Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Book Review: The Peep Show Man

(Blogjob tags: drawings by Lois Lenski,Irish folk talesIrish short storiesIrish writing in Englishmoral fables told by Catholic priests,nineteenth century entertainmentPadraic ColumPooka.)

Title: The Peep Show Man
(If you click on the picture, you'll open the Amazon page where you can buy a copy directly from MW Books. I get a small commission for that, too.)
Author: Padraic Colum
Date: 1924, 1938
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: none
Length: 65 pages
Illustrations: partly colored drawings by Lois Lenski
Quote: “It was not a bad thing that the Pooka did when he carried off the twelve silly sisters...”
Down, unclean thoughts! Before movies were invented, the Peep Show Man was usually an honest entertainer who told wholesome stories about the pictures inside his box. Sometimes these were just drawings or dioramas; some Peep Show boxes contained devices that made pictures pop up or seem to move. These must have been quite a novelty at the time, if the old rhyme about “Ask your mothers for fifty cents to see the elephant jump the fence” is historically accurate—fifty cents was a lot to spend on entertainment. It was only after every community had a movie theatre that “peep shows” began to be limited to the kind of images Hollywood didn't allow in movies.
In this slim book the Peep Show Man tells three fairy tales, all reasonably wholesome, although the first one may be a pretty way of explaining that the Peep Show Man became a travelling entertainer because he doesn’t get along with his wife. The second tale is about the Pooka, or faerie horse, and the third is the sort of Catholic fable that used to be told as facts by priests in the Dark Ages.
All the stories are, of course, set in Ireland, and told in the way English-speaking Irish people heard their dialect—no misspellings, but several examples of the quirky syntax early twentieth century Irish English inherited from Irish Gaelic.
There are bigger and prettier collections of Irish tales, but Padraic Colum’s fans must have this one. I think the stories are his own original imitations of traditional tales. My copy of the book is in good physical condition for its age. Lois Lenski won many awards for her unique, slightly cartoonish drawings, and her fans will want The Peep Show Man too.
This is a vintage book and is available only at collector prices. Although the copy I physically own is locally available for a lower price, for online sales I'll have to charge $15 per book + $5 per package, for shipping, + $1 per online payment. However, "$5 per package" means one shipping charge applies to anything else I can stuff into the package, which should include two or three more books.