Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What would Munro do?

1936 was a funny year. 

Hitler was elected 4 years earlier so by '36 he was well into his, well, stride I guess you would call it.  This month in 1936, he made Hitler Youth membership compulsory (which flash-forward to earlier this century is how we ended up with a former Hitler Youth Pope).  Ireland saw their chance when Edward VIII stepped down & moved quickly to limit the powers of the next British monarch, so far as it pertained to them.  In Flint, Michigan auto workers walked off the job (or rather sat down on the job) in their first UAW strike, the results of which (collective bargaining rights) remain under fire today.  December 1936 was an upsy-downsy sort of month. 

In not-news news of December '36, Munro Leaf celebrated his 31st birthday today in 1936.  Not usually one of the big milestone birthdays, but I am guessing this one stuck with him.  Earlier in the year he sat down & by his own admission in under an hour sketched out & then finalized the text of the book that would define his career.  & it was not a small career, he wrote virtually a book a year for 40 years, but none so big, so controversial as this one.  This 1936 book of his was burned by the nazis (always a good sign), banned by Franco's government in Spain (not-coincidentally the setting of the book) & lauded in Soviet Poland (I know, right?).  A movie version won an Academy Award  in 1938 & the book itself has never gone out of print.  Ever.  People have plonked down their hard earned cash for brand new copies of this book year in & year out through wars, depressions, more wars, counter-culture wars & so on.  Multiple musical compositions have been written to accompany live readings of this book.  Today it appears in print in I-don't-know-how-many languages.

I should mention, that in addition to being written in less than a day, it was written largely for the purpose of showcasing the talents of the then-almost unknown illustrator.  Robert Lawson went on to illustrate many other things, but it is this book remains his best known, although You could argue though that there is a better known piece not often attributed to him; during WWII Lawson was a camouflage artist. 

Back to the book.  In an afternoon Munro Leaf wrote a subversive manifesto & within the year it was being burned in fascist capitals throughout Europe.  The book?  The Story of Ferdinand of course.

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