Monday, February 12, 2018

Celebrating The Pedant and the Shuffly

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of The Pedant and the Shuffly, the second book of John Bellairs and his second collaboration with illustrator Marilyn Fitschen. The short, 79-page illustrated fable details the encounter of the two titular characters: the pedantic wizard Snodrog, who submits logic traps to his fellow countrymen to transform their weak-minded bodies into linen napkins, and the fury, mop-topped creature known as the Shuffly, whose cheery and playful mindset constantly circumvents the Snodrog's best laid plans.

 The book stands out as unique in Bellairs's bibliography: it arguably is his first to feature supernatural elements, it is completely illustrated unlike any book to follow, and the text has a flowery prose that isn’t hard to miss.
  • "Snodrog laughed, but his laughter was like lead washers being dropped down a storm sewer grate."
  • "On nights when the moon was a lost pale pizza floating above the quivering treetops...."
  • "One day, when the sun was like a milk bottle cap that has unaccountably gotten covered with tinfoil...."  

Bellairs came up with the story after his years in academia, be it various teaching positions or his past six years as a graduate student at the University of Chicago.  There's actually a little of bit of Chicago throughout the book:
  • Snodrog's name is derived from the backwards spelling of a former Chicago eatery, Gordon's, located at 1321 East 57th Street. What transpired here to warrant commemoration is uncertain.
  • Once Snodrog was defeated, Sir Bertram and the Shuffly visit an all-night tavern that Fitschen says was probably the Woodlawn Tap, itself the the closest bar within walking distance of the university.  Jimmy's, as regulars fondly called the bar, attracted a diverse clientele - artists, students from the university, construction workers, and Nobel Prize winners - and one of Bellairs's acquaintances, Brian Kenny, says that if one visited Jimmy's today, "one could listen to apocryphal stories from people there that are probably still working toward their Ph.D. having started in the 1960s."
There is one more Chicago thing to tell about this tale and we'll sniff that one out next time.