Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Marvellous Land of Snergs!

The Marvellous Land of Snergs was first published in the late 1920's and is purportedly an inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. He read it to his kids and the story which has echoes of Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, as well as The Hobbit, is strange little yarn. 

The story begins with the S.R.S.C. or Society for the Removal of Superfluous Children which is run in part by a woman named Miss Watkyns. She rumbles around and when she discovers a kid who is being mistreated or neglected will step quite vigorously and take charge of the kid and take them to the Land of the Snergs. The Snergs are an industrious society of small people, and offshoot of pixies according to the text, who live apart but who work for the S.R.S.C. from time to time. Also, in this strange territory is Flying Dutchman and his nautical pals. There are 478 superfluous children when the story opens but we are concerned with only two -- Sylvia and Joe. 

Joe is a mischievous little chap raised in the circus, and Sylvia is his closest friend. The two love to ramble around and cause trouble. Miss Watkyns punishes Joe after he throws a brick into a pot of soup to get a laugh. He gets bored during his punishment and talks Sylvia into running away into the woods where they spend the cold night cuddled up with a honey bear. Then they run across a Snerg named Gorbo, a particularly troublesome Snerg. Once the duo join up with Gorbo their adventures really kick off. After a feast in the village of the Snergs, the trio gets lost after they walk through a mysterious doorway., cross a deep river and find a strange and dangerous land beyond. The trio encounter a supposedly reformed child-eating ogre, a timid knight, an itinerant court jester, a stately if not overly wise king, and a duplicitous and scheming witch among others.  There is lots of eating in the story with meals being discussed at most every turn. Likewise, we see Gorbo become less of a self-centered troublemaker as he takes responsibility for the kids. 

It's pretty easy to see the inspirations Tolkien might have gotten reading these light-hearted misadventures to his kids. "Gorbo" is pretty dang close to "Bilbo" and the difference between Snergs and Hobbits is a matter of detail and care. Tolkien called Gorbo "the gem of dunderheads, jewel of a companion in an excapade". Wyke-Smith presents his Snergs to about the same degree of detail as Baum does his Munchkins, colorful but as much a plot device as anything. Tolkien's Hobbits are written with greater depth and much more realism and sympathy. There is a light snarky tone to The Marvellous Land of Snergs perhaps best exemplified by this sentence toward the end. "So perhaps the only definite moral that can be deduced is, if you by any chance encounter an ogre who claims to be reformed, pretend to believe him until you have got a gun and then blow his head off at the first opportunity."

Here is a link to a more thorough review at The Tolkien Collector. 

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