06 June 2008

Para Bruin and the Mifkets

The Cowardly Lion in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a type L. Frank Baum returned to in several of his other fantasy stories: a big, carnivorous beast who looked frightening but was a real sweetie underneath. At the end of Wizard, the Lion has gained courage and is once again king of beasts, but what's interesting about that? Starting with Ozma of Oz (1907), Baum made the Cowardly Lion cowardly again, or at least fearful, and for good measure added a Hungry Tiger too troubled by his conscience to eat the fat babies he craves.

In John Dough and the Cherub, published between those two Oz books, the fearsome-looking animal is named Para Bruin. John Dough and his young friends meet Para on an island dominated by primitive imps called Mifkets. Here's the scene:

The bear was fat and of monstrous size, and its color was a rich brown. It had no hair at all upon its body, as most bears have, but was smooth and shiny. He gave a yawn as he looked at the new-comers, and John shuddered at the rows of long, white teeth that showed so plainly. Also he noticed the fierce claws upon the bear's toes, and decided that in spite of the rabbit's and the Princess' assurances he was in dangerous company.

Indeed, although Chick laughed at the bear, the gingerbread man grew quite nervous as the big beast advanced and sniffed at him curiously--almost as if it realized John was made of gingerbread and that gingerbread is good to eat. Then it held out a fat paw, as if desiring to shake hands; and, not wishing to appear rude, John placed his own hand in the bear's paw, which seemed even more soft and flabby than his own.

The next moment the animal threw its great arms around the gingerbread man and hugged him close to its body.

John gave a cry of fear, although it was hard to tell which was more soft and yielding--the bear's fat body or the form of the gingerbread man.

"Stop that!" he shouted, speaking in the bear language. "Let me go, instantly! What do you mean by such actions?"

The bear, hearing this speech, at once released John, who began to feel of himself to see if he had been damaged by the hug.

"Why didn't you say you were a friend, and could speak my language?" asked the bear, in a tone of reproach.

"You knew well enough I was a friend, since I came with the Princess," retorted John, angrily. "I suppose you would like to eat me, just because I am gingerbread!"

"I thought you smelled like gingerbread," remarked the bear. "But don't worry about my eating you. I don't eat."

"No?" said John, surprised. "Why not?"

"Well, the principal reason is that I'm made of rubber," said the bear.

"Rubber!" exclaimed John.

"Yes, rubber. Not gutta-percha, you understand, nor any cheap composition; but pure Para rubber of the best quality. I'm practically indestructible."

"Well, I declare!" said John, who was really astonished. "Are your teeth rubber, also?"

"To be sure," acknowledged the bear, seeming to be somewhat ashamed of the fact; "but they appear very terrible to look at, do they not? No one would suspect they would bend if I tried to bite with them."

"To me they were terrible in appearance," said John, at which the bear seemed much gratified.

"I don't mind confiding to you, who are a friend and speak my language," he resumed, "that I am as harmless as I am indestructible. But I pride myself upon my awful appearance, which should strike terror into the hearts of all beholders. At one time every creature in this island feared me, and acknowledged me their king, but those horrid Mifkets discovered I was rubber, and have defied me ever since."
Para's remark about the Mifkets' discovery inspired John R. Neill's endpapers illustration for John Dough. He drew a scene of the imps stretching Para across the breadth of the book--a scene that doesn't appear in the story and must take place before it.

Here's half of that picture, as it appears in my Reilly & Britton copy of John Dough:

The right endpaper shows the other half of this scene. To obtain the whole image, you either need to track down an old Reilly & Britton/Lee copy of John Dough and the Cherub, or order the new Hungry Tiger Press edition.

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