THE NON-STOP FEAST OF “THE PUD”

This year sees the 100th anniversary of the publication of Norman Lindsay’s whimsical, satirical, clever, funny and classic book – The Magic Pudding.

It was my favourite book as kid and when I came to read it to my children, and now my grandchildren, I realise that it’s not just a kid’s book. 

Norman, was of course, a grown up, an artist and writer whose naughty nudes and whimsical, clever and controversial art, writings, whimsy, and fine works as an illustrator, model maker, and sculptor, influenced Australian art and literature most of his productive and colourful life. 

Harper Collins have published a handsome centenary edition of The Magic Pudding in a slip case with a print to frame of the terrible trio (Bunyip Bluegum, Sam Sawnoff and Albert, The Pud himself) which is a wonderful collector’s item, or one to re-enjoy or introduce to the next generation of your family. 

I have a great biography of Norman Lindsay – “The Embattled Olympian” by his longtime friend he entrusted to write his life story, John Hetherington. It was published by Oxford University Press (Melbourne Edition) in 1973. I dipped into it to read his references to “The Magic Pudding” and discovered wonderful stories.

Inspiration for Sam

Norman and his older brother (artist Lionel) as young men were struggling artists living in Melbourne when they were offered an unusual job by the management of the Melbourne Aquarium to paint a bold, eye-catching banner above the entrance, featuring sea creatures. 

They laboured over this calico banner for two weeks for the grand sum of two pounds ten shillings. Norman had never seen a penguin before and was entranced by what he called “the little gentleman in the flogger coat.”  He spent hours watching the penguins, and, as we now understand,  these observations were undoubtedly the genesis of Sam Sawnoff the Penguin, one of the star characters in The Magic Pudding he was to write 20 years later. 

It was during the dark years of World War 1 when Norman, yarning after dinner one night at his home in Springwood in the NSW Blue Mountains (now a museum) with a bookish journalist friend, Bertram Stevens, fell into a discussion of children’s stories. 

Stevens maintained that fairies had the strongest appeal to children, which Norman dismissed, maintaining that “The belly rules the infant mind . . . for kids, a story based on food would win every time.” 

Stevens happened to mention this comment to publisher George Robertson (of Angus & Robertson) who told him, “Get Lindsay to write a kid’s book.” Norman dismissed the idea, he had no time for publishers. 

But it was the war years, World War One, which, along with the death of his Dad, had plunged him into a dark hole. So one night Norman started to scribble a kid’s tale to distract himself.

Albert is Born

It was a quirky idea; Albert, the crazy, cranky, walkin’ talkin’ steak and kidney pudding who renewed himself after every meal. 

It took Lindsay as many hard months to write as anything he’d written for adults, perhaps more so, and Norman, as usual, decried his efforts. 

Being the war years the book wasn’t published till 1918 and priced at what was then a dizzying price of one guinea and to Norman’s shock it sold well from the start. Nonetheless Norman said he regretted producing “this little bundle of piffle.”

Perhaps as a “serious” artist, he did not wish to be acclaimed and remembered for a children’s book, but of course, we all know Norman Lindsay was far more.

Nonetheless, his devils, sirens and naughty nudes, live on, but to most of us, Norman’s name will forever remain synonymous with “The Magic Pudding” and surely he can’t knock the notion that he has brought laughter, fascination and a bit of an obsession to anyone who has dipped into the delicious “Magic Pudding”. This book is a family heirloom. No one will pass down a tablet or an Ipad version, this is a real book to be enscribed and treasured for generations. 

DM

“The Magic Pudding” and also a similar centenary edition of “The Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie”  by May Gibbs, are presented in beautiful slip boxes and are published by Harper Collins. $45. Ea. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *