The Funny Thing, 1929

The Funny ThingOne funny thing about The Funny Thing is that it is actually funny. And funny in exactly the way it means: funny weird. But it isn’t the actual Funny Thing, the “aminal,” who is all that weird. In fact, he’s vain, gluttonous, and selfish in a way we can all recognize as belonging to a classic ass.  And Little Bobo, the selfless and kind mountain man, also embodies a familiar sort of prototype– the good good good guy.  And yet, the relationship between these two pinnacles of familiarity subverts any sort of expected story and births the “funny” tale Wanda Gag gives us.

From the start, Ms. Gag has us all set up for a smiley book. Her character Bobo feeds the little birds and squirrels nut cakes and cheese balls, everyone lives in harmony, etc. Then along comes The Funny Thing. He isn’t cute. He isn’t endearing. Or scary. At first he seems odd.  But then we realize he’s just… a brat. He cannot say but one sentence. He is vain and imbecilic. He’s actually almost off-puttingly monotone. Yet Gag judges him not. He simply exists as a problem for Bobo to solve. Which he does, beautifully. There is no question about Bobo’s role. He is selfless, kind, smart– all qualities of our quintessential hero.

The Funny Thing Turns Up His Nose

Is the Funny Thing then his foe? That’s the funny thing—he isn’t really. Bobo wins, but the funny thing is that the Funny Thing also wins. Yes, he gets duped by Bobo– he is convinced to stop torturing good little children by relinquishing his naughty habit of eating their dolls in favor of a mountain man mish-mash called a Jum-jill. And yet The Funny Thing is personally fed each Jum-jill, beak delivered by a steady stream of birds, as his tail grows longer, his spikes grow shinier, and he grows more and more content. So we do have good, and we do have bad. But the conflict is not between the two. While Bobo is allowed to enact his brilliant solution for the good of all children, Gag allows this Funny Thing no fall and no redemption. He must always be a “funny”, un-understood anomaly of selfishness and simplicity, ducked and subverted. The moral path is unused, unwielded. And perhaps, unnecessary.

The Funny Thing...

…Atop His Mountain

Because the funny thing is, in reading this book, I cannot help but admire Ms. Gag further. Her subtle solution to a problem, wage war on the effect, not the cause, on the problem, not the person, allows for a world in which it isn’t just good people versus bad people. As we all know, the fight is so much more subtle than that. And her fine imagination and her capricious and subtle story-telling bravely couple here with that same dark revelry in the less-than-black-and-white approach to good and bad that makes all her children’s books more powerful. Yes, Wanda, there you go again, reminding us that the same world that makes pansies and pudding allows the wicked witch to roam free.

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