line between whimsical wisdom and outrageous nonsense, this book would be on the short list for it. It attacks reason and logic with an almost polemical fervor, but does so by means of a silly little fairy tale; so one may be tempted to look for signs of a philosophical allegory. Me? I just throw my head back and laugh.

You may as well ask: Who or what are the Pedant and the Shuffly, and what becomes of them? And I may as well answer: the Pedant is an evil wizard named Snodrog, who uses a combination of fiendish magic and fallacious logic to talk people into not existing. Those who resist him are merely transformed into stained linen napkins that flutter around, enslaved to his wicked will. The Shuffly, on the other hand, is an indescribable creature that lives in a swamp, wears fuzzy slippers, and plays with any toy that comes to hand - including Snodrog-rolled-into-a-ball - never troubling himself with ontological questions. Which makes him the supreme weapon of defense for a benign wizard named Sir Bertram Crabtree-Gore.

In a mortal combat between a sorcerer who questions everything and a...whatever that questions nothing, who do you suppose comes out on top? This is a question that concerns Sir Bertram, leading to the following exchange that I hope will tempt you into seeking out this rare but worthwhile book:
Sir Bertram followed the man into the kitchen, where the two of them put away enough bayberry wine to turn most people into Xmas candles. With an effort, Sir Bertram broke the layer of paraffin that had begun to coat his tongue, and spoke:

"Where can I get a Shuffly?"

"A Shuffly what?" screamed the man, who now began to roll about on the uneven tile floor.

"Please!" said Sir Bertram in a hurt tone. "I am threatened with nonexistence!"

"So are we all, from time to time," said the man, burping, and he fell asleep.

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