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Book Review: The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay

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The Magic Pudding hardly needs an introduction. A classic since its publication in 1918, the book has not only graced bookshelves of children and adults around the world, but also inspired Pudding Day (Oct 12th), memorabilia, sculpture, recipes, a stageplay and even a film with John Cleese as Albert the pudding. As for the book, which has never been out of print, it remains as funny, and engaging for children and adults as when it was first published. To celebrate the 90th anniversary of the book, HarperCollins has created a special edition which contains the full story, with rescanned versions of the original artwork and a lovely art deco feel.

This is a sumptuous edition ideal for gift giving – from its lovely sienna typeface, to the rich black and white crayon, pen and washed illustrations and subtle colour background variations. The book has a ribboned bookmark, and lots of additional information from the Angus & Robertson archives, including a new biography by Lindsay’s granddaughter Helen Glad, lots of photographs of Lindsay, his National Trust house in Springwood, information on the book’s original reception, funny cartoons, early reviews, copies of the correspondence between Lindsay and his publishers, and even a few recipes for puddings (though not endlessly replenishable ones).

Of course the main draw of The Magic Pudding is not how beautiful it is, though there’s something to be said for holding a book that’s so, if you’ll forgive the pun, delicious to look at and feel. The real draw is the story, which manages to walk the difficult line between morality and subversiveness, humour and intrigue. It’s a folksy Australian tale with a koala, penguin, sailor, and um, pudding as its main characters. The antagonists are a possum and wombat. The whole thing is fanciful and lighthearted, even as the chase drives the plot along. But there’s just enough tongue-in-cheek wit, and an absurdist (think Lewis Carroll or Roald Dahl if you need a comparison) sense of picaresque fun to make this book work for even the stodgiest grown up:

’The more you eats the more you gets. Cut-an’-come-again is his name, an’ cut-an’-come-again, is his nature.’

The songs, pictures, and verses keep the whole thing light, and the generous use of vernacular makes this an absolute delight to read (more like perform) out loud if you’re a theatrical sort of parent, like I am. 

This is definitely the gift book of the year. If you’ve never read The Magic Pudding before, the time has come to fill the gap. If you’re already a fan, this is a beautiful edition to give to someone you care about, or keep for your library.

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About Magdalena Ball

Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.