I knew when I read Frank Muir’s version of The Three Little Pigs, illustrated by Graham Philpot, that I had to do a special tribute to their unique way of retelling fairy stories that literally turned the tales over on their head – upside down, sideways and rolling over on the floor in absolute hilarity. This also seems the perfect book to share with the regulars over at Book Talk Tuesday hosted by Kelly Butcher at the Lemme Library.
It was difficult for me to get hold of their two other books: Frank Muir retells Jack and the Beanstalk and Frank Muir retells Goldilocks and the Three Bears but thanks to the highly efficient community libraries in Singapore, I was able to gain access to these books even if they are in a different part of the town where I am in. I also thought that this 3-in-1 special would be a fitting end to our Fractured Fairy Tale theme this July and August.
The Humorous Story of a Piglet… Another Piglet… and Yet Another Piglet
Good Friday Babies and Frustrated Musicians. While we are all quite familiar with the story of The Three Little Pigs – Frank Muir has managed to enliven the story – so much so that it is an entirely new narrative altogether despite its having all the original elements in place (three pigs: check; house made of straw, twigs, and bricks: check; big bad wolf: check; huffing and puffing: check again).
I would even dare claim that this has made my belly ache with laughter even more than the original story did – although the latter, technically is not really meant to be funny, but more of a cautionary tale, as is the wont of fairy tales, for young children. I can not remember a time when my daughter and I could not stop laughing hysterically over a book – save for perhaps, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.
In this story, we are introduced to three piglets who had the misfortune of being born on Good Friday and so their mother named them: Hot, Cross, and Bun:
Bun was a girl. She was shaped rather like a bun – comfortably round – and she was never – well, hardly ever – either quarrelsome or bad-tempered. She looked after her brothers without letting them know that she was looking after them. And Bun did think. She was really good at thinking.
A girl piglet who happens to be smart, pleasant, and knows how to take care of the boys – without making them feel disempowered – sounds like the perfect female indeed!
They were asked to leave by their mother who could not stand the racket they are making when the three little pigs decided to start their own band after glueing together the smashed-up instruments of a famous pop group who happened to perform in their local theater. Inspired by this guitar-smashing pop-rock-band – the three pigs felt that their future lay in the creation of ear-splitting noise… err… music (do I hear teenage angst, anyone?). Mama Pig put her foot down and screeched:
‘I CAN’T STAND IT ANY LONGER!!!’ their mother screamed at them one day (she had rammed apple cores into her ears but the noise was still dreadful). ‘You’ll have to go off and practise somewhere else!’ she said. ‘All the neighbours are complaining! The ginger cat next door has left home for good and a framed photograph of Mrs Bunny’s granddad in his Fire-Brigade helmet fell off the wall and smashed. Build yourselves a rehearsal room deep in the forest. Then you can make as much noise as you like!’
The [Trying-to-be] Big Bad Wolf with the Lisp. And here we get introduced to Bean Bag Wolfy (who can not frighten a flea even if he tried) – a far cry from our usual sinister, manipulative, wily Wolf of old.
The pigs’ relocation in the heart of the forest, while bringing a much-needed reprieve to their old village and their neighbours, has become a veritable curse to the creatures who live in the forest. A moth-eaten old owl is aghast at the noise that the three pigs are creating; an elderly badger is grumbling because he retired to the forest for peace and quiet; while a shrill small, unidentified bird resolved to complain to the Queen of England herself. The matter was resolved with quiet and feline dignity by the Brown Burmese Cat who was on a holiday from Cheltenham High School for Girls and believed to be Highly Intelligent. She decided that the only way to get rid of the pigs was for the Bean Bag Wolf (yes he was voted Furry Friend of the Year and is so cuddly and sweet and nice) to frighten them away.
What made my daughter and I double over with laughter was the Wolf’s attempts to scare the pigs off and blow their house down:
The B.B. Wolf crept up to the window, peered in, pulled his best nasty face and growled hideously.
The little pigs were tuning their instruments and not looking at the window so they missed the Wolf’s performance.
‘This is your tewwifying enemy, Wolf, bellowing!’ bellowed the Bean Bag Wolf through the window in his best nasty voice. ‘Leave the fowest at once or I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down!’
But the piglets had begun playing again and did not hear him.
B.B. Wolf huffed and he puffed and he blew with all his might. (He then came over faint and had to have a sit-down.)
The straw house blew to the ground.
If our BB Wolf had so much trouble with the straw house, imagine his struggle, his pains, his absolute fwustwatiown with the Wolf-pwoof Bwick House.
