Where is the Land of Green Ginger?

Nowhere, of course, because it doesn’t exist.

Except in the mind of Beatrix Potter.

In the land of Green Ginger there is a town called Marmalade, which is exclusively inhabited by guinea-pigs.

They are of all colours and of two sorts–the common ordinary smooth-haired guinea-pigs who run errands and keep green grocers shops–and the kind that call themselves Abyssinian Cavies–who wear ringlets and walk upon their toes.

And the short-haired guinea-pigs admire and envy the curls of the long-haired guinea-pigs.

Both kinds of the guinea-pigs go to the Barber especially on Saturdays.

Beatrix Potter

Hucksterism in the Land of Green Ginger in Beatrix Potter’s The Fairy Caravan
(Cotsen 21522)

Beatrix Potter

The barber and his victim in Potter’s The Tale of Tuppenny illustrated by Marie Angel (Cotsen 11853)

If you want to find out about what happened when the bald guinea pig Tuppenny tried three treatments of Quintessence of Abyssinian Artichokes, the hair wash invented (and untruthfully promoted) by the barber, you’ll have to find a copy of The Tale of Tuppenny (1971) with illustrations by Marie Angel or  The Fairy Caravan (1929), where Potter first published it.

The Land of the Green Ginger

The djinn. Noel Langley, The Land of the Green Ginger illustrated by Edward Ardizzone (author’s copy).

I don’t know if  Noel Langley (1911-1980) learned about the Land of Green Ginger from Beatrix Potter’s Fairy Caravan.   Perhaps not, because there are no guinea-pigs, just a djinn of the lamp, three suitors competing for the hand of lovely princess Silverbud, a feisty mouse, Omar Khayyam the tent maker, a flying carpet, and a dragon with a heliotrope tongue who likes his donkey with lettuce salad, tomatoes sliced thin.  Everything necessary for a sequel to the story of Aladdin.

And who was Noel Langley?  Born and educated in Durban, South Africa, he wrote and illustrated for children The Tale of the Land of Green Ginger (1937), which helped get him a seven-year contract with MGM.  His Hollywood writing credits include The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1939), Scrooge (1951), Ivanhoe (1952), and Snow White and The Three Stooges (1961).

Poster for The Wizard of Oz

Poster for the Wizard of Oz screenplay with Langley’s name at the head of the list of writers.

Langley also turned out plays, short stories and novels, but what he is remembered for besides the screenplay for The Wizard of Oz is his over-the-top pseudo-Oriental fantasy, The Land of Green Ginger, which he rewrote in 1966 and 1975, both accompanied by the illustrations of Edward Ardizzone.

The hero of The Land of Green Ginger, Prince Abu Ali, is not the likeliest of lads.

He was too amiable; too good-natured; too kindly; too honest, and too-fair-minded.

He was far too considerate of other people’s feelings.

He laughed too easily, and he was much too sympathetic.

He was deeply fond of both of his parents.

He was never lazy, impudent, or ill-mannered.

He could never raise his voice in foolish rage, or be a tattle-tale behind your back.

He was, in fact, quite hopeless.

Any sensible person would put their money on the other two suitors, Wicked Prince Tintac Ping Foo or Rubdub Ben Thud of Arabia.  Of the two, I prefer tall, skinny, mercenary Prince Tintac Ping Foo because of his way with words.  Here is a conversation with his father, the Shah of Persia, in which it is revealed that Rubdub Ben Thud has stolen a march on Tintac Ping Foo.

“What?  Rubdub Ben Thud?” shrilled the Wicked Prince in fiercest ire.  “That balloon-faced butterball?  Do you dare to tell me he has the silly sauce to pit himself against a paragon of loveable manly virtues like me?”

“I’m afraid so.  Yes,” said the Shah of Persia.

“Oh har! Oh har! oh, har!” scoffed Tintac Ping Foo scornfully.  I’d like to be there when they throw him out on his ear; but it’s far too far beneath my delicate dignity.!”

“I quite agree,” agreed his father insincerely, “and I’d laugh as loudly as you my son; except that my spies inform me that Sulkpot Ben Nagnag looks with favor on his suit, and has invited him to lunch.”

The Wicked Prince Tintac Ping Foo went as purple in the face as a stick of jealous rhubarb, and shook his fists toward the sky.

“Then woe betide Rubdub Ben Thud!” he vowed vindictively. “He’ll rue the day he crossed my path! Ho there, Slaves! My camels! My retinue! My magic sword! My jellybeans! I leave at once for Samarkand.”

And what is more, gentle reader, he meant it and he did.

Tale of the Land of the Green Ginger (Cotsen 10198)

The author’s illustration of the wicked prince. Langley, The Tale of the Land of the Green Ginger (1937) (Cotsen 10198)

Land of Green Ginger: Ardizzone ill.

Prince Abu Ali and Silverbud united at last as illustrated by Ardizzone. The Land of Green Ginger (author’s copy)

But The Land of Green Ginger is a fractured fairy tale, so virtue will out, no matter which of the three versions you read.  If you crave more of the rhodomontade quoted above, pass by  the first edition and run, do not walk, to the 1975 version which is available in a handsome paperback from David R. Godine.   Sometimes it is just too humid and hot to tackle the volumes like War and Peace, Infinite Jest, or 1Q84 on a summer reading list, whereas something light and frivolous like the Land of Green Ginger goes down like a scoop of coconut sorbet.

