Sid Fleischman, 1920-2010
Some writers inspire you. Some writers thrill and entrance you. Some writers sweep you away to worlds you never dreamed of.
And some writers grab your imagination by scruff of the neck and rush it outside through the sunset for a swashbuckling, hornswoggling, high-tailed hootenanny of endless adventure and mayhem you’ll never, ever forget—even when your laughter’s died away at last.
Sid Fleischman was one of those writers. And all the other somes, too.
Sid Fleischman ranks among America’s best children’s authors. He did for the American tall-tale what George MacDonald did for the German fairy-tale, re-imagining a remarkable form of Story in a dozen different ways. He won the 1987 Newberry Medal for The Whipping Boy (and his son Paul won it in 1989). As a screenwriter, his characters have been portrayed by legends such as John Wayne, Peter Sellers, and George C. Scott. He was an accomplished magician, a vaudevillian during it’s heyday.
He also has special significance for Paradoxes. As I child, I remember thrilling to the wild escapades of Jack—twelve-year-old runaway from Boston to the California Gold Rush—and Praiseworthy—his butler, who ran away with him—in By the Great Horn Spoon (1963).
Or what about the honest-to-goodness, indisputably true tall tales of McBroom’s wonderful one-acre farm, where anything planted grows to enormous sizes in minutes? That’s even in spite of the machinations of his hornswoggling neighbor, Heck Jones.
And The Scarebird (1988) is among the most perfect short stories I’ve ever read.
News of his passing left me with a strange sense of loss. He always loomed in my imagination as any of his characters—The Grand Rascal, Hold-Your-Nose Billy, Andrew Hackett aka Mr. Mysterious. His autobiography, The Abracadabra Kid (1996), clipped along with the pacing and fascination of one of his own novels. By word and by example, he taught me how to write—and then then how to write better.
The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond pays tribute to a unique author and remarkable individual—always missed, never forgotten.