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The Yarf! reviews by Fred Patten

Note: This is a fraction of the entire listing. If you’re on broadband, you might want to try the high speed version instead.

   Welcome to the “Patten’s reviews” wing of the Anthro Library! Since this is a collection of columns from a dormant (if not dead) furzine called YARF!, a word of explanation might be helpful: In its day, YARF! (aka ‘The Journal of Applied Anthropomorphics’) was perhaps the best-known—and best in quality—of furry zines. Started in 1990 by Jeff Ferris, YARF!’s roster of contributors reads like a Who’s Who of furdom in the last decade of the 20th Century. In any issue, the zine’s readers could expect to enjoy work by the likes of Monika Livingstone, Watts Martin, Ken Pick, and Terrie Smith; furry comic strips such as Mark Stanley’s Freefall and Fred Patten’s reviews of furry books and comics.
   Unfortunately, YARF! has been thoroughly inactive since its 69th issue, which was released in September 2003. We can’t say whether YARF! will ever rise again… but at least we can prevent its reviews from falling into disremembered oblivion. And so, with the active cooperation of Mr. Patten, Anthro is proud to present Mr. Patten’s review columns—including the final one, which would have appeared in the never-printed YARF! #70.

Full disclosure: For each reviewed item, we’ve provided links you can use to check which of four different online booksellers—, Barnes & Noble, Alibris, and Powell’s Bookstore—now has it in stock. Presuming the item in question is available, if you buy it Anthro gets a small percentage of the price.

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#64 / Apr 2002

Gerald Scarfe’s costume design for Mr. Fox
Title: Fantastic Mr. Fox (opera)
Creators: Tobias Picker (music); Donald Sturrock (libretto, based on the story by Roald Dahl); Gerald Scarfe (costume and set designer); Donald Sturrock (director); Peter Ash (conductor)
Cast: Gerald Finley, Suzanna Guzmán, Jason Housman, Theo Lebow, Lauren Libaw, Amy Recinos, Louis Lebherz, Doug Jones, Jamie Offenbach, Gerald Finley, Jill Grove, Lesley Leighton, Sari Gruber, Malcolm MacKenzie, Jorge Garza, Josepha Gayer, Charles Castronovo, chorus
Commissioned for the Roald Dahl Foundation. World premiere at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles Music Center, on December 9, 1998. Performed by the Los Angeles Opera

   Talking-animal comic books and animated cartoons are common. Literature featuring talking animals is more common than one might expect, even excluding children’s books. But operas? Name three. There is Janácek’s The Cunning Little Vixen, and—well, there is The Cunning Little Vixen.
   Now there is Tobias Picker’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, an operatic dramatization of Roald Dahl’s popular children’s classic. Or is there? Fantastic Mr. Fox was commissioned to be the Los Angeles Opera company’s first World Premiere. It played at the Los Angeles Music Center during December 9-22, 1998. But has it appeared anywhere since then? The Internet still has lots of articles about its 1998 Los Angeles premiere, but there is no mention of any subsequent productions anywhere. This is not surprising, since almost all the reviews of its premiere were negative. Too bad if you missed it, but at least you didn’t miss much.
   Gerald Scarfe’s costumes and sets were the main attraction, and they are marvelous. Everything is bright and Modern Art. The tone is surrealistic rather than naturalistic. Mr. Fox is an electric blue, looking like an ice sculpture, while Miss Hedgehog is bright green, resembling a pile of lawn-mower clippings. That may sound sarcastic, but Scarfe makes it work surprisingly well. The effect is like a smooth blend between a semi-abstract posh art gallery and a gaudy circus sideshow, or a preschool/nursery whose interior decorator ran wild with a manic genius. Despite its flaws, Fantastic Mr. Fox is definitely a treat for the eyes.
   Donald Sturrock’s libretto is also in general an asset. It is witty, amusing, and is consistently lively whether you agree with its philosophy or not. Audiences will not be bored.
   But operas live or die by their music. The least popular aspect of this one, according to virtually all the reviews, was Picker’s modern atonal music. It was not merely dismissed, it was reviled as lacking recognizable melodies and as much too sophisticated for what was presented as a ‘family’ (e.g., suitable for children) opera. Despite the claim in L. A. Opera’s program notes that, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a tuneful, singable opera,” and “There is no recitative in the opera,” it sounded to me like practically all recitative with a musical background, and no tunes or songs at all—just some recitatives that are more structured and with a stronger melodic background than others.
   The basic failure, however, is that Fantastic Mr. Fox is irritatingly affected and pretentious. It seems to concentrate upon the most self-consciously Intellectual aspects of Roald Dahl’s children’s novel and emphasize them. This permeates the wit and imagination of the costuming and the dialogue, to result in something like Anderson’s description of the Snow Queen: “She was beautiful but all made of ice.” Either the opera’s heart is frozen, or it has no heart; take your choice.
   It does have pretention, though. Donald Sturrock’s four-page explication of Dahl’s story contains such statements as:

