Merced Mayer. Famous creator of those so-loved Little Critter series, as locked to formative years as The Berenstein Bears. Yes, they are pedantic, but necessary for rounding out a picture of Mayer. He wrote for the masses, and he succeeded with the masses. Of course, it isn’t those books that catch one’s attention…
My lovely, wonderful friend, Charlie, brought me One Monster After Another held triumphantly over her head. And well she might have for she hit the nail on the head. Aside from the Critters, Merced Mayer also wrote crazy, fanciful books. And this one’s about monsters. All sorts of monsters hiding just beyond the reach of the eye. You might imagine that it’s sort of hard to mess up a book about monsters, but it’s been done. Luckily, it turns out Mercer Mayer really did have a lovely imagination. And a handy pen to bring it to life. It isn’t always that artist and writer are the same… in fact, it happens rarely. But when it does… Maurice Sendak, Shel Silverstein, and Wanda Gag come to mind. There might be something to this. If the artistic where-with-all and the fanciful mind for the story exist in one place, the harmony between text and art can reach it’s idyllic peak. Certainly the case for Wag, Sendak, and Silverstein… and in this case, also so for Mercer Mayer.
Story: Sally Ann writes a letter to her best friend, Lucy Jane. She puts it in the mailbox, but a Stamp-Collecting Trollusk steals it before the mailman comes, initiating a string of thefts by, yes, one monster after another. The monsters are small and big, the forests and oceans are roiling and alive, and the motion of the story– as it haphazardly hops full circle back to the mailbox of Lucy Jane– provides plot enough. Mayer’s illustrations are colorful and cartoony, and the monsters are not scary. But even so, he touches upon that tender nerve also tickled by shadows in the dark: what lurks just outside of the scope of our eyes? I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: couple the slightly dark or scary with the fanciful and fun and you get a balance that feels frivolous yet true to life. What happens to our world when we are not looking? It’s the very root of imagination.
But the best aspect of this book is Mayer’s dedication to the unexpected haphazardry that one can expect from life. Just when you think something is going one way, a Stamp-Collecting Trollusk comes along and changes everything. And then a Letter-Eating Bombanat changes it again. And a Bombanat-Collecting Grithix again. And again. And again. And those things can be good, just as the letter experiences time and again. And those things can be tragic, just as the sea captain and his crew experience.
At the end of the book Mayer closes the loop of infinite possibility by returning the stolen letter to its intended recipient. Rather than call this a rejection of haphazardry, I’d say he does so in order to preserve imagination, to allow the notion that so many things can happen outside of our scope of seeing. One Monster After Another dwells on that journey of the unexpected, not only opening the door to all the possibilities of imagination but also to all the possibilities of a real world. When Sally Anne’s stolen letter turns out to read “Nothing ever happens around here,” it’s the very irony of this statement that screams, oh hell no, something is indeed always happening. Just wait. Or even better, go find it.