Friday 12 June 2015

Fattypuffs and Thinifers

I'd never heard of the French classic Fattypuffs and Thinifers until I saw it on the (UK) Telegraph's recent list of 100 Best Children's Books Ever. Naturally I recognised that the author had a French sounding name, and my curiosity was piqued and so here we are, a few short weeks later, I've tracked down the book (not so hard actually with the recent lovely Vintage Classics edition) and read it. And what a delight it is.

Two brothers, Edmund and Terry find a secret entrance to a subterranean world while out on a walk with their father. Naturally the two inquisitive boys are soon heading down a moving staircase into the depths of the unknown.

Edmund and Terry would never have believed that a staircase could be so long. Down and down they went for more than an hour; down and down, through a half-darkness occasionally broken by red and green electric lights. 

The boys find themselves in a very strange world indeed.

The two boys were immediately caught up in the crowd. They passed through a doorway, and as they did so a fresh, cool breeze blew on their faces. They found themselves out in the open air and overlooking the sea, but although the light was very bright they could see at once that it was not sunshine. When they had another look they discovered that the whole countryside was lit up by huge luminous balloons floating in the sky. 

This odd subterranean world is home to the warring nations of the Fattypuffs and the Thinifers. Fattypuffs are rather large as their name would suggest- they eat a meal every hour, and then sleep for a quarter of an hour. While the Thinifers

are an extraordinary race who inhabit the opposite side of the gulf. They are horrible to look at, being excessively thin, bony as skeletons and yellow as lemons. They live in the most ridiculous way. They scarcely eat anything, they drink nothing but water and they even work without being made to. But all that wouldn't matter if they weren't so downright nasty. 

AndrĂ© Maurois was indeed a French author. He had a rather incredible life- running his family textile business, being an interpreter during the first World War, and becoming an author. Patapoufs et Filifers was first published in Paris in 1930, and translated into English in 1941. There are certainly echoes of the war to end all wars- while the prospect of Fattypuffs making trench warfare logistically difficult is treated with humour,  Maurois does not shy away from the harsh realities of war, the senseless death, destruction and injury. Joan of Arc even rates a casual mention. There are still words very relevant to the modern reader.

'But all the same, just because two nations have different tastes, that is no reason why they should shoot things at one another, and wound people and burst their balloons.'

Fattypuffs and Thinifers remains a delightful read even though it is over 80 years old. I'm not sure if this is a modern translation though as the translator is not credited (another translator labouring in the shadows). Some have suggested that the Fattypuffs and Thinifers is an allegory for French German relations, it may well be, and it can certainly be read as such I think, but it is more than mere allegory, it's a great story- funny, thought provoking and entertaining.

The Vintage Classics edition is beautifully illustrated by Fritz Wegner, who sadly died in March.

French Bingo 2015

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