   It’s a morality tale and, like most great morality tales, it’s timeless …

   Like many good tales, it can be expressed very simply. A family of foxes is attacked by a trio of grotesque farmers—Boggis, Bunce, and Bean—who resent them stealing chickens and geese from their farms. They try to starve the foxes out of the hole. They fail. The foxes escape and, aided by their animal friends, take an amusing and ironic revenge on their human opponents, burrowing into the farmyards while the farmers are away and making mayhem in their farmyards.

   The three grotesque farmers—Boggis, Bunce, and Bean—are revolting. They embody the vices of greed, vanity, and avarice. They employ violent machines—guns, tractors, and diggers—to attack the foxes and their friends. They bicker and fight among themselves. […] The animals, on the other hand, are heroic: loyal, intelligent, resourceful, and joyful.

   As a morality tale, Fantastic Mr. Fox is very similar to Walt Disney’s Bambi. All the animals are loving brothers and Evil Man is the only predator. The all-good animals and the all-stupid/evil humans might have worked if Fantastic Mr. Fox was presented as a comic farce; as a Gilbert-&-Sullivanesque parody of the Disney Morality. As a seriously intellectual moral tale itself, it is too obviously one-sided and biased. The animals can do no wrong, while the humans can do no good.
   By the plot’s own admission, the humans have absolutely no interest in the animals until the foxes begin raiding their farms. The farmers’ ‘resentment’ of this is portrayed as ‘evil’. Their attempts to drive off or kill the foxes is presented as malicious aggression, for which the foxes have a right to take ‘revenge’.
   Many details undercut this moral message. Mr. Fox may be a loving husband and father, while the farmers are all completely selfish; and the foxes may be witty, cultured, dignified and stylish dressers while the farmers are filthy slobs. But they are all equally greedy for as many chickens and geese as they can chow down. Where is the moral high road between Mr. Fox’s supercilious self-conceit over his cleverness and the three farmers’ sneering, sneaky plots to kill him? Mr. Fox’s change of personality, his ‘learning humility’ by getting his tail shot off, comes across as contrived and unconvincing.
   The farmers are repeatedly said to raise the fattest, plumpest chickens and geese in the Valley. By implication they are capable and self-sufficient. But the animals are shown as too humanized and intelligent (Rita the Rat wears a college cap & gown and quotes Spinoza) to be innocent woodland creatures. When Mr. Fox says that foxes have a right to steal humans’ chickens, it sounds like boasting that it’s okay to steal when you are handsome and clever and your victims are ugly and stupid. The major difference between this and Disney’s Bambi, is that in Bambi all the animals are frightened of Man, while in Fantastic Mr. Fox, they consider Man’s farms to be a handy restaurant where they can always feast and then skip out without paying the bill.
   The climax is a classic example of the program notes saying one thing while the action shows something else. The farmers have found the entrance to the foxes’ den and try digging them up with earthmoving equipment. The foxes dig themselves a back exit. While the farmers hover over the front hole, the foxes dash to the unguarded farms and easily carry off the remaining chickens and geese. How is this a ‘clever … and potentially hazardous raid’? When Boggis and Bunce find their farms completely looted, they swear they will not restock until the foxes are all dead. The farmers return with their guns to the front hole and, ‘For all anyone knows, they’re still there to this very day.’ Meanwhile, the foxes have so many chickens that they invite all their friends to the feast (Miss Hedgehog, Rita the Rat, etc.) Mr. Fox musically declaims that he has learned his lesson. He has been wrong to make himself and his family so dependent upon Man. They will return to the forest to live with Nature. All the animals cheer this Environmentally Correct decision.
   Morality? It is plain that Mr. Fox’s noble decision to abandon Man’s farms comes only after there are no chickens or geese left. Also, since the foxes have just strongly implied that they are about to resume eating the forest animals, the animals’ cheering this decision makes another Disney comparison obvious: the Circle of Life opening of The Lion King, where all the prey animals are cheering the birth of another predator. Further, the emphasis on Mr. Fox’s constantly eating the chickens and geese (which appear in several scenes, comically dashing about the farmyard in panic trying to escape Mr. Fox), makes his role as the exemplar of the natural kindness and generosity of all animals to each other look hypocritical, to say the least.
   The opera and its program notes both constantly hammer the point of what a clever morality tale it is. But considered as a morality tale, Fantastic Mr. Fox is condescending, preachy, self-serving, and full of contradictions. Picker’s atonal music guarantees that it will never join such popular fantasy favorites as Mozart’s The Magic Flute or Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel as melodic fare for the Classical Radio stations. It is a shame that Scarfe’s costumes and sets will not have much chance to be seen, but c’est l’opera.

