I don’t know why the classic Aussie children’s book The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay passed me by in childhood. As an adult, the Norman Lindsay I knew was the painter of risqué female nudes (immortalised in the film Sirens) that shocked the prim and proper folk between the wars. I had no idea he had written novels and children’s books.
Then, like London buses, references to it kept popping up: firstly in Jane Gleeson-White’s Australian Classics, in a newsletter published by the Australian Society of Authors, and as one of the top ten picks of the reading public for the ABC First Tuesday Book Club’s ‘ten Aussie books to read before you die’ list, by which time I had already picked it up for a change of pace.
And what a fabulous time I had acquainting myself with the savvy koala Bunyip Bluegum, the pugilist Bill Barnacle, the sidekick penguin Sam Sawnoff, and the cantankerous pudding that never runs out no matter how much of it is eaten!
It’s an absurd rollick as the band of four travellers fall prey to the wily, well-disguised and recalcitrant puddin’ stealers. Alongside, there is a raft of other characters our travellers meet, such as Finglebury Flying-fox, who, outraged after being measured by Bill on suspicion of being a puddin’ stealer, says ‘I shall have the Law on you for this, measuring a man in a public place without being licensed as a tailor.’
Further along they come to the town of Tooraloo, ‘one of those dozing, snoozing, sausage-shaped places where all the people who aren’t asleep are only half awake…’. They’re (again!) set upon by the puddin’ stealers, but this time they are ready for them. They cause a bit of a scene, at which point the pompous mayor and lily-livered constable debate about who will read them the Riot Act, only to find that neither of them have the Act in their possession. The resulting courtroom scene is classic farce and great fun.
The story is interspersed with an abundance of verses which are sung with gusto by whomever is making their point. The sailors’ ditty Salt Junk Sarah, a song with no beginning and no end recurs throughout.
There is also a wealth of wonderful drawings, done by Lindsay himself, and though they were black and white in this edition, they’re still a joy.
Norman wrote the story after betting a friend that children loved food and fighting more than they did fairies. Out of the peculiar Lindsay kitchen came this gem, much loved by so many Australians.
And not just Australians: Philip Pullman, author of the wildly successful His Dark Materials trilogy, has been quoted as saying ‘The Magic Pudding is the funniest children’s book ever.’ It’s hard to disagree.
I’m not sure what books parents read their kids these days, but The Magic Pudding, (even with all the fisticuffs!), is a delight and should be on every bookshelf.
The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay
Source: the local municipal library