Bean Bag Wolfy and the Pork Scratchings. BB Wolf could not stop blaming himself and feeling like a total failure for not being able to frighten three pig-musicians out of the forest. Our Feline Mistress, then, asked the Wolf to pull himself together and to climb down the chimney to once and for all frighten off the three pigs – who miraculously, seem to be actually improving quite well with all their non-stop rehearsals – all they need is a lead singer and their band is complete.
Meanwhile, the wolf continues to struggle in the modern narrow chimney and is having trouble wriggling his way downwards, causing him to howl piteously in sheer panic:
Down below, Bun pricked up her ears. ‘That voice!’ she cried. ‘That mournful howl of misery! That’s our sad singer!’
And so the ‘Bean Bag Wolfy and the Pork Scratchings’ is formed – to the absolute delight of the forest animals. BB Wolf has found the one good thing he would be known for (their records sold millions in a week’s time) – cool songs and mournful howling tunes.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears:
The Exciting Story of a Small Bear… a Medium-Sized Bear… an Enormous Bear… and a Young Girl with Problem Hair
Meet Wonkybonce, the Little Girl with the Problem Hair. If you thought that Goldilocks started off her life with streaky sunny blonde locks, you are gravely mistaken, dear readers. Frank Muir has revealed the gruesome truth behind those golden locks (ladies with rebonded, highlighted hair, rejoice and unite!) – Goldilocks was not always picture perfect, nosiree. In fact she was called Wonkybonce:
She was known as Wonkybonce because her bonce (an old word meaning head) was wonky (an old word meaning wonky): the girl had Problem Hair. Yards and yards of it. And it was not only a nasty colour – off-black with dun-coloured streaks – but it was wild and tangled.
Wonkybonce HATED her hair. She hated it with a capital HAY.
When she was tiny she had longed for long golden locks, silky and shining in the sun but she grew up with a mop of hair as unkempt as a carthorse’s ankle and the disappointment changed her from a nice child into a little horror.
This misfortune is compounded by the fact that Wonkybonce’s father, a very wealthy and important businessman, could not even remember her name in the few spare times that they get to see each other – while her mother happens to be a timid, miserable, old woman who seems to be hungry all the time. It is no wonder that she grew up to be a wicked little girl who tells fibs in school – causing her to be expelled from Mrs Thunderbag’s Academy for Gentlefolk. To add insult to injury, the Headmistress is suing her father for three million pounds for damages caused by Wonkybonce’s telling her classmates that “mice grew up to be dogs. And dogs grew up to be horses. And horses grew up to be elephants.”
It does appear that Wonkybonce’s misfortune would simply go on and on and on. Her father, upset with her hair and her lies in school, has decided to sell her to the grave-digger’s wife for five shillings who happens to be looking for a kitchen maid. This was too much for Wonkybonce who released all the anger, all the pain, all the anguish within her small little frame with a terrific scream that was heard eight miles away:
Hearing it, the harbourmaster at London docks raised Tower Bridge.
Fourteen horses bolted in Hyde Park and unseated fourteen pretty young ladies, who were lifted back on to their feet by fourteen young Brigade of Guards officers from Knightsbridge Barracks (within a year there were fourteen marriages).
Every bit of glass in Wonky’s house shattered. The windows, the maid’s glass eye, all shattered. The huge engagement ring which Wonky’s father had given to her mother, and which he had told her was the most valuable diamond in the world, cracked right across.
With such power, Wonkybonce was able to demand fifty pounds from her horrid father to begin her life alone and to start her off into the world. And so this is where she chanced upon:
Boris, Doris, and Horace: The Flying Fleabags – the Three kind-hearted bears who had their minds set on being circus acrobats. Here, the familiar elements of Goldilocks and The Three Little Bears can be clearly seen with Wonkybonce making a full nuisance of herself in the flying fleabags’ home: eating their porridge, ruining Little Bear’s chair, and sleeping in his bed.
Unfortunately for the three bears, they were unable to kick Wonkybonce out because all she needed to do was to open her mouth and scream and seagulls would fall down dead and street lamps crack and fade out. Such fierce loneliness, self-loathing and overwhelming sense of alienation – look at the power that one’s hair can yield.