2007 Note: As of 2007, there are still lots of Internet reviews of the 1998 Los Angeles production but none of any subsequent performance of Fantastic Mr. Fox. There is an announcement that,Fantastic Mr. Fox arrives in Europe in a chamber version commissioned by Opera East for premiere at the Cambridge Arts Theater (UK) during the 2006-2007 season,” but it is in the future tense and there are no reviews to show that it was actually performed.

Title: Lady: My Life as a Bitch
Author: Melvin Burgess
Publisher: Andersen Press (London), Sep 2001
ISBN: 0-86264-770-3
200 pages, £10.99
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   It was me and Wayne heading down Copson Street. […] it was me and Wayne, me and Wayne, me and Wayne all morning. He was leaning over and smiling, tickling me and touching me. I wasn’t going to say no, was I? […] he reached forward and tickled the palm of my hand. It sent little shivers up my arm. My hand closed around his and we gave one another a little squeeze, and that was it. We were holding hands. We turned and looked into each other’s faces and…
   I was just thrilled. You know? That moment. I just love that moment. I could do it over and over again until the end of my life. I mean, all right, he wasn’t the first boy ever, or even the first boy that month. In fact, the way I was then he’d have been pretty lucky if he was the first one that week. But still—it just made me shine.
(page 1)

   ‘I’ is Sandra Francy, a 17-year-old British high-school student who spends more time cutting class, smoking and drinking, and having sex than studying. By the end of Chapter One she is magically turned into a dog.
   This is not the first Young Adult fantasy in which a rude and wild teenager is turned into a dog (see, for example, T. Ernesto Bethancourt’s 1976 The Dog Days of Arthur Cane) or some other animal to be taught a moral lesson. They spend the novel desperately trying to regain their humanity, which they do in the final chapter after sincerely repenting and vowing to become a better person. Sandra’s reaction is more like, “Hey, I don’t have to go to school at all any more! I can run around stark naked, and shit and fuck in public whenever I want! Cool!!” At least, that is the synopsis implied by outraged editorials in the British press. A month before its release, The Observer reported (Sunday, August 12, 2001): Lady is already controversial, providing it with the sort of advance publicity that most writers, and children’s writers especially, can only dream of. There have been calls for parental guidance stickers and some kind of ratings system; the Daily Mail called the spokespeople of several parents’ groups who had objected to [Burgess’] 1997 novel Junk (often without having read it) and got the hoped-for response.”
   The novel is actually considerably more thoughtful. The attitude attributed to Sandra is semi-correct, and so is her sluttish personality established on the first page. But she puts much more serious thought into whether to try to become human again or not than is implied in the brief plot summaries. The novel is more intellectually intriguing than voyeuristic.
   At the same time, it is so heavily biased that Sandra’s final decision seems the only practical one. The locale is Manchester, a working-class city (and author Burgess’ home), with an emphasis on the working class. She lives in a society where men are laborers and women are children-breeding housewives, shopkeepers, or minimum-wage officeworkers. The schools are geared to train girls for only those three professions. Her family is insensitive and emotionally nonsupportive. The future offers nothing for any adolescent female with aspirations beyond choosing a boyfriend who is satisfactory in bed and will make the best possible breadwinner for the rest of her blue-collar life. Sandra’s decision to openly become the Great Slut of her peers is partly teen rebellion, partly rationalization that she is only honestly doing what all her classmates wish they had the guts to do and will probably start doing behind their husbands’ backs as soon as they are married (since none of the girls have any illusions that their husbands will be loyal to them), and partly despair for her bleak future.
