October 13, 2008 / 6:11 AM / 10 years ago

Children tuck into "Magic Pudding" tale for 90 years

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - It’s been 90 years since renowned Australian artist and author Norman Lindsay created a recipe for longevity and success with his classic children’s tale “The Magic Pudding.”

The book, written and published in 1918 and which has not been out of print since, recounts the adventures of Albert the never-depleted pudding, who can change from steak and kidney to apple dumpling or jam in an instant, depending on the desire of whomever wants to eat him.

The book is one of the most popular children’s stories in Australia, and features several native animals such as koalas, possums and wombats. It has also been translated into several languages.

Lindsay’s grand-daughter, Helen Glad, talked to Reuters on Sunday about her grandfather’s timeless classic on the 90th anniversary of its publication.

Q. Your grandfather was a respected Australian artist of great importance so what prompted him to write a children’s book?

A. “He wrote the book for a bet after a discussion with an editor from an art magazine. He said he believed that children were much more interested in food than fairies. It’s been in print since 1918 and has become part of any Australian childhood. It’s just been one of those continuous things from generation to generation.”

Q. Have children’s reading styles changed much since 1918?

A. “Kids today are so very different to what they were in 1918, so you sort of think is it a dated story, but it obviously isn’t. The children at the 90th anniversary of “The Pud” were no different, they really felt that particular magic and were very excited about getting a slice of pudding too.”

Q. Why do you think “The Magic Pudding” became a classic?

A. “Because it was written by Norman Lindsay, a very well known artist, and it was published after the First World War and I think Australians were looking for an escape that had a reality to it. So many families were touched by the horrors of the war and I think timing is everything in life. The other thing is that there were very few Australian childrens’ books around so there’s some national pride attached to it.”

Q. Can you tell us about the characters in the book?

A. “There’s a koala called Bunyip Bluegums, Bill Barnacle the sailor, Sam Sawnoff the penguin and Albert, the Magic Pudding. Then there’s the pudding thieves, a rather snouty possum and a boozy looking wombat who are forever trying to steal Albert.”

The book was written and published in 1918 when Australia was still a relatively new nation. There was a terrific interest in native animals and Lindsay included them. He had been drawing for magazines since 1907 so people were familiar with his animals.”

Q. What age group is it geared to?

A. “It’s quite a difficult text for kids to read themselves. It’s the sort of book adults have the lovely pleasure of reading to small children. I guess it would be geared to six-to-ten year olds.”

Q. The Magic Pudding isn’t just for children though, is it?

A. “It’s been called the Australian national metaphor because economists and politicians use the term; for example, ‘the economy is not a magic pudding’ or ‘the resource is not a magic pudding’. It’s because of that never-ending quality. It’s even in the Macquarie dictionary.”

Q. How many copies have sold and in how many languages?

A. “We have no idea whatsoever of how many books have been sold but we know it has been translated in several different languages including Spanish, Portuguese, German, French Japanese and Korean.”

Q. What was it like growing up with your famous grandfather?

A. “There was a great sense of adventure driving up to his secluded house, as it was back then, and because he was an artist we were used to seeing nude portraits and statues around the house and garden.”

Reporting by Pauline Askin, Editing by Miral Fahmy

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