Monday, 2 January 2012


Charles Roger Hargreaves

Men by Charles Roger Hargreaves

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
T.S. Eliot (from The Hollow Men)

Given that my resolution for 2012 is to read one of the twentieth centuries greatest novel sequences (À la Recherche du Temps Perdu) it seemed appropriate to end this year by reading another institution of twentieth century writing Roger Hargreaves' roman fleuve encompassing men in all their varieties, shapes, appetites and weaknesses.

I decided to finish my 100 book challenge by reading fifteen volumes and I came away having become blissfully lost once again the colourful world contained in these pages. Some volumes express the mundanity of the quotidian life while others soar into the realms of fantasy.

Here we find Meneer Doodsbenauwd repeating "This is the End" and Unser Herr Unmöglich challenging the basis of physics. These old friends have stood up to many rereads in the past and I am glad to report that they still do. Mr. Barus' meeting with the Giant still provokes a change in character that at first seems impossible but there is nothing impossible in this world. When Herra Fyndinn discovers how to make animals laugh I laughed along, aware yet of the fragility of our understanding of the natural world.

As Senhor Saltitão puts on his heavy boots I felt the weight of history, the armies marching to the Somme, the collapse of the domestic under the weight of the military. Bay Akýllý has to face the fact again and again that being the brightest of his generation is not enough to throw light into every corner. Some questions have no answers. Fætter Dagdrøm shows us how the unfettered imagination can overcome the walls of any prison. Anarchy reigns incarnate. Chinese whispers in his own mind leave Monsieur Étourdi a poor sort of Pegasus, his messages mixed and all the more thought provoking for that.

Eternally making tea and toast Don Vago is a modern Prometheus, his volume echoing the method of joyce in Ulysses. The divine replayed as the all too absurd and human. Further mischief with myth is played in Monsieur Farceur, where the hero is surely an echo of the trickster god Loki of Norse mythology.

Gubben Nyfiken's curiosity; Don Calladito's journey from the hubbub of urban life to his refuge amoung books; Monsieur Bizarre's square snowballs; Mr Silly painting leaves, and that book of overreaching ambition Mr Tickle, the start of it all.

For more information on Hargreaves' full series go here.


  1. Extremely clever article! But no matter how I try, I can't help but see the Mr. Men books as indoctrination by the patriarchy -- the female characters being few, look tp be afterthoughts, and being called "Little Miss" in a world of "Mr. Men", puts girls firmly in the second tier, sigh.

    Okay, it accurately reflects the world I grew up in and have worked in (was talking just yesterday about my first boss in Silicon Valley who said he preferred to hire female engineers, asking "Why should I hire men when women work harder and I don't have to pay them as much?"), but I'd like that to change, at least eventually.

    Starting kids out (not you personally--I'm referring to the books themselves, even though I know they are beloved over here) with something so...well...really blatantly sexist (ducks to avoid things that might be thrown), isn't exactly helping.

    Still, it is a very clever review!

  2. No arguments or projectiles from me MEF! I sometimes find myself wondering as I read 'classic' children's books how it is that we allow such sexism into our homes. (Noddy is pretty classic in this regard.) I guess the gloss of nostalgia hides the poison. I seem to get more worked up about bad writing.
    However, the books are nowhere near the sexism of toy shops, with their "Girl's toys" and "Boy's toys".
    Mr Men books can also teach your kids to call you names.
    All the best,
    Mr Greedy