ABU AND THE 7 MARVELS
Illustrated by William Stout
Gauntlet / 141 pages / March 2002
If the mention of Richard Matheson brings to mind only I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and too many “Twilight Zone” episodes to name, you’ve got a big surprise awaiting you in his newest novel. Matheson, the name you’ve come to associate with horror and suspense, is presenting his first-ever children’s novel. Hard to wrap your mind around, but it’s absolutely true, and it’s absolutely delightful. Should this be the only snippet of young adult fare he decides to gift his readers with, Abu and the 7 Marvels is enough; here is entertainment for all ages, for generations to come.
Abu, as all good heroes are, is a humble lad of humble origins who longs for something far beyond his reach, the Princess Alicia. But, fate smiles on young Abu; the beautiful princess will not marry for wealth and power, but only for love. And, through a chance meeting, princess and commoner meet and fall in love. There would be no story though, if the resolution were that simple. No, first Abu must find the Seven Marvels and bring home the token of each to prove his worth to the Sultan.
Difficult as this sounds, it is about to be made almost impossible through the interference of the evil Grand Vizier and his two brutal, but hapless henchmen, Horrible and Terrible. The exchanges between the devious Vizier and his goons provide some of the biggest chuckles in a book brimming with entertaining dialogue and physical humour.
Not to worry — Abu and his little brother Mut have the help of a genie in a bottle…a very old, tired genie in a very dusty bottle. At times, the genie’s version of help is of the laugh-or-cry variety, adding more giggles and groans along the path of the dangerous quest. Often, whether the genie will outlast Abu’s timid requests and the all-important journey is seriously in doubt.
Matheson’s superb prose deserves only the finest art to bring Abu and the 7 Marvels to life, a challenge William Stout takes on with gusto. His vivid illustrations range from the breathtakingly beautiful, as in a luscious portrait of the lonely Princess Alicia, which radiates the depth of her sorrow and despair, to the shocking view of the grotesque Enchanted Castle, a site that oozes with the evil that pervades every particle of the wretched structure. Whether it is a character portrait, still life, or montage, Stout suffuses them with depth and emotion. I would expect nothing less from the man whose The Little Blue Brontosaurus inspired “The Land Before Time.”
Abu and the 7 Marvels may be targeted at children ten and older, but adults will find the humour just as satisfying, the lessons as incisive, as younger readers. This is a perfect book for parent and child to read and enjoy together, in truth. The principles grasped by Abu and Mut as they overcome each hurdle of the Marvels are presented openly, but never used to beat the read over the head. Every lesson learned is one children and adults would do well to remember. Perhaps, the comical characters and frightening creatures between the covers of Abu and the 7 Marvels will make these lessons easier to discuss. Try it.