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An Incomplete Manuscript, a Missing Prince, and a Wide-Eyed Hero

"The Purloining Of Prince Oleomargarine" by Mark Twain and Philip Stead with Illustrations by Erin Stead.

Myra here.

There is a different kind of mystery embedded in this manuscript, with its being incomplete (and ok, a ‘purloined’ prince), now completed and reimagined by the inimitable husband-and-wife tandem, Philip and Erin Stead. Mark Twain’s narrative had been pieced together from fragmentary outlines and new life breathed into it by masterful storytellers.

The Purloining Of Prince Oleomargarine

Written by: Mark Twain and Philip Stead Illustrated by: Erin Stead
Published by: Doubleday Books for Young Readers (2017)
ISBN: 0553523228 (ISBN13: 9780553523225). Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

I read Mark Twain as a child: The Adventures Of Tow Sawyer, The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn, The Prince And The PauperPerhaps there is something about the word “adventure” in the title that made me, as a reader, anticipate being transported to worlds different from my own. I loved Twain’s humour, the twists in the narrative, the seeming-simplicity of how the wicked always get their comeuppance in the end.

When I saw this book at the library while browsing the shelves, I was over the moon. Apparently, the Steads have pieced together fragments of Twain’s notes and outlines from an unfinished story, and came up with this gorgeous work of art, with Erin Stead’s signature comforting-and-cool-pastel hues. Yet, the style is also reminiscent of Twain’s other works – particularly the announcements and proclamations (see below):

While the story’s title indicates the name of the “purloined” or the “stolen” or well, missing (not to mention insufferable) Prince Oleomargarine, it is actually the young Johnny who is the hero in the story; him, and his chicken named Pestilence and Famine. The King is depicted to be petty, vain, and self-absorbed; the Queen as long-suffering, wise, patient and kind.

I was jarred, initially, by the interruptions in the narrative – a style that Philip Stead has adopted to indicate the transitions in the story, and where his thoughts begin and Twain’s ended. However, I just allowed the tale to take me where it will, because I knew as a reader that I was being led by master storytellers and artists at the top of their game.

I won’t reveal much about the plot, but the image above should give one an idea of how there is a hugeness to the smallness of the story, and at the same time seeing the universe in the small – exactly how Mark Twain has always made me feel as a reader.

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

1 comment on “An Incomplete Manuscript, a Missing Prince, and a Wide-Eyed Hero

  1. Pingback: [Saturday Reads] Round Up of My Literary Journey and My Best in Books Across Quarterly Reading Themes – Gathering Books

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