"I've got no idea what's gone wrong with your dreams of late, but they've definitely been getting wilder."When your own dear personal psychopomp aka "dream princess" who is also your late great-great-great grandmother tells you this, you know you're in for a weird adventure. Of course, by the time twelve-year-old Gustave Dore meets his ancestress and hears this observation, he's already been on one for a good bit: captaining his own ship and all but losing it to the "Siamese Twin Tornados", meeting Death and his sister Dementia, saving a Damsel in Distress from her Dragon but learning that he kind of misread that situation a bit...
Wait? Meeting Death? Yes. Death wants the kid's soul, like now, and the only way young Gustave can avoid complying is by performing a series of tasks. Welcome to the wild, weird, wonderful world of Walter Moers, here exhibited as part Where the Wild Things Are, part Maakies (Drinky Crow and Uncle Gabby would have felt right at home on Gustave's ship), with a dash of the Twelve Labors of Hercules thrown in.
Every Walter Moers book I pick up becomes my new favorite Walter Moers, and A Wild Ride Through the Night is no exception, despite the absence of Moers' cartoons. That's not to say the book is unadorned by illustration, though; far from it. The story took its inspiration from twelve engravings by 19th century French engraver and illustrator Gustave Dore*, and these appear sequentially in the book (and, being engravings, look pretty okay in e-Ink, to my surprise), making it at least partly a sort of wry commentary on sequential art and how any sequence's story can be altered by any amount of interstitial storytelling; it can even be made into an imaginary portrait of the artist as a young man.
I've been a fan of Moers since I first stumbled across The City of Dreaming Books in the new books section of my public library a few years ago. With a title like that, how could I pass it by? That book was nothing like I'd expected, but altogether wonderful -- and the lovely thing about his Zamonia books* (I mean, besides their inherent charm and their amazing, adorable illustrations) is that any one of them is a wonderful introduction to this world, populated by sentient, literate, civilized dinosaurs, adventuring educated dogs, blue bears who captain ships, and yes, dreaming books. But also, any one of them is a total gateway drug; once you've sampled from it, if it's at all to your taste, you will feel utterly compelled to go and get them all. So, you know, here.
A Wild Ride Through the Night is an earlier work than the Zamonia books, but already quite a mature one: Moers has already worked out his signature style (and so has his translator, John Brownjohn), blending whimsy, satire and pathos with fairly strong character creation (Lil' Gustave is no Rumo, but who is?) and a whole lot of just plain WTFery. If you don't laugh at loud at some of these bits, see your psychiatrist. And while a lot of the weirdest stuff (like a monstrous flying pig with lizard/goat legs) originated from the fevered imagination of Dore, I really don't think Dore could have come up with the kind of dialogue Moers gives to such grotesqueries. Truly, he is like no other writer, living or dead.
But you know, if you can't have Moers illustrations in a Moers book, Dore will do. Yes, yes he will.
*Illustrations used are taken from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", Orlando Furioso, "The Raven", Don Quixote, Legend of Croquemitane, Gargantua and Pantagruel, Paradise Lost, and the Bible.