The three puddin’ musketeers

January 26, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Magic Pudding (1918) by Norman Lindsay (1879-1969)

We swear to stand united, Three puddin’-owners bold.

Lindsay_Magic_PuddingLisa chose The Magic Pudding as my Humbook gift for Christmas and receiving a book starring a pudding is kind of spot on for Christmas, isn’t it? She hoped I could read it along with my daughter but alas, no French translation was found. So it’s just me writing about it now.

The Magic Pudding is a traditional Australian children book, featuring Sam Swanoff, Bill Barnacle, Bunyip Bluegum and a Magic Pudding named Albert. He’s a steak-and-kidney pudding with gravy who regenerates himself when eaten. So basically, the pudding-owners can’t starve. The story starts when Bunyip Bluegum decides to leave his home to see the world. Along the road, he meets and befriends with Sam and Bill and they decide to travel together. Their magic pudding is much wanted by Pudding Thieves incarnated by a possum and a wombat. The story is mostly about rescuing the pudding from being stolen. The plot is simple enough to appeal to children and an undercurrent of irony lets adults understand that there’s more to it than the apparent story.

When I discovered Lisa’s pick for me, I thought, “Children lit? Piece of cake!” (Or in this case “Slice of pudding!”) How wrong I was. Firstly, I forgot (again) that Australia is far away and that there are many things about the environment that I don’t know about. So I ended up reading on the kindle and with a tablet in front of me set on Google image where I’d look for pictures of wombats, barnacles, bandicoots, bunyips, kookaburra, flying-foxes, possums and wart-hogs. Secondly, I forgot that Australian English is like Canadian French: same language but lots of different words. The definitions of words in the kindle dictionary would often start with “Early 17th century”, which brought the comparison with Canadian French. (Nincompoop, galore). And of course, there’s slang. Fortunately, Lisa came to my rescue and sent me a link to a website for Australian slang.  In addition, there are Hergé-esque insults like ‘Of all the swivel-eyed, up-jumped, cross-grained, sons of a cock-eyed tinker,’ which are probably very funny with their Captain Haddock style but were lost on me. Plus, there are distorted words like in this sentence

‘You ain’t poisoned, Albert,’ said Bill. ‘That was only a mere ruse de guerre, as they say in the noosepapers.’

I could guess this one but I still wonder how many of them I missed. The text is also full of songs and has a folk-song musical style like here:

Out sprang Bill and Sam and set about the puddin’-thieves like a pair of windmills, giving them such a clip-clap clouting and a flip-flap flouting, that what with being punched and pounded, and clipped and clapped, they had only enough breath left to give two shrieks of despair while scrambling back into Watkin Wombat’s Summer Residence, and banging the door behind them.

I read slowly, trying to hear the musicality in my head.

And last but not least, I forgot how much children literature can be rooted in the quotidian. The book keeps telling about this steak-and-kidney pudding with gravy and I don’t even know what it tastes like. Initially, I thought pudding was a dessert. The mention of steak-and-kidney in a dessert didn’t bother me, after all, English cuisine has the reputation to be weird and I knew about the ingredients of mincemeat. Then, they mentioned the gravy and everything I had imagined about this pudding crumbled.

Reading The Magic Pudding was an unexpected challenge. It made me think again about how hard it is to know about another country without growing up there. Reading this children book reminded me of all the tiny cultural details that build a country and hold a society together. It was also confusing because I guessed that Norman Lindsay was sending messages to the adults through the apparently innocent adventures of the Pudding Owners against the Pudding Thieves. Bunyip Bluegum speaks like an English aristocrat and Sam and Bill came on a ship but speak like sailors –or English criminals deported to Australia? I wonder if they represent the ruling class and the first settlers in Australia. The Pudding Thieves are a wombat and a possum, typically Australian fauna. Do they represent the natives? I couldn’t help wondering about a metaphorical pudding. Wealth in the form of everlasting food is kept by the pudding owners while the others are condemned to try to steal their share…

Even if it’s been a challenging read, thanks Lisa for choosing this book and for answering my questions while I was reading. I feel a bit frustrated because I know that I didn’t understand everything but I’m glad I had the opportunity to read about this classic of Australian literature for children.

  1. January 26, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    It is a pity that the French translation couldn’t be found; because there’s so much idiom and slang, it must have been a lot harder than it was ever meant to be. Still, I think what you have got from it is the sense of Australian irreverence and larrikinism!

    • January 26, 2014 at 1:44 pm

      Translating this is a tough job. You need to preserve the Australian feeling and find the equivalent jokes in French.

      “larrikinism” is in the book and is one of the words I had to check in the dictionary!!

      • January 26, 2014 at 2:51 pm

        Ah well, I am brushing up my school French in preparation for your Humbook which is due any day now, LOL it took me 20 minutes to read one page of Zola’s Le Grande Michu!

        • January 26, 2014 at 3:29 pm

          Philippe Delerm is a lot easier to read than Zola. I picked this one because it’s made of small chapters. You can make pauses between them. I remember it as a pleasant read about all the little pleasures we have in life and that we tend to forget.

  2. January 26, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Surprising that this turned out to be so hard.
    Sounds like it was worth the effort though.

    • January 26, 2014 at 3:28 pm

      It was definitely worth the effort.

  3. Brian Joseph
    January 26, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Great post Emma .

    I always thought that pudding was just a dessert too!

    Though it sounds a bit odd, I actually want to try steak-and-kidney pudding with gravy now.

    • January 26, 2014 at 6:40 pm

      So I’m not the only one to think pudding is a dessert.
      I’m curious too now, you know.

      I suppose you can find some in England but it’ll have to wait. My next trip is more about hotdogs, bagels and cheese cake! :-)

  4. January 26, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    That’s funny because when I started trying to read French on my own outside of the classroom, I started with children’s books. I hate steak and kidney pudding. It’s made with beef suet. I hated it in childhood when the thought of meat turned my stomach and I always tried to hide the bits I suspected of being kidneys. Now I’m vegan, the thought of it is even worse. Bring on the spotted dick, I say!

    • January 26, 2014 at 8:43 pm

      Do you remember which French children books you’ve read? It seems that all the children books I know are English.
      So this pudding is really not a dessert.

      • January 27, 2014 at 11:38 pm

        I can remember one: something about Antoinette being naughty.

        • January 27, 2014 at 11:40 pm

          Must be an old book. All the Antoinettes I’ve heard about are over 60.

  5. January 27, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    It’s interesting to hear this, Emma. I would have thought children’s books would be easier to read, but you’re right, there are often odd references, strange words, and playful rhythms. I bought a Greek children’s book, thinking it would be easy, and can’t make sense of it!

    For steak and kidney pudding, think about a meat pie, but with a soggy, gummy, chewy kind of pastry. British cuisine at its finest!

    • January 27, 2014 at 9:24 pm

      I think I’d pick comics if I wanted to improve in a language. Maybe romance or chick lit can be useful if you can stomach it: predictable plot, limited vocabulary.

      Okay, after yours and Guy’s comments, I’ll leave the idea of this pudding in my imagination. I don’t think it necessary it reaches my tastebuds, after all.

  6. February 5, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Nice review, Emma! Enjoyed reading about your adventure into Australian children’s literature. I love that Captain Haddock-style sentence that you have quoted :) Also loved the discussion on steak and kidney pudding.

    • February 5, 2014 at 10:44 pm

      It’s was a difficult read but I enjoyed it for the opportunity to discover this cult Australian book.
      So, are you tempted by that steak-and-kidney pudding?

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