June 11, 2013

Adolf in Blunderland: a treasure from the basement

Adolf in Blunderland.
Alice in Wonderland is one of my favourite books and I love coming across it in any guise - from the Swahili version I encountered on the Internet archive library to the Mervyn Peake-illustrated edition which was the star of the University of Sheffield Library's exhibit Mervyn Peake’s Alice a few years ago.

You can imagine, therefore, how intrigued I was to come across an old, cardboardy book called Adolf in Blunderland in the Central City Library basement. The cover bears a caricature of Adolf Hitler in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit looking up at a giant caterpillar with Neville Chamberlain’s head, moustache, top hat and all, as he sits on a mushroom with a cap that resembles a map of the world. The Caterpillar is clearly about to offer Adolf a chance to take a bite out of it, just as the real Chamberlain did.

The book was published in Great Britain in 1939 and donated to the library by a Mr Griffiths in 1984. The authors are James Dyrenforth and Max Kester, James Dyrenforth being a noted lyricist of the 1930s and 40s who wrote the sorts of songs that are recorded by musicians with nicknames and their own orchestras, such as "Skitch Henderson and his orchestra".

The parodies of the Alice poems in this book are, in fact, very clever:

"You are old, Kaiser Wilhelm," young Adolf said,
"And your famous moustache now falls flat…"


'Twas the voice of the Fuehrer ! I heard him declare,
"If you want a good massacre, bomb from the air…"

However, the best moment for me in the whole book is the tea party, where the March Hare has become "March Into", and the Mad Hatter is the "Flatterer". And the dormouse? Read on:

March Into: No room! No room!
Adolf: There's plenty of room.
Flatterer: Only if we annex Hungary, as the great March Into suggests.
Doormat (weakly): Germany is hungry.

syndetics-lcAt the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival this month, I was lucky to get a chance to interview Sir Max Hastings, author of All Hell let loose (a history of World War II that Hamish Keith thinks is the best ever written) along with many other fine books, including a funny memoir of his dysfunctional childhood I'm reading right now, Did you really shoot the television? A family fable. I took Adolf in Blunderland along to show him.

I told him about how when I found it, I was delighted by its cleverness, but after I'd finished reading it, it didn't seem as much fun as I had thought. Hastings said, kindly, "Yes, parodies usually aren't as successful out of their times", but that wasn't what I meant. It wasn't that the style was anachronistic - it was the story itself, and knowing, unlike the authors, how it would end: the carnage and the millions dead.

It occurred to me that writing a parody like this, for two Englishmen, was a bit like when I used to write poems about my sadistic high school science teacher, likening him to a turtle, or a camel, as the mood struck me. It's not the last laugh, it's what you have instead.

Read this post on Booktryst about an outstanding collection - nearly 500 books - of "Wonderlandia" at the University of British Columbia Rare Books and Special Collections Department. Yes, Adolf in Blunderland is there.

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 09:00


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