   As an alternative, Sandra finds that she is not the only ‘canified’ human in Manchester. The cause of her transformation is an alchie (wino) named Terry whom she had insulted. It turns out that anyone he gets mad at is turned into a dog. Nobody knows why; this terrifies him as much as anyone else, and is the reason that he is a derelict instead of being able to lead a normal life. After several adventures on her own as a dog, trying to stay near her human family without getting picked up as a stray, she meets a pack of similar former-human dogs living in a large city park near the slum district where Terry sleeps in alleys. He is maudlinly remorseful for those he has turned into dogs, and will share his food with them. Some want nothing to do with him, while others hang around him hoping that his unconscious magic will eventually turn them human again. There are rumors that this has happened once or twice, though nobody knows for sure.
   It is clear to the reader from the start that Sandra/Lady, and later the other canified humans whom she meets, have their human minds but canine instincts now. Much of their new life is a constant battle between intellect and instinct. It is not revealed until far into the story that this makes them superior to normal dogs, who are unintelligent and unable to understand the barking speech of the canified humans. As Sandra/Lady joins the pack which is the only society open to her now, she becomes immersed in their discussions over whether to embrace or fight canification. This is some of the most interesting reading since it is presented as a mixture of human intellect and canine hedonism and short attention spans. A serious discussion may be broken off due to a sudden urge to race around and get some exercise or to chase a cat. And yes, there are some explicit canine orgy scenes. Debate topics range from the morality of abandoning one’s human family if there is any chance of regaining humanity, to whether there is anything morally wrong with free sex now that they are dogs. Some insist on keeping their human names and acting as humanly as possible (with the result that they terrify humans and risk getting picked up as ‘mad dogs’). Others proudly adopt dog names and revel in a carefree canine life without responsibilities, with the intelligence to avoid human traps for stray dogs. One, Fella, sounds like he is unwittingly reinventing Furrydom.

   Fella smiled as if he could see right through me. “One day, they’ll have the technology to turn people into dogs, just like they have sex change ops today. You’ll see people coming out of the closet then, you bet! Yeah! […] There’ll be packs of us wandering about then! And it won’t just be dogs! It’ll be, I dunno, horses! Wolves! Bears! Cats maybe. Now, that’d be some hunt!” (pg. 46)

   Fella is exaggeratedly optimistic, but it soon becomes evident that Burgess is deliberately painting the most unflattering portrait possible of humanity (at least British working-class humanity), and the rosiest picture of the life of feral dogs. Like Disney’s Tramp, they live off handouts from friendly humans and easy-to-scavenge tasty garbage, and are cocky about their independence and safety since they have the magical advantage of human intelligence and speech among themselves.
   By the end of the novel when Sandra has duly considered all the pros and cons to decide whether to work at becoming human again (Back to school, working away like mad to get exams I wasn’t going to do well at, so I could get a crap job in a crap company with long hours that’d inch by inch by inch turn me into everybody else. Work work work, every day learning how to be good at something I wasn’t good at, doing things I didn’t want to do, living for weekends and three weeks’ holiday a year. Parenthood! Sweating and straining to pop out a fat helpless baby; worry and care and stress. […]) or to remain Lady (…being a dog under the night sky with the dew in her coat, who spills her puppies out and mourns without despair. Her life isn’t worry and work […] I want to be quick and fast and happy and then dead. I don’t want to grow old. I don’t want to go to work. […] pg. 199), the choice is a no-brainer.

