Wednesday, March 21, 2012

E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth’s Core!

Regular readers know my affection for all things William Joyce and The Guardians of Childhood, his on-going project of picture books and children’s novels.  Now just in time for Easter, Joyce returns with his second-ever novel in the series, E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth’s Core!

With the Guardians series, Joyce hopes to create an entire cosmology that incorporates all of the beloved figures of childhood: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Mother Goose and the Tooth Fairy, among them.  To create a backstory, Joyce has conceived of a cosmic battle bringing together all of these figures into opposition against Pitch, also known as the Boogeyman.  The first novel in the series, Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King, laid much of the groundwork and introduced us to North (who will later become Santa Claus), the wizard Ombric, the girl Katherine and the robotic Djinni.

Now that much of the necessary exposition is out of the way, Joyce jumps into this installment with a great deal of dash and a sense of high adventure.  In E. Aster Bunnymund, the children of Santoff Claussen are kidnapped by Pitch, and Katherine, Ombric and North band together to travel to the earth’s core to rescue them.  On the way, they enlist the help of the last of the fabled brotherhood of Pookas, the seven-foot tall warrior rabbit E. Aster Bunnymund. 

The initial relationship between the giant rabbit and Santa is one of petty bickering and snide remarks.  Though E. Aster Bunnymund is a tough egg to crack, he and North form an alliance that will clearly create the foundation of what will be a league of great children’s heroes.

William Joyce (born 1957) is, of course, the Academy Award winning author and film-maker.  His heartbreaking The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore was one of the more delightful and moving shorts of recent memory.  As is often the case with Joyce, part of the great delight is to track his many, varied and often uniquely intertwined pop culture inspirations.  Joyce’s imagination is like a great attic filled with comics, old TV shows, pulp novels and adventure stories, toys and Americana, and tumbled and jumbled together until it forms something uniquely its own.  Part of the great fun is running a mental finger down the line of his inspiration and watching him tickle the source.

E. Aster Bunnymund, with his large ears, inter-species bickering and snide comments about “humans” obviously is Joyce’s nod to Star Trek’s Mr. Spock.  And much of the backstory for The Man in Moon (with his super-science Golden Age later destroyed in a cataclysmic space explosion) harkens back to Superman, as does Ombric’s inability to alter events of the past.  Joyce also provides a delicious echo of Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles when he closes a chapter with, “Mr. North,” he said with dramatic relish.  “They were the ears of a gigantic rabbit.”

The most significant influence in the current book is, of course, Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950), author of several ‘Scientific Romances” set in the earth’s core.  (Burroughs so loved the earth’s core that he even set one of his later Tarzan novels there!)  In a neat bit of homage, Joyce employs Burroughs’ method of plotting by splitting his heroes into three separate narrative threads that meet in the closing chapters, and by creating a magnificent “vehicle of wonder” to get our heroes to the earth’s core: the rabbit’s wonderfully realized egg train, much like the Iron Mole in Burroughs’ novels.

Joyce pulls all of these tricks with great humor and elan.  This book is filled with delightful little throw-aways (books in Ombric’s library, for instance, include The History of Levitation While Eating and Mysteries of Vanishing Keys), and his chapter titles are a hoot (consider The Bookworm Turns or the chapter on warrior eggs called The Mad Scramble). 

But what impresses the most is not just Joyce’s narrative drive and endless invention and good humor, but his deep and committed belief in the world he has created.  Despite his pop culture references, Joyce is no ironist and his work is devoid of snark and sarcasm.  It is a fully realized universe created by a man with a mission – and we can feel Joyce’s commitment on every page.  It’s a remarkable performance.

If you do not already own a copy of E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth’s Core!, then hop to it!