The Adventures of Bottersnikes and Gumbles by S A Wakefield and Desmond Digby
|The Adventures of Bottersnikes and Gumbles by S A Wakefield and Desmond Digby|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: While it's lovely to be in the company of these weird animals once more, this is just not the way to do it.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 224||Date: June 2016|
|Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books|
I had an impoverished childhood. I only had the one Bottersnikes and Gumbles book, when there could have been three of them on my shelf – and a fourth collected when it came out in 1990 while I was at sixth form. If you haven't met the species involved, here's a summary. Gumbles are like Tribbles, or Doctor Who Adipose creatures – impossibly cute little things, pure bundles of joy and pleasure, who like nothing better than having fun with each other, perhaps on the sandy edge of one of the many creeks in the Outback. Bottersnikes are larger, reptilian things, with bristles on the end of their long tales, and ears that heat up and glow bright red when they're angry. They're also exceedingly wicked, and lazy, and if they're not sleeping on a rubbish dump they're trying to boss each other about. It's very unfortunate then, for the Gumbles, that the Bottersnikes soon see the critters can be useful – they can boss them about instead, and when the Gumbles have done all the hard work they can be smashed into a pancake shape and dumped in an old tin can til they're needed again.
Now you're up to speed with the animals, you need to know that this book is not the original I had long ago, spruced up. Nor is it a Complete – that has been done before. This, with the impetus of the new TV animated version, is a selection – five from this book, five from the next, and three from each of the last two. Which can at times be enough to wipe the smile off a Gumble's face.
The major hiccup is that the originals were sets of linked short stories. Take my favoured, opening book – it has less of an arc than the rest, but just by jumping in and out you lose the introduction to the Weathersnike and his balloons, you don't see the Gumbles get in trouble due to falling about laughing as they're wont to do, and you don't get the story illustrated by that wonderful cover artwork. The second book had a longer plot, where the Gumbles are tasking themselves with protecting a young bird's nest against both the Bottersnikes and Mr Fox, although I really didn't take to this – in the first book frogs are mentioned for a great joke, but putting these weird creatures in a world of lyrebirds and real animals just makes it a Brer Rabbit story gone wrong, and the mix of fantasy and reality just doesn't work.
Book three on this slim evidence seems more of a return to form – the Bottersnikes are trying to kill their King off, and one episode here with dry water is a classic example of the type. Book four doesn't really get going in these pages – meaning this volume to hand really does tail off.
So what I'm left with is a hodge-podge of the originals that really serves nobody. OK, it might attract a few people to the TV version, although don't for one minute look at that and see the slapstick, Boxtrolls style and imagine that's what you get from the stories. If you come here with the help of Netflix or CBBC, then welcome. You'll find a franchise that could serve all ages and take on all-comers with its wonderfulness at its best – the very way the simple creatures are given great character by the author; the way his tales here can be only ten pages long, and still manage to set something up, then divert you to something completely different, so that the surprise when the two halves collide is still a delight. There is wit and invention galore in the way the Gumbles get caught and released for just about every story, and always to the enjoyment of the reader. They don't read as if spawned in 1960s environmentalism, they're universally appealing – and I could see these things attaining Angry Birds reach in the right hands, for the bizarre and hilarious interactions between the species. But I don't think the TV series is the real thing (I may be wrong, it may be fine, but…) and I don't think this book has been in the right hands. Seek the original first volume, which remains essential, or the Complete if tempted. This selection is just too cut about, and too muddled.
While my ears are simmering red, I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.
The right kind of silly is always needed for a book to be a success – Mr Wakefield managed it, and so does the much more modern Spangles McNasty and the Fish of Gold by Steve Webb.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Adventures of Bottersnikes and Gumbles by S A Wakefield and Desmond Digby at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Adventures of Bottersnikes and Gumbles by S A Wakefield and Desmond Digby at Amazon.com.
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