A Nose for Adventure in 'Mr. Blewitt'
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Coming up, celebrating Jane and Peter's dad. He would have been 100 years old.
But first, the ...(unintelligible) says that in many parts of the country--maybe you can tell by my voice. No doubt many listeners wish that they had a detachable nose. "Mr. Blewitt's Nose," by Alastair Taylor, is the story of a girl, her dog and one such nose, a nose that does not know where it belongs. Daniel Pinkwater, our ambassador to the world of children's literature who always has his nose in one of his books, has brought this tale to our attention. He joins us from his home in upstate New York.
Daniel, thank you for being with us.
DANIEL PINKWATER reporting:
PINKWATER: ...my dog has no nose.
SIMON: How does he smell?
PINKWATER: Terrible. We'll come back to this.
SIMON: We'll come back to that. Well, you...
PINKWATER: That was not just an errant bit of humor.
PINKWATER: Let's read the story, and then we can discuss.
SIMON: All right. Please.
PINKWATER: Would you like to begin or shall I?
SIMON: Why don't you begin.
PINKWATER: (Reading) `Primrose Pumpkin had a helpful nature and an outrageously smelly dog, Dirk.'
SIMON: (Reading) `Primrose Pumpkin was so used to Dirk's remarkable stinkiness that she could quite happily take him for walks and hardly notice it.'
PINKWATER: (Reading) `Other people, though, would cross to the other side of the street as they approached to get away from the dreadful smell.'
SIMON: And the illustrations. You do see this orange-haired girl taking her---he actually looks a little bit like a warthog.
PINKWATER: He's got a warthoggish aspect.
SIMON: Doesn't he? Yeah, so--and in fact, the people they encounter in the street are sent reeling. (Reading) `It was on one such walk that she noticed something very unusual, something you rarely see on an average a street in a normal town on a humdrum sort of day, at least, not on its own. It was a nose.'
PINKWATER: (Reading) `It was perched on the end of a park bench, as if someone had removed it for a moment and then forgotten and gone off without it.'
SIMON: (Reading) `Primrose Pumpkin concluded that if there was a nose without a person attached, then it followed that somewhere there was a person without a nose attached. And as she had a helpful nature, she decided to find that person.'
PINKWATER: And we see her coming up behind a man, saying, `Excuse me. Have you lost a...
SIMON: (Reading) Nooooo, I can see you haven't.'
PINKWATER: And the man swings around, and he has a prodigious proboscis. And he's saying, (Reading) `"What's that smell?" Primrose Pumpkin soon realized there wasn't much point in asking people who obviously had noses whether they had lost theirs.'
SIMON: (Reading) `Primrose Pumpkin was beginning to wonder if it was worth all the trouble. But her helpful nature prevailed, and she tried a new way of advertising the problem.'
PINKWATER: (Reading) `She had made a huge sign...'
SIMON: (Reading) `...that says, "If you lost your nose, it's here." And sure enough...'
PINKWATER: (Reading) `...a man with a megaphone at a distance says, "OK. This is as close as I get. That there nose will belong to Mr. Blewitt. He's always leaving it around the place. About this time, he'll be going to watch the game. Always wears a red shirt. Right, it's getting stinky. I'm off."'
SIMON: (Reading) `And she says, "Excuse me. Which way to the game?"'
PINKWATER: Two people and a dog holding their noses.
SIMON: And pointing helpfully.
PINKWATER: (Reading) She hadn't gone far in the direction pointed when she spotted in the distance a man in a red shirt. She hurried after him, dragging her inconceivable smelly dog, Dirk, behind her.'
SIMON: (Reading) `But as she rounded a corner, Primrose Pumpkin crashed into another man in a red shirt, a man obviously in full possession of his nose.'
PINKWATER: (Reading) `By now, there were dozens, maybe even hundreds of people in red shirts, all heading in the same direction. Primrose Pumpkin asked a woman with a bad cold what was going on.' Take it, Scott.
SIMON: (Reading) `"There's a game on today at the stadium. Red's the home team's color."
PINKWATER: (Reading) `And even she could detect a bit of a nasty whiff.'
SIMON: (Reading) `Still not knowing how she was going to spot Mr. Blewitt among the mass of red-shirted people, Primrose Pumpkin joined the crowd going into the stadium.'
PINKWATER: (Reading) `Her distressingly smelly dog, Dirk, was already creating his customary no-go area, and this gave Primrose Pumpkin a brilliant idea. Someone had abandoned a large cup of water in his haste to avoid the stink. She poured it over her devastatingly smelly dog, Dirk.'
SIMON: And here Dirk--he's under the shower of water just looking up a little mournfully, and you just--and Primrose Pumpkin is just saying, `Sorry about this.'
PINKWATER: (Reading) `If Dirk was smelly when he was dry, there are no words to describe how smelly he was when wet. To almost everyone else in the stadium, there was only one thing to do, and they all did it.'
SIMON: (Reading) `In minutes, the stadium was empty except for Primrose Pumpkin, her eye-wateringly smelly dog, Dirk, and Mr. Blewitt.'
PINKWATER: (Reading) `"Mr. Blewitt," she holds up the nose.'
SIMON: (Reading) `Mr. Blewitt replaced his nose. And, as you might expect, it fitted him perfectly. He was delighted.'
PINKWATER: (Reading) `"Oh, you really are a kind and helpful girl. I don't know how to th--blimey!" Off he runs.'
SIMON: Because he can smell suddenly, right?
PINKWATER: (Reading) `The next morning, Primrose Pumpkin received a bunch of sweet-scented flowers and an invitation to tea with Mr. Blewitt. There was no mention on the invitation card of Dirk.'
SIMON: Oh, Daniel, this is a wonderful story.
PINKWATER: It's wonderful. But why is it wonderful? It's so simple-minded, it's so basic, it's so one-dimensional, and yet, we like it. And I have a theory.
PINKWATER: Art is syncretic. The joke, `My dog has no nose. How does he smell? Terrible.'
PINKWATER: Then there is a story by Nikolai Gogol called "The Nose," in which a nose belonging to a civil servant takes off and lives a life of its own.
PINKWATER: And the book has a dreamscape quality. It's like surrealism, Scott. The pictures are these swirly fingerpaint-style paintings, have all the extraneous details removed, like the surrealists, like Dali, like de Chirico--is that how you say it? It doesn't really matter whether this guy, Alastair Taylor, was thinking about these things.
PINKWATER: But it can be argued they're floating around in his head.
SIMON: Daniel, I have to ask.
SIMON: The depictions of Mr. Blewitt...
SIMON: ...they show, to say the least, a very fine looking man...
PINKWATER: He is, isn't he?
SIMON: ...a substantial and ample fine-looking man.
PINKWATER: This supports my--yes. And you notice too...
PINKWATER: It's me.
SIMON: All of the deep, implicit influences that you detect in the book, is this the sort of thing that just implicitly communicates to children, young readers?
PINKWATER: Well, obviously, a kid reader, who's new to reading and new to cultural experience, is not going to get the references.
PINKWATER: But the book itself becomes a reference against which he'll resonate these other things when he finds them. Or maybe when you write something or paint something, it fits into a bigger body of works of art by other people. Maybe we're sort of communal.
PINKWATER: Anyway, I love Dirk.
SIMON: Yeah. Well, Daniel, thank you very much.
PINKWATER: Thank you, Scott.
SIMON: The book is "Mr. Blewitt's Nose," by Alastair Taylor. Daniel Pinkwater is the author of many fine books for children and for adults. His latest book is "The Artsy Smartsy Club."