Archive for January 13th, 2019

by Sam Juliano

Out of the frying pan and into the fire

Had Jon Agee’s The Wall in the Middle of the Book been subject to the McCarthy era scrutiny as were other literary works, films and plays back in the 50’s one would be certain to find a capitalist vs. communist implication in both the book’s brick wall lining its gutter and in the matter of one believing they are safe and prosperous only to find that the assumed horror that lies on the other side is in fact the place of idyllic activities, a Shangri La of sorts.  Of course false assumptions have gotten many in hot water, though it is far from unlikely that a rosy situation hasn’t uncovered a deception or has been complicated by unexpected threats or pitfalls.  In The Wall, the basic premise has a young knight believing that his his own carefree and safe home turf is being maintained by the physical barrier that he soon enough discovers is also holding dangerous creatures at bay.  Conspiracy minded adult readers might conclude at the book’s finale that the knight’s realization that we should never judge a book by its cover has led him to understand that what he feared most was actually a paradise, while what he initially thought was a blissful place is in fact seriously corrupted and a far greater threat.

At the outset Agee announces “There’s a wall in the middle of the book” and readers immediately see this tall, narrow mortared partition as the only protection for the knight and his almost certain demise, what with a tiger and rhinoceros menacingly poised again the other side of the wall.  When the tiger props on the back of the rhino with a mean looking ape joining in it is clear that the boy better not get too curious.  Indeed the author states what readers are well aware of, but perhaps need to be reminded: “The wall protects this side of the book.”  By that time the ape joins the tiger piggy-back and the dynamic to come appears to be in little doubt.  Yet a mouse crawls up under the rhino as the knight is busy on the books “protected” side tending to a brick that has become dislodged.  In the meantime a duck makes its initial appearance behind him and sharp readers will see a parallel narrative underway.  When Agee asserts that “The wall protects this side of the book…from the other side of the book” the good vs. bad dynamic begins to lose definition.  For one the three animals are lined up on top of each other in a way that suggests they are trying to rescue someone.  Back on the “safe” side waves of water begin to appear, and the boy seems dumbfounded as he starts to climb the latter.  But not yet comprehending the rising water he confidently looks forward under Agee’s ironic contention that “This side of the book is safe,” when of course page turners will by then know it is anything but.  On the side of the book that might have induced Dorothy and the Scarecrow to chant “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my” the mammal trio scatter after seeing the mouse (“The other side is not”) The safeness of the little knight’s side becomes more precarious with the rising tide. (more…)

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