Sure, Larry McMurtry’s got his own book town in Texas, and then there’s Sedbergh and Hay-on-Wye over England way. But none of them can compare to the setting of Moers’s (Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures, 2006, etc.) semifabulous tale of treasures hidden.
Those with no patience for the syrupy, who eschew easy puns, who upchuck when Paolo Coelho’s name comes up, are warned forthwith. German novelist Moers puts Tolkien through some sort of Willy Wonka sweetening process and comes up with characters such as Optimus Yarnspinner, who, names being fate and all, just has to be a storyteller, a gloriously esteemed trade over in the magical land of Zamonia. Op’s pop’s pal, Uncle Dancelot, is “more of a connoisseur of literature than an originator thereof,” even though he’s gone out to lunch for decades on the strength of his sole book, The Joys of Gardening. Dancelot has discovered the most wonderful manuscript in all the land and has gone all Svengali-like (or maybe Entrekin-esque) over the prospects of bringing its glories to the world. But then, zounds, old Dancelot takes a dirt nap and Optimus is left with the manuscript, which puts him in “a state of feverish exuberance after only a few paragraphs.” What’s an entrepreneur to do? Well, head for Bookholm, where booksellers and publishers abound, the former peddling books that are “neither truly alive nor truly dead but located in an intermediate limbo akin to sleep.” In this altogether bookish and symbolism-choked place, Optimus learns valuable lessons, such as how to keep clear of big bad Pfistomel Smyke and the voracious Bookhunters while absorbing useful lessons in literature and life from the likes of the Homuncolossus, who instructs our young charge that the only reason he hasn’t produced publishable work himself is that he’s “writing with the wrong paw.” Q.E.D.
“Tonstant Weader fwowed up,” wrote Dorothy Parker after reading Winnie the Pooh. She had it easy. For the innocent of heart, unsullied by taste.