Crowning Glory and Golden Ringlets. This went on for a tediously long time until the three bears saw their chance one summer day while Wonkybonce was sunbathing in the see-saw. You have to recall that they are not really bad hosts, nor do they have any malicious intent – they simply had enough of the horrid little girl for a while. And so they simply plummeted down with a huge THUMP on the other end of the see-saw. Truly, they meant no harm, I sensed that while I was reading the narrative. In fact, they were so guilt-ridden and grief-stricken that they hurried in the direction of Wonkybonce’s fall: Dibbledyke’s Dye Works. And lo, and behold, see what they found:
Wonkybonce serendipitously fell into Bleaching Vat No. 4 turning her into this sunshine-haired little girl with the ringlets kissed by the stars. Naturally, she joined the circus act of Boris, Doris, and Horace who now became better known as: Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
Jack and the Beanstalk
The Fantastic Story of a boy… his mother… and a strange vegetable
On English Names, Broken-down cottages, and Single-Parent Households. Frank Muir, being one of the most beloved comedians in UK, may be among the few who could get away with cutely-rendered snide remarks here and there about the names of Old English Villages, as could be seen in the first part of his version of Jack and the Beanstalk:
Once upon a time, long, long ago, when people believed that the earth was flat and that there was a brick wall round the edge with notices saying ‘Don’t Go Any Further Or You’ll Fall Off”; that long ago, there was – and still is – a village near the river Stour in Kent named Pluck’s Gutter (all villages in Old England had beautiful names).
In a broken-down cottage in Pluck’s Gutter lived a poor young widow named Harrowgate Toffee. Harrowgate had a small son, Jack, who had thick black eyebrows and a grumpy face.
Similar to the first two books, this one has a completely different twist to the narrative – with the mother portrayed as soft-hearted, continually teary-eyed, and too much of a pushover to discipline her son who happens to be a little bully. Jack’s father is described to have “sort of died”:
He was frying some chips for his dear wife’s tea and the frying pan caught fire so he flung it out of the window. A bent old lady was passing at the time collecting firewood and the hot frying pan caught her on the ear.
Covered in confusion and French-fried potatoes, the old woman screeched ‘Lobby wango Beelzebub POOOOOOO!’, pulled a thick branch of elm out of her bundle of firewood and hit Treacle over the head.
There was a flash of lightning, a clap of thunder and a frightening smell of spinach. And huge, gentle, kindly Treacle very slowly vanished.
And this explains the father’s absence-slash-disappearance-slash-kind-of-death-but-not-quite. I was not too taken with the notion of Jack’s tyranny being attributed to father-absence and lack of maternal control, but hey, this is a fairy tale, so moving on…
The little tyrant with the Straightened-Out Trombone Bean-shooter. Jack is depicted to be this nasty little boy who happens to enjoy bullying animals much smaller than himself (in psychology, we see this as the beginnings of… not-so-good behavior, aka nasty). It has reached the point where he used his new trombone as a super gun (with beans as his pellets) to knock hens over (which caused them to stop laying eggs). He also managed to hit cows in the ribs, making them leap in the air in anger, causing them to stop giving milk. And so penniless, hungry, and with nothing else to their name except misery (and the godforsaken name Frank Muir has given them), Jack was sent by his mother to sell their cow for them to have some food on their table. And we know what happens after that as could be seen in the image below:
Happily Never Afters. While I enjoyed the first two books more than this one – it retains its own distinct charm – with the beanstalk going all the way out into the galaxies. And the lovely twist about the nature of the giant and the hag that keeps his house in the castle above the clouds – is something that you’d have to discover for yourself. The narrative also shows that glorious ‘the-ends’ may vary from one character to the next – what is amusing is that in Frank Muir’s retelling, each one gets their comeuppance.. err. happily never after – given their own predilections and definitions of ‘happiness.’
About Frank Muir and Graham Philpot
I did not know about Frank Muir until we had this fractured fairy tale theme and I chanced upon his Retelling of The Three Little Pigs during the Singapore Library Warehouse Sale. I suppose that this is one of the best things about having bimonthly themes, we really get introduced to authors and illustrators that we would not know otherwise.
As I was looking for resources regarding Frank Muir, I found this fascinating Memorial Blog devoted to Frank Muir created by Ebony McKenna. It contains a wealth of information about Frank’s biography, his collected works, and his What-a-Mess series of books. Apparently, Frank Muir is not only a children’s book author, he was also one of the highly-respected comedy writer in UK and one of their best-loved funny men (source here).
Graham Philpot, British author and illustrator, was born in Ipswich, Suffolk. He credits his Junior High School Teacher, Mr. Furbank for recognizing his genius in drawing. He has gone on to illustrate a number of book covers including the classic “Stuart Little” by E.B. White, and has done full illustrations of many books including Frank Muir’s Fairy Story Trilogy. If you wish to know more about him, click here to be taken to his official website.
Frank Muir retells The Three Little Pigs Illustrated by Graham Philpot. Conran Octopus Limited, London, 1993. Bought my own copy of the book from the Singapore Library Warehouse Sale.
Frank Muir retells Goldilocks and the Three Bears Illustrated by Graham Philpot. Conran Octopus Limited, London, 1992. Book borrowed from the community library.
Frank Muir retells Jack and the Beanstalk Illustrated by Graham Philpot. Conran Octopus Limited, London, 1992. Book borrowed from the community library.