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Monday, 20 February 2017

The Quangle Wangle's Hat

Words by Edward Lear
Illustrations: Helen Oxenbury
Publisher: First Published by William Heinemann 1969. Featured edition Puffin Books, Picture Puffins Series, 1982.

Here's a treat from one children's literature fan to another, The Quangle Wangle's Hat by Edward Lear. 
Now I can't say my children share my passion for this book, though my daughter will choose this occasionally as she knows I like it, but on the whole, its bizarre and by that I mean more 'avant-garde' bizarre rather than bizarre funny: its delicious, a lovely read-aloud rhyme.

Written by Edward Lear, better known for composing The Owl and the Pussy-Cat, The Quangle Wangle has a similar dreamy lilting musicality. In this story the creature, a Quangle Wangle Quee (how lovely does that sound read aloud) lives alone in a tree. He wears a strange hat covered in ribbons, bells and buttons, and no one can see his face. One day some canaries stumble on the Quangle's tree, high on a hillside. The Quangle Wangle Quee welcomes them, and the canaries are soon followed by a whole band of creatures who keep the Quangle company forever more; a stork, duck, owl, snail, bumble-bee, frog, and then the excitement begins as the collection of creatures grow more elaborate, non-nonsensical and imaginary: the Fimble Fowl with corkscrew leg, Golden Grouse, the Pobble (with no toes), the small Olympian Bear, the Dong (with a luminous nose), and 'the Blue baboon, who played the flute, And the Orient Calf from the Land of Tute.'   

Accompanied by Helen Oxenbury's delicate, detail-rich illustrations this book is a joy on the eyes and ears. Its a very 'busy' story, character full, ending with dance and music as the creatures live in harmony all on the tree together. It's somewhat hallucinogenic feeling, with the now unfamilar dated pastel colour palette (on the 1980s print era), the multi-coloured made-up animals dancing on disc-like leaves, and as such I would avoid reading this book with the first strong coffee of the morning, as you'll need your composure. 

This version of The Quangle Wangle's Hat reminds me very much of my 2010 edition of Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak, originally written and illustrated in 1963), particularly the scene where the loud trumpeting creatures prance around merrymaking. I wouldn't be surprised if inspiration had been taken cross textually by both writers and illustrators involved in these two works at some point in time.  

In terms of themes, The Quangle Wangle's Hat is probably one of the most innocent and light-hearted of stories I have come across in Children's Literature so far (and thus differs hugely from the very dark, Where the Wild Things Are). The Quangle Wangle is about coming together, embracing individuality (and bizarre-ness), hoping for company and wanting to be accepted, and becoming part of things, or even being at the centre of that coming together. This is interesting, given that the Quangle is the ultimate in reclusive, he's 'different', a sort of tree hermit, covering his face (or having his face covered?). Another thought would be that the Quangle is also welcoming, and appears to have power or possession, or at least be a gate keeper to the big Crumpetty tree where all the creatures seek to live. Politically then, The Quangle might stand as a guardian of nature or some kind of religious or cult guru, a wise man or leader maybe. 

All in all, this book feels psychedelic and pushes hard at the unexpected; it is a convention- defying book (and in my experience children feel very uncomfortable (initially)with this lack of convention at least on the first few reads). While as an adult it feels uplifting and optimistic, the themes here go astray with children, and on reading this Edie complains, 'but where is the Pobble from?' 'what is a Fimble Fowl', searching for some logic. And of course, as not to disappoint, you end up filling in the blanks, 'well the Pobble had a big belly, short legs...', which is I expect, exactly what poet Edward Lear intended.   

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