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The Land of Green Ginger - Noel Langley
Member Name: jillmurphy
The Land of Green Ginger - Noel Langley
Date: 24/10/01, updated on 21/04/05 (380 review reads)
Advantages: Mummy sat in the middle.
Disadvantages: There is a big nasty dragon.
"May fortune preserve you, gentle reader. May your days be filled with constant joy, and may my story please you, for it has no other purpose."
There, now we're friends, I do hope you're smiling already. You must imagine you're in the theatre and we're telling our story just for you. We're in pantomime land and so we must begin at the beginning –we're at Chapter The First which will explain, "How, Why, When and Where There Was Ever Any Problem in the First Place". Well, it all begins in the city of Peking in ancient China and with the birth of a son and heir to the Emperor Aladdin, yes, the Aladdin, son of the awful Widow Twankey. She's still about you know, and just as awful as she ever was, just as crotchety and snappy and mean. Even Aladdin sighs when she appears. As you can imagine the city of Peking is full of the joyous news. A huge firework display is planned but before it begins a name must be chosen for the new Prince. At a Special Meeting of State each guest is given a pencil and a piece of paper on which he must write five names, the Emperor will choose from all submitted. Even the Unidentified Friend of The Master of the Horse must think of five names. As the guest scratch their heads with comic perplexity at their lack of inspiration, and it is feared that the Firework Display will be delayed, Widow Twankey appears. She's in a rage. Everyone sighs because, after all, she's always in a rage.
It appears that the newborn Prince has taken one look at Widow Twankey and called her a button-nosed tortoise. This has thrown her into the usual rage and everyone else into confusion. Fireworks forgotten, the Emperor Aladdin hastens to The Yellow Lacquer Nursery to check on this infant prodigy, a newborn baby who can talk. "Hootchie-cootchie my itsy-witsy," he says. "And hootchie-cootchie to you too," his son replies politely. A baby who can talk? And who calls t
he Queen Mother a button-nosed tortoise? What to do? There's only one thing for it. The magic lamp is rubbed and the Djinn Abdul summoned. On hearing the story he's not at all perturbed. It's all been foretold. The button-nosed tortoise is, in fact, a magician who created for himself The Land of Green Ginger, a kind of magic, portable garden of Eden growing every herb and spice you'd ever imagine – the magician is rather an epicure you see. Unfortunately, his spell went wrong at the last moment, as they so often do, leaving him a button-nosed tortoise and the Land of Green Ginger floating around the world at will, waiting for the foretold prince, the only one who can break the spell and restore the magician to his normal shape. That prince is, of course, Aladdin's son, and his name is also foretold, it is Abu Ali. And with that, Abdul vanishes, leaving the troublesome Widow Twankey frozen as still and quiet as you could wish her to be. They leave her to ornament the White Lacquer Room of State.
When he comes of age Abu Ali sets out to fulfill the prophecy, to find The Land of Green Ginger, to resuce the magician and to win the hand of the beautiful Silver Bud, daughter of Sulkpot Ben Nagnag, the richest jewellery merchant in all Araby. Like a good hero should, he does so with the dire warnings of Abdul the Djinn ringing in his ears:
"You'll run afoul of the wicked Prince Tintac Ping Foo of Persia, and the wicked Prince Rubdub Ben Thud of Arabia. Don't trust either of them further than you could push a pack of peppercorns up a perpendicular precipice! And, if you DO get into serious trouble – and one invariably does – I'll allow you ONE rub of the lamp. Only one mind! And before you rub it, be sure your need is urgent!"
Of course both villainous princes are dreadfully evil. They steal, they lie, they cheat, but they are both very stupid indeed, one is fat and dense, the other foppi
sh, theatrically camp and spiteful, and they are both terrible cowards. The merchant Sulkpot is a horrid, greedy man who threatens to boil in oil anyone who thwarts him, particularly impoverished suitors for his beautiful, gentle daughter. Aladdin must outwit the princes, the merchant, his guards, a dragon, he must avoid capture and find three feathers from the tail of the Magic Phoenix bird to win the hand of Silver Bud. And all the time he knows that for any of this to happen he must find The Land of Green Ginger and release the magician from his gone-wrong spell. I expect you know already what happens, but I'll pretend not to spoil it by not telling any more.
Oh, but we thoroughly enjoyed the Land of Green Ginger. I'd forgotten all about it until it arrived (uncorrected proof copy you know) through the post. A long time ago I laughed at it with my parents and a short time ago I laughed at it again, with my children. Lovely. From the first few words of welcome which really did make Conor and Kieran believe that it was written just for them, to the last, happy-ending page we had fun reading it. We sneered and poked fun at the Wicked Princes Tintac Ping Foo and Rubdub Ben Thud and we drew theatrically large intakes of breath at every trial and tribulation of our hero, Abu Ali. We shivered at the thought of boiling in oil and we shuddered in fear of the wrath of the genie Abdul. We booed the greedy, nasty Sulkpot Ben Nagnag and we cheered Omar Khayyam the faithful friend. And all the time we laughed. The Land of Green Ginger I think fills you with the magic and fanciful adventure of pantomime and theatre, Conor and Kieran and I almost found ourselves shouting "BEHIND YOU! BEHIND YOU!" as we read. It's a glorious, silly, funny, old-fashioned nonsense of entertainment.
You won't learn anything from it, it won't teach you any worthy lessons and it won't make you ponder the meaning of life, but it will make you laugh,
I promise. And sometimes that really is the most important thing, isn't it? We found the anachronistic language, the capitalisation of just about everything, the endless stressing of just how CROSS, or HAPPY, or SAD the characters were feeling all hilariously funny, but most of all we laughed at the sheer slapstick of the action. Somehow, in Noel Langley's very artifical, very theatrical way of writing that most visual of humours translates perfectly to the verbal. The best of pantomime takes human virtues and failings and renders them through cartoon-like lampooning into something to cheer for, to hiss and boo at and something to make us laugh for all we're worth. The Land of Green Ginger does this, because underneath all the silliness the observation is so accurate. Nasty people, greedy people, selfish people are all perfectly exaggerated into overblown stereotypes and set up for their comeuppance in a way that is equally exaggerated and equally funny but not equally nasty. Some people think that these jokes in pantomime are for the adults but I don't think so. I think that the children understand the humour in satire as easily as the grown-ups and that is why they find the slapstick such fun. Children aren't fools, and a chance to laugh at adult failings is something they will always jump at. Politically correct it ain't, and at first sight The Land of Green Ginger may appear old-fashioned and quaint, but really it's timeless, just as the best jokes are, especially the bad ones. And if you don't like a bad joke, then I'm afraid there's no hope for you.
Faber are reissuing The Land of Green Ginger complete with original Ardizzone illustrations next month and also a full, uncut version of his screenplay of The Wizard of Oz. I managed to get hold of an uncorrected proof copy (I've sources you know), but you can pre-order from Amazon. Go on. It's fun. But before you do…
IT'S BEHIND YOU!
PS - Title is Kieran's, answers on a postcard please!