29 May 2006

Pullman and Baum tackle the same scene

Philip Pullman's The Scarecrow and His Servant and L. Frank Baum's The Marvelous Land of Oz both describe boys looking after artificial stick men who are always in danger of losing their heads and other parts. Both books contain a character named the Scarecrow and a character named Jack, though Baum's Jack Pumpkinhead is more like Pullman's Scarecrow than Baum's Scarecrow is. (That sentence makes sense, but only to pumpkinheads.) But the similarity doesn't end there.

Both books contain a scene in which a child pretends to translate between two characters who speak the same language, convincing each that what sounds like intelligible speech from the other actually means something different.

In Pullman's scene, young Jack "interpets" for the Scarecrow and the king of the birds since each is too proud to be sufficiently deferential to the other. Thus, the boy's strategem actually plays a role in the plot, at least of that episode.

Baum's scene is characteristic vaudeville. It has no consequences, and there's nothing at stake but little Jellia Jamb's mischief toward the bigger people. But it's fun.

"Why, it's little Jellia Jamb!" exclaimed the Scarecrow, as the green maiden bowed her pretty head before him. "Do you understand the language of the Gillikins, my dear?"

"Yes, your Majesty, she answered, "for I was born in the North Country."

"Then you shall be our interpreter," said the Scarecrow, "and explain to this Pumpkinhead all that I say, and also explain to me all that he says. Is this arrangement satisfactory?" he asked, turning toward his guest.

"Very satisfactory indeed," was the reply.

"Then ask him, to begin with," resumed the Scarecrow, turning to Jellia, "what brought him to the Emerald City."

But instead of this the girl, who had been staring at Jack, said to him: "You are certainly a wonderful creature. Who made you?"

"A boy named Tip," answered Jack.

"What does he say?" inquired the Scarecrow. "My ears must have deceived me. What did he say?"

"He says that your Majesty's brains seem to have come loose," replied the girl, demurely.

The Scarecrow moved uneasily upon his throne, and felt of his head with his left hand.

"What a fine thing it is to understand two different languages," he said, with a perplexed sigh. "Ask him, my dear, if he has any objection to being put in jail for insulting the ruler of the Emerald City."

"I didn't insult you!" protested Jack, indignantly.

"Tut--tut!" cautioned the Scarecrow "wait, until Jellia translates my speech. What have we got an interpreter for, if you break out in this rash way?"

"All right, I'll wait," replied the Pumpkinhead, in a surly tone--although his face smiled as genially as ever. "Translate the speech, young woman."

"His Majesty inquires if you are hungry," said Jellia.

"Oh, not at all!" answered Jack, more pleasantly, "for it is impossible for me to eat."

"It's the same way with me," remarked the Scarecrow. "What did he say, Jellia, my dear?"

"He asked if you were aware that one of your eyes is painted larger than the other," said the girl, mischievously.

"Don't you believe her, your Majesty," cried Jack.

"Oh, I don't," answered the Scarecrow, calmly. Then, casting a sharp look at the girl, he asked: "Are you quite certain you understand the languages of both the Gillikins and the Munchkins?"


fusenumber8 said...

And now "The Scarecrow and His Servant" is being produced by Aardman Studios. The same folks who brought us "Wallace and Gromit". Worth following.

J. L. Bell said...

Philip Pullman says a cinematic Scarecrow "will be made in due course," which sounds like the book's been optioned but not much more. I think Aardman Studios would be a good match for that book's sensibilities, though I wish Jim Henson were around to have a crack at it.