Book Report: Phoebe and Her Unicorn

Published March 18, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

So I’ve finished another challenge much more quickly than expected.  Largely because I needed something to read in the bath and couldn’t take my class reading in there (I refuse to use my iPad or to read a library book in the bath), and I ended up grabbing my selection for Challenge #6 “Read an all-ages comic.”

My original choice for #6 was the latest Asterix book (which I’ve been putting off reading because both original creators passed away some years ago (one more recently than the other), and so it was written and drawn by new hands, making me leery of it, though I’ve been assured it’s actually good), but then I saw this one recommended and compared to Calvin and Hobbes.  So I checked out the more detailed information on Amazon, and saw that the introduction was written by Peter S. Beagle, so of course I had to read it!  (Well, of course they asked him to write an introduction.  While Marigold Heavenly Nostrils’ personality is a bit, um, more comical than that of title character of The Last Unicorn, her appearance is clearly inspired by the animated version.)  While he, also, makes the Calvin comparison, he also compares Phoebe to Charlie Brown, which I think might be the more apt comparison.  But I’ll get back to that in a minute.

So, what is Phoebe and Her Unicorn about?  (Um, apart from the obvious.)  This collection of comic strips (apparently web comics, rather than newspaper comics) starts with fourth grader Phoebe meeting the unicorn Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, and being given a single wish.  Like any fourth grader at the bottom of her class’s social ladder, Phoebe wishes (after some false starts) for Marigold to be her best friend, and her wish is granted.  Their adventures together tend to be quiet ones, riding through the forests, and just generally talking to let their different-yet-similar personalities create the humor.  (Though there are also the occasional highly imaginative adventures as well.)  There’s also a lot about Phoebe’s trouble with her classmates, who look down on her as a weird loser.

The Calvin and Hobbes comparison seems obvious, right?  A boy and his imaginary/stuffed tiger, a girl and her unicorn; they seem like they’re on the same page.  And to a certain extent they are.  Phoebe does have quite an imagination for crazy adventures (and, to be honest, Calvin’s adventures often were quiet things like sledding or walking in the woods, having deep conversations with Hobbes).  But the really big difference is that to everyone else in the world, Hobbes is just a stuffed animal, whereas everyone else in Phoebe’s world can see Marigold.  It’s just that they don’t pay much attention to Marigold because she has the Shield of Boringness to deflect their awe.  (Technically, that ought to be in a Gothic font, but I don’t know how to change the font on here.)  Said shield rather reminds me of the “Somebody Else’s Problem Field” from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  (Not sure which part of it; it may have only been in season two of the radio series.)  Something similar was also introduced in the new series Doctor Who as well, though I don’t remember exactly what it was called — a “perception filter” or something, maybe.  (I think that was in “The Lodger,” but the way the new series is structured, it’s really awkward watching just one episode instead of all (or most of) a season at a single go, so…yeah, not gonna check.  I don’t have time to start marathoning vast quantities of Doctor Who right now.)  That gives Marigold a very different presence as Phoebe’s constant companion than Hobbes had as Calvin’s.

That brings me back to the other comparison, to Peanuts and Charlie Brown.  I’m very fond of the really early Peanuts strips, from the late ’50s and early ’60s, and there are definitely similarities.  Phoebe is entirely modern, of course (smart phone and all), but she has the same kind of insecurities, and the same desire to be accepted by her classmates.  She has all her own ways of approaching things, but she has a basic interest in accepting and being accepted that’s very like Charlie Brown’s.  (Unlike Calvin, who really doesn’t seem to want to have anything to do with the majority of the other kids at school.  And given what most of his classmates are like, it’s hard to blame him, really.)

Bottom line, this is a very endearing little book.  It’s funny, intelligent and charmingly drawn.  Despite the sparkly pink cover (and the unicorn), it’s not “Calvin and Hobbes for girls”; this book is its own thing, and (just like Calvin and Hobbes) should be equally able to entertain girls and boys both, as well as adults.

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