9.23.2009

Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery

Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery was written by James and Debra Howe about a vampire rabbit that comes to live with a family. When we read and love books as children, I suppose it's only natural for us to want to pass along that love to a new generation, so when I realized that my godson was coming upon the age and reading ability where Bunnicula might suit, I immediately bought it for him. It was only after the purchase that a friend asked, "So wait... he's a vampire rabbit? But he only drains vegetables? Where's the danger?"

It took a moment to admit that I couldn't exactly remember, and so I re-read Bunnicula to find that no matter what Chester the cat might suggest, there isn't really any danger (well, at least from Bunnicula), but the book remains delightful.

Bunnicula is written from the perspective of Harold, the Monroe family dog, but in his manuscript, he maintains that he has changed the names of the innocent for their protection. Harold has a peaceable companion in Chester, the family cat, named after G.K. Chesterton. (Which must have triggered some subconscious memory, given that I just read a book by G.K. Chesterton, but I'm not sure which book led to the other.) Chester reads quite a lot and when the family brings home a new pet after finding him at the movie theater (a showing of Dracula), Chester suspects that Bunnicula is more than he appears. He sleeps all day and the markings on his fur form a curious widow's peak that gives him the look of wearing a cape. And Chester could swear that he saw two pointy fangs on the bunny by the light of the moon. Chester becomes obsessed with watching Bunnicula and discovers white vegetables in the house, which he believes Bunnicula has drained.

Having now read this as an adult, I actually found Bunnicula to be relatively simple in terms of plotline, but rather packed with some more complicated ideas if one chooses to think about them. For instance, Chester is convinced that Bunnicula's eating habits somehow endanger them all -- a very "today vegetables, tomorrow the world" kind of approach. Harold, on the other hand, is rather torn between supporting his friend Chester and simply leaving Bunnicula be, as he sees no harm in it -- aside from a rather startled family when they believe themselves subjected to some kind of vegetable blight after finding the white veggies. This manages to provide a rather fantastic set-up for teaching children about trusting their own opinions, not simply going along with the crowd, respecting others despite things that make them unique/different, and so forth. Chester appears to be a much less enjoyable character now that I'm older and the simple fact of him being a kitty counts for less than it did when I was eight. I mean, one could argue that Chester is instigating hate crimes (thank goodness that for all his literacy, he doesn't know the difference between a steak and a stake). His antics with spreading garlic everywhere are amusing (particularly in the time-honored tradition of humans being completely oblivious to anything in the animal world when your characters are animals), and there's a nice little jab at the concept of therapy being able to help him at the end of the book, but I found Chester to be much less of a funny kitty this time around. Our trustworthy narrator, Harold, does not let his fondness for chocolate cupcakes (though really, one shouldn't given chocolate to dogs) distract him from helping a potential new friend.

So if you're looking for a good (not too scary) Halloween book for that 8-12 year-old, then your search should be at an end. Of course, if memory serves, some more threatening things (like a potential zombie/vampire vegetable army?) seem to loom in the series. And speaking of series, I think I might have stopped after book number four, but the entire series for young readers (aka not counting spin-off books and for even younger readers) includes Howliday Inn, The Celery Stalks at Midnight, Nighty Nightmare, Return to Howliday Inn, Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow, and Bunnicula Strikes again.

Whenever I re-read books like this, I inevitably research them online and come up with some interesting facts. Evidently, James and Deborah Howe wrote Bunnicula together, but Deborah Howe died of cancer at the age of 31, before Bunnicula's publication. It seems that Deborah Howe was already an established children's author, having published a number of works and won several awards in her short life, and it was this first foray into children's literature that inspired James Howe. He continued writing the Bunnicula series, in addition to other books, after remarrying, fathering a daughter, eventually divorcing, and coming out of the closet. While Bunnicula Strikes Again appears to be the last in that series, he continues to write today.

1 comment:

Adam said...

Oh man I loved this book when I was little.