Monday, August 9, 2010

1987 - The Whipping Boy

I can remember picking up "The Whipping Boy" as an elementary school reader, probably in the first grade. What I remember of the book is that it was "weird" and not especially enjoyable, which makes sense if one remembers that my definition of a "good book" at that time was "The Black Stallion". Although it was not an "assigned" book (remember this is first grade!) I read it out of obligation to the medal and acknowledgement that I "should". Whatever I thought of the story at the time, the concept of having someone take the punishment of the favored one stuck with me.

In college I had rats. One in particular - a beautiful, sweet, Siamese marked dumbo named Oliver - was the favored. I decided he needed a companion and friend as I started my full time job. From a Craig's list ad, I found a small, runty little brown rat (technically "agouti") for free. No suitable name was found and I referred to him as "The Whipping Boy", as his only job in life was to be a companion to, and make happy my darling little Oliver.

Upon re-reading "The Whipping Boy", I found a short but charming story. Why I didn't like this book as a child, I cannot imagine. Probably a result of reading it too young - yes, I could read and comprehend the words, but could not appreciate the nuances of Prince Brat's transformation and the blossoming friendship between a pauper and a prince. I thoroughly enjoyed my re-read of this book as an adult and understand why it has it's place on many home and school shelves, almost 25 years after it's publication.

After finishing these posts sometimes I look up reviewers comments. On amazon I read this comment from Orrin C. Judd "brothersjuddotcom":

One thing that occurred to me in reading this story is the way that Anglo-American literature turns the traditional fairy tale of mistaken identity on it's head. The emblematic story of European tradition would be the Frog Prince, wherein the royal personage lies buried beneath a facade, but inevitably is discovered and accedes to his birthright. American stories like this one and Prince and the Pauper have as their premise that the regal upbringing has left the heir somehow unfit to rule and only after experiencing life as a commoner can they rightly ascend to power. The contrast obviously owes much to the underlying political philosophy of the respective cultures--the former supporting the idea of nobility being a function of birth, the latter premised on, if not consent of the ruled, at least a requirement of worthiness on the part of the ruler and an informed understanding of the plight of his subjects.

I had never (not being particularly English or Literature driven in school) considered this aspect of the American literature. It's an interesting concept, and one, at least in my limited experience, rings true. In general, I find plots with corrupt leaders and talented commoners infinitely more interesting.

1 comment:

Carolyn said...

I wonder if these "topsy turvy" type stories are significantly more modern that the old ones.

For some reason, reading this, I thought of "Sleeping Ugly," a re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty tale. It was fun and cute, and nice to see the plain girl get hers, but a little disturbing too. For one thing, she wasn't THAT ugly, and for the other, it sort of gave the same message but just slammed the other side and left no room for redemption.

But in this book, it is a skillful handling of the realistic transformation of a spoiled boy prince into a decent fellow.