Title: Scars: An Ironclaw Novel
Author: Ted MacKinnon
Illustrator: Trent Halvorsen, w/ maps by N. David Martin
Publisher: Sanguine Productions Ltd. (Cincinnati, OH), Jan 2002
ISBN: 0-9704583-6-3
128 pages, $9.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   TSR (now Wizards of the Coast) spun off its Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game into the popular series of DragonLance novels in 1985. There are probably over a hundred of them by now. Sanguine Productions has just started doing the same with its Ironclaw role-playing game, set in a funny animal fantasy world based upon Medieval/Renaissance Europe.
   The good news is that Scars is as good as the best of the DragonLance novels, which is very good, indeed. This includes being completely understandable whether you know anything about the Ironclaw gaming world or not. MacKinnon does an excellent job of putting all the necessary background unobtrusively into the story without slowing down the action. Sanguine is also copying the DragonLance novels’ attractive but tiny typefont, meaning that these 128 pages would probably be closer to 200 in a normal paperback. The bad news is that the text seriously needs proofreading. You haveto putupwith lotsof connectedwords likethis, plus spelling inconsistencies. Is the city Triskellian or Triskellion? Is the author MacKinnon or Mackinnon? But if you like good Conan-esque sword-&-sorcery and you do not mind the annoying typesetting, you will find Scars a real delight.
   The names of the island continent of Calabria and the ruling House of Rinaldi are a tipoff that this fantasy adventure is a pastiche of Renaissance Italian politics—lots of poison and backstabbing. Except that here it is black magic. Calabria is under the rule of four noble families; the Avoirdupois (Horses), Bisclavret (Wolves), Doloreaux (Boars), and Rinaldi (Grey Foxes). Triskellian (or -ion), Calabria’s largest city and major trade center, is the capital and home of House Rinaldi. Three months prior to the start of the story, the reigning Don and his heirs were sorcerorously assassinated, and the Rinaldi lands have been in chaos ever since. Distant cousins may throw the land into a civil war over the succession, and everyone is worried that one or more of the other three Great Houses might seize this opportunity to try to carve up Rinaldi for themselves. Also, nobody is sure who was behind the assassinations. The Don’s unpopular ex-wife is suspected, but she may just be a scapegoat for one of the factions maneuvering for power. Now it seems that the Don’s youngest son, Fabrizio, escaped. He offers the hope of a clearly legitimate heir on whom everyone can agree. Most government officials are already recognizing him. But there are rumors of an imposter, a false Fabrizio who has been seen in the company of a Wizard and her mercenary bodyguards.
   All this is explained in the first couple of pages to Danica (Red Fox), a bounty hunter currently living in Triskellian. She is being hired by one of the nobles (Otter) supporting Fabrizio to capture the imposter before he and his faction can make their power play. Danica, a cynical mercenary (Dani to her friends—except that she doesn’t have any), figures that, considering Calabria’s usual Machiavellian politics, it is even odds that she is being hired by the real imposter and that the other Fabrizio is the genuine one. But as long as this one is backed by the government and his money is good, she does not care.
   Actually, she does. It is clear from the beginning that Danica’s bitterness is based on troubles and betrayals that she has suffered in Triskellian in the past, and that her past—which will be revealed to the reader little by little—will influence her hardened attitudes and determination to “just fulfill the contract and collect the reward and don’t worry about anyone else”. That plan is hopeless anyhow because of Tucker, a cocksure young Raccoon who sees himself as her protector (and clearly hopes to become her lover), who insists upon accompanying her to help her. Danica exasperatedly recognizes that if she were really as callous as she pretends to be, she would just stand back and let Tucker get killed at their first fight. But his innocence (bounty hunters are heroes who capture criminals and villains, right?) awakens guilt over her own loss of innocence (didn’t she originally become a bounty hunter for ideals of justice instead of just the money?). This leads her to investigate the backgrounds of both Fabrizios and learn what their true motives are, before she can decide which one to support at the climax.
   The action includes both well-choreographed swordplay and battles against wizardry. The latter are not as spectacular as in some fantasy novels, but are more convincing in that the magic is held down to a level that a skilled swordfighter could plausibly defeat a skilled spellcaster.

