Thursday, March 21, 2013

536. The Book of “O” – James Thurber

History: The Wonderful O is the last of James Thurber’s 5 short-book fairy tales for children. It was published in 1957
Plot: Pirates Black and Littlejack have sailed their ship, the Aieu1, to the island of Ooroo in search of treasure. The catch? (and the source of the book’s title?): Littlejack has declared a vendetta against the letter O, as his mother became stuck in a porthole years before. They could not pull her in, so they had to push her out.While they search, Black, Littlejack and their nefarious crew insist that the island residents no longer use the letter O, either spoken aloud or on paper, a move which affects the population across the board. Group names are partially exempt, but the quest is on for O-less synonyms for all the flowers and orchestral pieces, professions, jobs, and personal names rendered laughable, unpronounceable and flat-out offensive by Littlejack’s vowel phobia. Violin, oboe, viola and bassoon are gone from the orchestra; forget-me-not, rose, violet and hollyhock removed from the countryside; Otto Ott and Ophelia Oliver stutter and flee society. Pigs and sheep are acceptable, but not pork or mutton, bacon or chop; hens and geese are allowed but not poultry or goose, rooster or flock. And so on.
The villagers, led by the lovers Andrea and Andreus, conspire in the forest in the dark of night on how to restore all the necessary things which require O to exist, not least four concepts which make life worth living: hope, love, valor and the fourth one, unnamed until the end of the book. The Wonderful O does have a happy ending, with the pirates driven away by all the things with O, and the islanders free to use all the vowels as needed.
Review: Black and Littlejack are bad men. Littlejack has a map that indicates the existence of a treasure on a far and lonely island. He needs a ship to get there. Black has a ship. So they team up and sail off on Black’s vessel, the Aeiu. “A weird uncanny name,” remarks Littlejack, “like a nightbird screaming.” Black explains that it’s all the vowels except for O. O he hates since his mother got wedged in a porthole. They couldn’t pull her in so they had to push her out.
Black and Littlejack arrive at the port of the far and lonely island and demand the treasure. No one knows anything about it, so they have their henchmen ransack the place—to no avail. But Black has a better idea: he will take over the island and he will purge it of O.
The vicissitudes visited on the islanders by Black and Littlejack, the harsh limits of a life sans O (where shoe is she and woe is we), and how finally with a little luck and lots of pluck the islanders shake off their tyrannical interlopers and discover the true treasure for themselves (Oh yes—and get back their O’s)—these are only some of the surprises that await readers of James Thurber’s timelessly zany fairy tale about two louts who try to lock up the language—and lose.
Opening Line: “The man with the map, and the man with the ship sailed for the island rich with sapphires, emeralds and rubys.”
Closing Line: “The sun went down, and it’s golden glow, lighted with fire, the Wonderful O.”
Quotes: “Taking a single letter from the alphaber," he said, "should make life simpler."
Rating: Not very good even for a fairy tale.  

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