Wit and magic in a mythical world; The Chronicles of Pantouflia, by Andrew Lang. Illustrations by Jeanne Titherington. Boston: David Godine $10.95.
And lo, a collection of whimsical and enchanting stories appeared from the quill of Andrew Lang. "The Chronicles of Pantouflia" records many traditions and events of thay mythical kingdom (which at one time was somewhere near the Danube River). Since the author had limited access to the Historical Papers of the kingdom, he confines himself to relating legends about Prince Prigio and his son, Ricardo.
Ostensibly written for young people, these recitals of capricious adventure are enjoyable on two levels: Adult reader's eyes will twinkle at the dry British humor. Moreover, Mr. Lang's writings are washed in his quite erudite knowledge of folklore, myths, and history.
In the first grouping of stories the good fairies give Prigio many wondrous gifts at his christening; one horried fairy saddles him with the curse of being too clever. The queen is much too sensible to believe in sprites or accept the kingdom's historical accounts of the wee folk and magic, so the tosses the dozen-plus bewitching items in a locked turret. While growing up, too-clever Prigio is a smug know-it-all. Devoid of empathy or imagination, he alienates everyone. But one day he discovers the magical items that enable him to accomplish astounding feats such as conjuring metamorphoses and restoring iced knights in armor to life. As the story develops he mends his earlier shortcomings, wins his lady, cloaks his excesive cleverness, and treats others with consideration.
The second grouping, "Prince Ricardo of Pantouflia (being the Adventures of Prince Prigio's son)," offers different twist. Even in Pantouflia, parents occasionally err in making life too easy for their offspring. So immersed is Ricardo in using magical gifts to solve dilemmas that he neglects skill development and personal talents. Rather than tending to his humdrum duties and his geography and mathematics studies, Ricardo dashes and darts from one exciting exploit to another until his father decides to teach him a lesson.
The moral in the series, though charmingly diffused, is clear: Successful living requires a balance of diligence, pragmatic skills, learning, and the enriching joy of fantasy and a cultivated imagination.
Mr. Lang adroitly captures the essence of 18th-century syntax so the stories ripple from description to dialogue and back with rarely a burble in the cadence. He impishly slips in delightful jabs, pricks, and satirical remarks on the foibles of human nature, especially kingly ways. In all likelihood, Mr. Lang will probably claim that his fantasy folk revealed their own tales. But experts who enjoy dissecting the writings of others, finding esoteric allusions, double foreshadowings, and items of similar ilk, will find themselves in Elysian fields.
Jeanne Titherington's mystical black-and-white drawings have beautiful captured the tenor of the text.