   The coruscating sphere of arcane energies whipped past her and bloomed, a deadly flower of searing heat. Fur withering on her legs, Danica felt the skin stretch tautly on one calf. Close to a dozen paces away stood the Wizard, shakily getting to her feet, hand still outstretched after throwing the killing spell. Her hood had fallen back and now her thin, pretty face, fur thickly matted with blood, stared wildly at the Red Fox. Head wound, came the errant thought in Danica’s mind as she crouched on the blood-slick grass. Despite the terrific blows she had received, the Weasel remained conscious, regained her footing, and now stared coldly across the space between them. For a heartbeat they stood thus, the bounty hunter poised on her toes, heavy knife held loosely in her left gloved hand and three fingers of her right touching the grass, the Wizard standing thin and straight, short-hafted mace gripped solidly, one eye swollen shut but the other burning with an inner fire. Another beat of the heart, and both women exploded into motion. (pgs. 66-67)

   If that passage (which displays MacKinnon’s extremely graphic scene-setting style) doesn’t tempt you, then forget it. I am certainly looking forward to the next Ironclaw novel, and I hope that there will be enough of them to approach DragonLance’s total! Trent Halvorsen’s illustrations are suitably dramatic, although the canids’ ears are so large that their heads look more like Fennecs than Red Foxes or Coyotes. Since you may not find Scars in your local bookstore, it can be ordered over the Internet from or Or by mail from Sanguine Productions Ltd., Rookwood Pavilion, 1-PMB-279, Cincinnati, Ohio 45208-1320. For bibliographic nitpickers like me, Scars carries a 2001 copyright date but actually premiered at Further Confusion 2002 on January 25-27, 2002.

Title: The Sands of Time; a Hermux Tantamoq Adventure
Author: Michael Hoeye
Book design: Dale Champlin (graphics)
Publisher: Terfle Books (Portland, OR), Sep 2001
ISBN: 0-9675111-2-7
300 pages, $12.95
Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw

   Hoeye’s Hermux Tantamoq juvenile series is one of the newest success stories in the publishing industry. Hoeye began his first novel, Time Stops for No Mouse, in 1997 but was unable to sell it, so he published it himself (under the label of Terfle Books, Terfle being Hermux Tantamoq’s pet ladybug) in September 2000. He sent out review copies in a very clever publicity campaign, and got enough favorable reviews and word-of-mouth praise in the childrens’ library field to start a bidding war among major publishers for the rights. Meanwhile Hoeye published the sequel, The Sands of Time, himself in September 2001. Penguin Putnam won the bidding war, and its press release talks of Time Stops for No Mouse (the Putnam mass-market edition was published in January 2002) as the first of ‘a three-book deal’ and describes it as the ‘first of several books’ about Hermux. Good for Hoeye and for Hermux!
   Hermux Tantamoq is a young watchmaker in the mouse city of Pinchester. He and his adventures are basically a funny-animal (mostly mice) cross between Paul Gallico’s The Adventures of Hiram Holliday and the Lucas-Spielberg Indiana Jones formula. Hermux is quiet and mild-mannered, but when he senses a crime or a mystery, he does not just report it to the police and then forget about it. In Time Stops for No Mouse, the famous aviatrix and explorer Linka Perflinger brings her watch to Hermux needing it repaired immediately. When she does not return the next day, but a shifty-looking rat shows up asking for it, Hermux investigates. Indiana Jones never got into a more desperate adventure.
   In The Sands of Time, Hermux gets drawn into a scandal when his artist friend Mirrin Stentrill’s gallery exhibit of surrealistic paintings of supposedly-mythical cats is attacked as obscene:

