April 05, 2007


Little Fur: A Fox Called Sorrow. By Isobelle Carmody. Random House. $14.99.

Mr. Chickee’s Messy Mission. By Christopher Paul Curtis. Wendy Lamb Books. $15.99.

      The saga of Little Fur, a small, fuzzy, humanoid creature who is half elf and half troll, the size of a three-year-old human child, with slanted green eyes, pointed ears and bright red hair (and who will irresistibly remind at least some readers of a Tolkienian hobbit), moves into its second phase with A Fox Called Sorrow. In the first book of this ecologically sensitive series, The Legend Begins, Little Fur bowed to the wisdom of Sett Owl and went to the world of humans, where she had to find out who was destroying the trees on which so many lives depend. In this followup, Little Fur goes her way, doing good deeds while trying to mediate disputes (between owls and crows, for example), and eventually meets the fox of the title, who has come to ask Sett Owl how to perish: “I wish to die, but my instinct to live chains me to life. I want to know how I can overcome my instinct.” Sett Owl replies that she cannot help the fox overcome the instinct, “but perhaps I can suggest a way for you to find death.” That way is by joining an expedition to Underth to find out the plots of the Troll King. And so the fox – whose name, of course, is Sorrow – sets out with an expedition that, also of course, includes Little Fur, now called Healer but unable to heal the soul-sickness that leads Sorrow to wish to die. The cat Sly figures in their journey as well, though without being part of the group itself, and there is a great deal made of the evil of humans who despoil the Earth. It turns out, not surprisingly, that Sorrow’s trauma is traced to humans, too, and there are dangers as well from the Troll King, “clever and subtle and patient” and deep in hatred of the Earth Spirit – and, it turns out, able to make his own use of human evil. The humans who will read this book will be charmed as much by Isobelle Carmody’s lovely illustrations of the characters as by the story itself, but the unremittingly dark view of the human race as a whole somewhat undermines the pleasure of reading about Little Fur’s and Sorrow’s brave quest.

      Mr. Chickee’s Messy Mission is as light as A Fox Called Sorrow is dark. Christopher Paul Curtis’ book is a sequel to Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money, which introduced the Flint Future Detectives in a romp centered on a quadrillion-dollar bill. This time, the detectives – Richelle, Russell and Steven – trace the mysterious Mr. Chickee into a different universe, which they find after Russell’s dog, Rodney Rodent, leaps at a painting and goes into it. Curtis has clearly decided to have as much fun as possible in the Mr. Chickee books. “Run out of here like we’ve got half a brain,” suggests Russell at one point, but the other Future Detectives veto that eminently sensible idea (and a good thing, too, or the story would have been much shorter). Readers of Mr. Chickee’s Messy Mission will encounter “twenty-seven soup-can-height people,” a list of people who all seem to have the word OUT as their last name, a house’s porch with a sign that explains that “to gain entry you must be a fictional character in a play, story, novel, song, or poem created by a yoursider,” and lots of strange chapter titles (such as “You Must Be Hairy Plodder’s Mommy!”). The book is lacking in plot – it is essentially a series of amusing short scenes that follow each other with only occasional forays into logic, a structure that can become a bit tedious after a while. But if you are simply looking for fun and some well-written absurdity, by all means join the Flint Future Detectives as they try to, among other things, “track down and destroy the Ursa Theodora-Saura…the pit bull of bears. A creature so ferocious that even rocks and trees get up and run when it comes near.” Oh, and keep an eye out for the Cannibal Cloud of Kenjiro.

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