Tomi Ungerer and other wonderful oddities

As far back as my memory can stretch, back to the time of the dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, and 5 cent ice cream cones at the Thrifty’s Drugstore (you know, the kind they would scoop with those weird vertical-sided cylinder scoops), my life as a tiny sentient being included the books of Tomi Ungerer.

Ungerer, as you doubtlessly already know (and if you don’t, well, all I can say is: may deep and everlasting shame be poured upon your head like warm chocolate fudge syrup, running down your beard, or lack thereof, in great cascading rivers until you either become engulfed in hungry ants, jump into the shower, or ameliorate the situation by running out and buying all the Tomi Ungerer books you can get your fudgey hands on), is a brilliant writer-artist of French birth, responsible for such classics as Moon Man, Crictor, The Hat (one of my perennial favorites), and Orlando the Brave Vulture.

Ungerer, being vastly imperfect like the rest of us, also wrote some erotic twaddle for adults. However, I won’t comment on that, other than to say that everyone has a streak of idiocy in them (yes, I consider erotica idiotic, so sue me).

But what, you might ask, seeing that your brain has been laboring all day with images and thoughts of ISIS, Putin and his recent nuclear remarks, Ferguson, Jonathan Gruber, and Albert Gore’s insistence that the weather is changing (yes, it is does change, you poor Ritalin-deficient man; it changes like the roses in my garden, the length of hair on my children’s heads, the entropic state of their bedroom, and the price of gasoline), what does Tomi Ungerer have to do with the anything of anything these days?

Ah, well, somewhat excellent question, but don’t you know that the best children’s stories offer a way of understanding the world? They make sense of things that don’t make sense anymore, particularly from our adult perspective. Take those murderous cretins that compose ISIS. The hat in The Hat would make short work of their diabolical plans, being a hat with a sense of justice and a great deal of autonomy. I imagine the hat would fly hither and thither (pardon me, Mr. Ungerer, for borrowing your words) until it plopped down on an wittering and nattering imam, sending him stumbling about until he realized the errors of his ways, shaved his head and became a devotee of Richard Simmons.

One can only dream. But that’s the power of (excellent) children’s stories. Sometimes dreams have much more truth in them than the prosaic tedium of our everyday lives.

No. I am not currently on any medication.

What about those other wonderful oddities? Well, one can wonder, but that isn’t odd. It’s quite normal, so carry on.

2 thoughts on “Tomi Ungerer and other wonderful oddities”

  1. I more than agree about children’s stories helping us to make sense of the world. Just wrote a Master’s thesis on it, in fact. Well, on the same thing about fairy tales, but eh, same difference.
    Here’s my favourite quote along those lines from my great folklore guru, Max Lüthi (substitute “children’s literature” for “folktale” as desired): “The folktale is normative [Seinsollensdichtung, literature of what ought to be], but not in the sense that it presents us with a merely possible world that, unlike the real world, represents the way things should be, so that the real world can be contrasted to it. The folktale does not show us *a* world that is in order; it shows us *the* world that is in order. It shows us that the world is the way it should be. At one and the same time, the folktale depicts the world as it is [Seinsdichtung, literature of being] and as it ought to be [Seinsollensdichtung].” Yes, well.

    1. Very interesting. As it is and as it ought to be. That’s a thin tightrope to walk, but once that thought is in your head, yes, all the old fairytales make sense in that light. Sorry for the mixed metaphors.

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