Sunday, April 17, 2011

Book 1: The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey

Well, I made it through book one. Seven more are on the way though.

To begin with, I think I can lay one mystery to rest right now. I know why the Underpants books have such a short shelf life, and no, it's not because they are so perfect that readers tear pages out just to have a keepsake from the reading experience. No, the truth is far more sinister than that. I say sinister because I suspect that this spine cracking reality was brought on intentionally. I don't know whether to put it on Scholastic or Dav Pilkey, but the crux of the issue is Flip-O-Rama. Since Pilkey branded it as his own creation, he has to shoulder a little of the blame here. Allow me to explain.

In chapter 16, humorously titled The Extremely Graphic Violence Chapter, Pilkey introduces his evil brainchild, Flip-O-Rama, providing instructions for the reader on the finer points of viewing his two-page animation technique. It's like something from the old school of animation, you might think. Not quite. This is cleverly disguised instruction in book abuse. Pilkey directs readers to hold open the book by laying their left hand across the seem of the book and pressing until it lays flat. If the book is a paperback edition, this means cracking the book's spine. Basically, that's a death sentence. So that's why my Underpants books never last. They are built to self-distruct. Touché, Mr. Pilkey!

Well, now that that is out in the open, let's get down to the story. I didn't hate it. George and Harold, the real protagonists of the story, were not the living terrors that I thought they would be. They deserved to be expelled from school for their antics and probably had a criminal future, but I've read worse. They don't hold a candle to some of Roald Dahl's little monsters. The principal, Mr. Krupp, was as one-dimensional and boring as every other forgettable, angry school principal in the history of fiction. If you've read one book with a cruel principal, you've read them all. To continue my Roald Dahl comparisons, the Trunchbull would've eaten Mr. Krupp for lunch.

That being said, the book is intended to appeal to the 'absurdity is funny' crowd. I happen to fit in to that crowd. The boys chasing their underwear-clad principal around town while he parades about playing superhero, and all because of a order-by-mail hypnosis ring is funny. The asides Pilkey throws in are subtle and clever. My personal favorite in this volume came courtesy of George just after the robots emerged from the Rare Crystal Shop carrying the stolen crystal. He said, "You know, up until now this story was almost believable." Clever. There is hidden humor for the observant reader. You just have to watch for it.
I don't know if I believe the story is going to maintain its simple humor. Series in this style tend to get tired before the finish, or they give up on being clever and just take a long swim around the toilet bowl to maintain laughs. I don't know where this one is going to end up. I'm hopeful for my own sake that this will be the exception to the rule.

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