Booknotes: The Gammage Cup

May 26, 2010 @ 6:30 am | Filed under: Books

Attempting to catch up on notes about things I’ve recently read and enjoyed…

Of all the curiosities that had been pitched out of Fooley’s balloon, the painting was the only one to fall into the Watercress River. When it had been fished out, nobody knew what it was, but fortunately Fooley had listed in his book the names of the curiosities, and when everthing else was checked off—like the family tree, the poem, the hourglass—it was obvious that the remaining item was a painting. The bath in the Watercress had done it no good. Though the colors of the squares, triangles, circles, and shields were clear enough, and the interconnecting black lines intact, the piece of parchment looked as though inky fingers had daubed it. But daubs or no daubs, the Periods (and therefore the ordinary villagers) adopted the painting for their own. Ever since Fooley’s time, a painting was a pattern of colored shaped connected by black lines, following the classical example.


The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall. Kendall is one of those writers whose voice I just plain enjoy. She’s a quirky storyteller with a taste for misfits. This novel is about the Minnipins, a tradition-loving people who live in small villages in an isolated mountain valley. Their distant ancestors settled here after escaping from terrible enemies about whom little is known, now, except their names: The Mushrooms. A few centuries ago, one of the Minnipins journeyed over the mountains and back via hot air balloon. Most of Fooley’s souvenirs—and memories—were scattered when he crash-landed back at home, but the remaining fragments have been carefully enshrined in a village museum and in the customs of his descendants. (You can tell them apart from the rest of the villagers by their names, which are taken from a scrap of paper that survived the crash and is now presumed to be a list of the friends Fooley made on his journey: Ave., Co., Wm., Eng., etc. “The Periods,” as these folk are reverently called, run the village.)

Folks in the village like things to be done just so, and they have little tolerance for eccentrics like Gummy the poet or lively Curley Green, who recklessly paints images of things from real life, in disregard of the proper classical style. (My kids love Kendall’s work, but her character names drive them up a wall.) When Muggles, the reluctant heroine, and her misfit friends begin to suspect the terrible Mushrooms are preparing for another attack, they have to persuade the rest of the villagers that the danger is real. Instead, they get kicked out of the village.

This is a fun read, somewhat formulaic but Kendall’s unusual voice makes the formula feel new. Beneath the storybook action is a quiet exploration of intellectual honesty; the villagers—especially The Periods—tend to do things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done, without pondering the origins of the customs. Muggles, though fearful of the social consequences of coloring outside the lines, can’t help but ask questions.

There’s a sequel, The Whisper of Glocken, which Rose and Jane have beat me to. They enjoyed it.

The cover of the current paperback edition is perfectly dreadful. I tried not to look at it too much.

Here’s my old post about Kendall’s wonderful The Firelings, which also takes a look at the relationship between custom and reason.


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