As a child in the early 1970s I discovered the anarchic madness that is J.P.Martin's 'Uncle' in our local library. If Spike Milligan had teamed up with Roald Dahl to re-write 'Babar' then I presume it might have turned out something similar to this. Although perhaps not quite as funny.
Uncle is a well-educated, fabulously wealthy and hilariously pompous and vain elephant who lives in a massive, Gormenghastian castle called Homeward full of hidden towers, haunted houses, swimming pools, dwarfs, waterfalls and secret passages.
Uncle has a number of helpers and friends including (amongst others) the Old Monkey, Butterskin Mute (a gardener with shovels on his shoes who can grow anything except watercress), Alonso S. Whitebeard (a miser),Cowgill (an engineer who drives Uncle around in a traction engine), the one-armed badger, the Muncle (the old-monkey's footwear-fixated uncle) and Noddy Ninety (an extremely old man who still goes to school and is a train driver in his spare time).
Unfortunately not everything is rosy for Uncle. Directly opposite Homeward's main gate is Badfort, a sprawling, dilapidated castle which is home to the abominable, sack-suited Beaver Hateman and his associates who include various relatives, Jellytussle (a huge thing covered in blue jelly), the wooden-legged donkey and Hitmouse (a scurrilous dwarf 'journalist' who stabs people with skewers, lives in a nissen hut and hates washing dishes).
Hateman and his gang lay traps for Uncle, extract money under false pretences, write hilariously skewed newspaper articles about Uncle and generally get up to all manner of nefarious mischief. All of which usually ends in a massive fight and Uncle kicking them up in the air into a swamp or a pond full of vicious fish.
There are more laugh-out-loud moments per page than even Terry Pratchett, and I can give no higher praise than that.
And, if the stories themselves weren't reason enough to love these books, the scratchy illustrations by the sublime Sir Quentin Blake are a perfect fit for the slyly subversive text.
Apart from 'Uncle' and the sequel 'Uncle Cleans Up', until last November, none of the other four books had ever been reprinted. Second hand volumes sell for astronomical amounts due to, it seems, a wealthy collector who has been buying up any copies which come on to the market. Last year a kickstarter campaign to publish all the Uncle books in one volume was started by Marcus Gipps and was almost immediately oversubscribed, resulting in the publication of a massive hardbound book, 'The Complete Uncle'.
The book itself includes all six stories plus a short biography of J.P.Martin (who, astoundingly, was a Methodist minister and who, I feel, has a number of similarities to J.R.R. Tolkien) and a selection of unpublished illustrations for the books by Quentin Blake, plus a lot of other supplementary material.
This is a lost classic of British children's literature which deserves to be mentioned alongside the likes of Alice In Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Hobbit. Am I the only person on TORC to have read these books?