Imagined Nations

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I’m reading a kids’ book called ‘Un Lun Dun’ by China Mièville at the moment. It’s a quirky comedy-adventure novel set in a Wonderland-y Londonesque parallel universe, about two children who are pulled into an escapade which involves riding in a flying Routemaster bus, adopting a living milk carton as a pet, and fighting a vaporous foe called ‘Smog’. It’s Mièville’s first novel aimed at younger readers (although he has previously written four novels for adults and won the British Fantasy Writing Award twice), and so far I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

I’ve always liked stories with imagined worlds: Lyman Frank Baum’s ‘Oz’ books with their legendary Munchkin, Gillikin, Quadling and Winkie countries still remain fast favourites of mine; as do the Narnia ones, and any fabled nonsenseland where Lewis Caroll’s Alice appears. But aside from the Harry Potter heptalogy I gobbled up repeatedly during my twenties, and Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’ – another parallel world story set in the fictitious ‘London Below’, which was introduced to me by my old schoolfriend and fellow bookworm, Tracy Norman – I’m afraid to say that I largely abandoned the fantasy genre until Antonia reintroduced me to it three years ago.

I keep saying that I will write my own Oz story one day: I started but then abandoned writing a piece for Antonia called ‘The Kitchen Witch Of Oz’, about a young woman called Piccalilli Womble-Snugglebottom (although she objected to the Snugglebottom part) who had the power to heal people via the cakes she baked; she was also the estranged niece of the deceased Wicked Witch Of The East and ‘the kindest person in all of Oz’ – which was precisely why her aunt disowned her. Piccalilli is, of course, completely unaware that she has any kind of magical powers and this just adds to her charm. I was also going to make her vegan.

My other Oz-y idea was to inject a bit of social realism into the Ozites’ world by having Princess Ozma run away from the palace cross-dressed as a servant boy. Because, despite the fact that Baum’s second book ‘The Marvellous Land Of Oz’ is probably my favourite in the series, I was completely disenchanted with the ending after it is revealed that the missing princess our boy-hero ‘Tip’ has been looking for, is in fact himself, and that he was placed under an enchantment as a baby. If you ask me, Tip settled into his frilly dresses and his new life as Ozma the girl ruler of Oz all too easily regardless of his initial objections at being magically changed into a girl.   So I’d like to write a splinter story where Tip/Ozma goes in search of Glinda the Good to ask her to reverse the magic once again.

I’m on page seventy-six of ‘Un Lun Dun’ now, about to start chapter fourteen which is called ‘Attack Of The Manky Insect’. ‘Curdle’ the pet milk carton has just hurled itself at nasty bearded man in the toga who is trying to capture the goodies… oh dear, suddenly it looks like things could turn sour…

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