Fuse #8

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Review of the Day: The Dreamkeeper

If I weren't so doggone lazy I'd figure out what the deal is with this book. Is it coming out soon? Not coming out again at all? As you can see, I'm rather perplexed.

This book is a bit of a puzzle to me. Back in 1998 a publisher called "Star Bright Books" (still in operation) published Robert Ingpen's stunning dreamscape of a picture book, "The Dreamkeeper". Usually a book only gets one life in this world. "The Dreamkeeper" seems to have two. I received a review copy of the book from Minedition, a colorful division of the Penguin Young Readers Group. It appears that "The Dreamkeeper" was to be republished by the eclectic publisher in March of 2006. I say this with some confusion, though, since nowhere on the minedition website is "The Dreamkeeper" even mentioned. Robert Ingpen is brought up more than once, but that shouldn't be surprising. He's an amazing fella. So with much scratching of the head, I turn to this book to review it. And if explaining to you whether or not this puppy will ever get published is hard, imagine how much harder it might be to describe a book that reads more like the flitting shadows of the subconscious rather than a straightforward picture book. I greatly enjoyed Ingpen's ode to our nocturnal meanderings. Just don't ask me how I'd classify it in my library.

The book acts as a letter between author Robert Ingpen and his granddaughter Alice Elisabeth. In it, he begins by explaining that there is a man who "collects dreams and keep them safe. He is called The Dreamkeeper". With a collection of charms and lures all sewn to his jacket and variety of baskets and cages hanging from his person, The Dreamkeeper is always ready to catch the bad dreams "when they try to escape to become real". Explanations are made as to how one goes about getting a dragon and the best way to trick a witch. The Dreamkeeper lives in a pigeonhouse with his sister and a goblin named Tally. Tally has a remote control that allows him to defend himself (and brother, trust me when I say that you've never seen a remote control like this one). Then we get to see the all-powerful Dreamtree and Ingpen lets loose with a stunning array of mythological, nightmarish, fabulous, and fantastical creatures and characters. Look fast and you might see Pinocchio running beside a wolf who paces in front of the White Rabbit from "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland". Turn another page and scholarly monkeys write in books, trolls strangle snakes, Long John Silver's on the loose, fairies dance just out of reach, and so many images hit your eye at once that you don't know where to look for a long long time. By the end, The Dreamkeeper walks by himself. "Safe traveling, good dreaming, and God bless, -Grandpa".

Perhaps the fact that there are so many scenes and characters in the Dreamtree from Lewis Carroll's books can be traced in part to the fact that this book has been written for a girl named Alice. Part of what I liked about this story was that in some ways, Ingpen IS the Dreamkeeper himself. You never see his character's face, which allows him to be anybody. And Ingpen certainly does capture the bad dreams, keep the good, and display both for his grandchildren in the form of his beautifully illustrated pages. Parents will love explaining to their kids who some of the characters are that run past the reader as they move from scene to scene. Those dreamy kids that love fairies or even books like Dr. Ernest Drake's, "Dragonology" will appreciate the almost scientific explainations of the uses of different cages and traps for bad dreams. And of course the illustrations cannot be beat. Stunning doesn't quite explain it. Awesome comes close. Jaw-droppingly mesmerizing to the point that one forgets to eat or bathe while reading... that's just about right.

Of course, there is one thing this book reminded me of right off the bat: "Sandman". How could it not? Basically, the Dreamkeeper is not too distantly removed from that graphic novel classic character The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman. In both cases there's a fellow who manages the dreamscape, has a house of his own somewhere, someone to tend his library, and various assistants. The similarities are rather striking. I'm not suggesting that Ingpen knew he was making a kid-friendly version of Gaiman's books, but had he included any references to "A Mid-Summer Night's Dream" I would be less forgiving. As it stands, this works as a good kid intro to the world of dreaming. Then, when they're teenagers, you can get them a copy of "Preludes and Nocturnes".

All in all, you won't find anything like "The Dreamkeeper" out there today. This is one of those rare little books that come across as particularly enjoyable to read. One can only hope that it will indeed be published again so that new hoards of children might look at its pages and find new dreams to add to their own. In a word, beautiful.

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