   “Is the woman completely mad? [shouted Mayor Pinkwiggin] Does she want to frighten everyone to death with her nonsense? Is she some sort of sick publicity hound? Pinchester is a civilized city! We don’t speak about cats in public. We don’t read about them in books. We’re certainly not going to show paintings of them in the museum!” (pg. 16)

   Stentrill’s exhibit sets off picketing censors, vandals, and a riot at the staid art museum. Things grow worse when an old chipmunk, Birch Tentintrotter, turns up claiming that cats once really existed, and that he has a map to their lost city in the unexplored Western deserts. This leads to anti-chipmunk prejudice, murder attempts by the secret supremicist Brotherhood of Mice, the theft of the map, and a movement to smear Stentrill’s artistic reputation. Hermux and aviatrix Linka Perflinger (now his friend) are soon involved in helping Tentintrotter to find the lost cat city before the expedition of the villains who stole the map. The villains presumably want to loot the city’s treasures and suppress the knowledge that there was a pre-mouse civilization. Their actual motive turns out to be more complex and sinister than that, but do not let me spoil it for you.
   Say ‘juvenile fiction success story’ and everyone thinks of the Harry Potter novels. The Hermux Tantamoq novels are similar in being published as childrens’ books, while written on a level that is equally enjoyable for adults. The characters in most juvenile funny-animal books too often act like children playing at being adults. Those in Hermux’s world feel convincingly mature. And when Hermux and his associates get into danger, there is a real sense of menace that most juvenile talking-animal adventures lack. You believe that they could really die. And some do.
   They also feel convincingly like anthropomorphized animals instead of just humans in animal-head masks.

   [Hermux] hummed as he combed his fur straight. He smiled as he looked in the mirror. Even his whiskers seemed perkier than usual. He didn’t stop to wax them. (Time Stops for No Mouse, pg. 104)

   Mirrin answered the door in a rust-colored evening dress that contrasted handsomely with her silver fur. (The Sands of Time, pg. 33)

   The Mayor hesitated. But not his wife. She leapt through the door with the athletic skill of someone who never missed a white sale at Orsik & Arrbale. The Mayor took a deep breath, closed his eyes and ran forward.
   He made it through. His tail didn’t. It wasn’t quite broken. But it was severely kinked.
(ibid., pgs. 43-44)

   Hermux is exploring the villains’ riverboat:

   Ahead lay a short passageway. At the end of it, two louvered doors faced each other. Hermux flexed the muscles at the back of his scalp, arching and spreading his ears. He focused them on the first door and scanned it very slowly from side to side. It was dead quiet inside. He shifted his attention to the other door. (pg. 164)

   Hermux has to escape down a spiral staircase before dynamite explodes:

   “I’m on my way!” he shouted. Then he ran like he never had before.
   It was only centrifugal force that kept him from falling as he corkscrewed down the shaft. When he bounced to the bottom, he made two full circuits around the room before Birch grabbed him and yanked him out the door, slamming it shut just before the explosion.
   There was a dull boom. The shock wave blew the door off its hinges.
(pg. 263)

   Both novels have a ‘Book Design’ credit by Dale Champlin. Each of the short chapters (The Sands of Time has 80 chapters) begins with an individualized hieroglyph: a tuxedo for the chapter where Hermux is dressing for the gala opening of Mirrin’s art show; a make-up kit for a chapter set in the riverboat’s dressing room; a compass for a chapter in which the explorers are traveling; a shovel for the chapter where they begin digging for the lost city; and so forth. There are numerous typographic displays: the fancy invitation to the gala opening; newspaper clippings in newspaper column format; the riverboat’s banners in circus typefonts; a handscrawled threatening note. Both books seem to seize every possible opportunity to flaunt bold and unusual typefaces. But there are no ‘illustrations’ in the traditional sense.
   The Hermux Tantamoq adventures are witty and imaginative in both narrative and graphics. Read Time Stops for No Mouse first because The Sands of Time is a direct sequel. Both have received rave reviews in the publishing and library press, so there is a good chance that you will be able to find them at your public library.

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