Perhaps, oh patient and forbearing reader, a small sigh has escaped your lips because you wish that this magical realm could be found on Google Maps.  Actually, if you go to the East Riding of Yorkshire and find the bottom of Whitefriargate in Hull upon Kingston, you can visit the Land of Green Ginger.  Or you can read the books.  Take your pick.

Hull's version of the Land of Green Ginger

The Land of Green Ginger in Hull.

The Land of Green Ginger: Ardizzone ill.

The Land of Green Ginger over Samarkand.

Curator’s Choice: Two Muenchener Bilderbogen

This spring our colleague Julie Mellby in Graphic Arts presented Cotsen with over a dozen Muenchener Bilderbogen.  Their publisher Braun & Schneider issued 1230 of these illustrated broadsides between 1848 and 1898, which were available individually or bound up in sets annually.  Cotsen’s holdings consist mostly of sets that look to have been bound up and sold between 1900 and the late 1920s.  There are collections of sheets starring Kasparel, the German Mr. Punch, an assortment of twenty-four sheets issued with a cover design of a clown throwing Bilderbogen out of the tower window of Munich’s Frauenkirche, Lustiges aus der Tierwelt, thirty-eight sheets about the comic antics of animals, and another motley group of thirty-two sheets enticingly titled Wer will lachen? [Who wants to laugh?]. Also on the shelves are some English-language translations, Walk up! Walk up! and see the fool’s paradise: with the many wonderful adventures there; as seen in the strange surprising peep show of Professor Wolley Cobble, published by John Camden Hotten around 1871.

This is a wonderful addition to Cotsen’s collection of late nineteenth-century French and German popular prints for children, which were forerunners of the comic strip.  The Muenchener Bilderbogen was one of the most influential of them all and featured the work  of Victor Adamo, Wilhelm Busch, Lothar Meggendorfer, Adolf Oberlander, Count Pocci, and Moritz von Schwind. (von Schwind’s “Herr Winter” was featured in another post on this blog).  The standard for artistic excellence was such that a writer for the journal The Academy (August 7 1880) wished that the Bilderbogen were more widely available in England because they were a wonderful way of introducing children to the history of art.

This seems like extraordinarily high praise for anything connected with the comics and funny papers…  So could these German broadsides have been that much better than their Anglo-American counterparts?  (Some of the American ones were  uncredited reprints of German ones with awful translations of the captions.) Processing the prints from Julie was a good way to see if there was any truth in the journalist’s statement about their excellence.

Two prints caught my eye because of  the way the artists used lines of characters to organize the overall composition.  The first one was the fifth edition of number 1177 in the  series, “Maerchenzug” [Fairy tale parade] by Hermann Vogel (1854-1921).  The colors and printing quality don’t seem to have deteriorated over time, as I would have expected.


Cotsen item 7170756

“Maerchenzug” is divided into three horizontal panels, with a mass of characters moving from right to left.  The three captions below each panel, however, read from left to right, with the quatrain identifying individual characters in the cluster above it.  In order to go back and forth between the figures and the words, the eye has to distinguish the boundaries of the three groups that make up the panel, but it still sees the line of characters as a whole.

top panel

top panel

My favorites in the top panel are the cocky Frog Prince, Puss in Boots, and the Bremen Town Musicians, but the figures of  Hansel and Gretel and a dreaming child are also there.  In the other two panels, look for more frogs and dwarves, a handsome prince or two, a wicked stepmother being punished (that one is tricky), and a book of Grimm’s fairy tales.  Not all the characters in this fairy tale puzzle picture are mentioned in the captions, so even Jack Zipes who knows his Grimm cold, might have to work a bit to identify the characters from the lesser known fairy tales.

Middle panel

Middle panel

Bottom panel

Bottom panel

The second print, number 577 (also in a fifth edition), “Der Knabe Whittington und seine Katzen,” by Eduard Ille (1823-1900) retells the familiar story of Dick Whittington in four horizontal panels.  Its style couldn’t be more different than that of “Marchenzug.”

Cotsen item 7170689

Cotsen item 7170689

At first each of the panels appears to be one continuous image, but look at it more closely and it’s quite difficult to ignore the spaces between the two blocks that compose each panel.  The figures, which are all in black including the Europeans, are drawn in profile almost as if they were silhouettes. Their limbs have a static quality, almost as if frozen in space and time.

First panel

First panel

What helps propel the narrative along is the careful positioning of the heads and the direction of their gaze: in the second panel, you can see the word travelling from left to right, from one person to the next down the line.  And the word is that help is in sight. The panel is infested with climbing, clinging, leaping, creeping, congregating mice.

Second panel

Second panel

In the third panel, Whittington’s cats get to work and the inhabitants dispose of the vermin carcasses with glee.  Look closely at the characters’ headdresses, clothing, and accessories at the upper three panels and you’ll find they have been carefully individuated so that you can identify them throughout.  The text says that it takes place in Djakarta, but  the costumes may be a fantasia on authentic Indonesian garments.  This part of Whittington does take place in a country where there are no cats, but an exact location isn’t important to the action.  For Ille, it seems to have been a major source of inspiration.

Third panel

Third panel

The people are so grateful to Whittington for extermination services and presentation of four kittens to the nation that he and the two old cats are sent off in fine style–you can see the publisher’s name emblazoned on the camel’s caparisons–in the final panel.

Fourth panel

Fourth panel

The journalist in The Academy was onto something, I think.   And thank you, Julie, for the gift of Munchener Bilderbogen.