on 8 January 2012
[NOTE: I am reissuing my Amazon.com reviews on Amazon.co.uk. This review was originally published on Amazon.com May 16, 2000]
A very eccentric, very British children's story written by Professor Tolkien for his children. Imagine a children's picture book illustrated by the guy who did those two fantasy classics (THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT), involving a man with tall hats and a bad driving record, and a very British feel, and you have MR BLISS It largely shows his distrust turned hatred of things mechanical that destroy the environment. But make no mistake: this is no propaganda track written to slam pollution, it is first and foremost a story for children, his children. It is basically a humourous exploration, beautifully illustrated, of what could go wrong with an unexperienced driver (namely Mr Bliss). Easily the strangest character is a Girabbit, a type of animal invention that must be particular to British society, or even more localised to Tolkien's imagination, for I have never encountered him anywhere else; it has that feel of Britain, so it would not surprise me if it was British and not Tolkien's own invention. However, all of his children's fiction, save THE HOBBIT, has the particular feel. It is a rabbit with a very long neck (hence the name Girabbit, combining Giraffe and Rabbit).
The story is that a man named Mr Bliss goes and buys a Motor Car. Thru the course of the story, he has several interactions with his neighbours and three bears. His acquisition of a motor car is quite disastrous, and momentarily devastating, and in the end Mr Bliss finds the motor-car unnecessarily troublesome, and has "taken a great dislike to it". This attitude he expressed in the unpublished TALES AND SONGS OF BIMBLE BAY. According to Carpenter, his official biographer, Tolkien took a "charge `em and they scatter" method of driving, and was much more daring than was skillful. But here, it is expressed humourously. If any moral can be drawn from it, it is that motor cars are trouble. Afterward, Tolkien takes this attitude and develops it in a much more sophisticated and mature form in THE LORD OF THE RINGS. But this story delights in being for children, and one notable word play is two characters, of which Mr Bliss had an accident with involving his motor car, go into business together, and they call it after their names, which is Day and Knight. It is this type of word play that makes Tolkien's children's fiction notable.
An interesting note about this story is that it was to be originally published back in 1937 or 1938, when THE HOBBIT had been accepted for publication. On the strength of it, Tolkien had submitted several other shorter works, including Farmer Giles, Roverandom, this, and the Quenta Silmarillion proper. Because of the illustrations it proved uneconomical to publish, and was set aside for years and years, a fate Roverandom would also share (sadly).
The edition I have is nicely down, with a facsimile of the original manuscript on the right hand side (while reading it, on the right) and then text on the left side. His illustrations are nicely done, showing Tolkien's skill as a (physically) visionary and not just a literary artist. His style is definitely all his own. Overall, a nicely down story for Children, written by the master of fantasy, J. R. R. Tolkien.
As a side note, the reason I feel this merits five stars is because of the quality of the material; a conventional reason. But also because of who wrote it: a truly top shelf mind. A man of his level helping to entertain children . . . if I am going to read a picture book to my child or children, I'd rather it be Tolkien than anyone else.