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Literature / Les Voyageurs Sans Souci

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From left to right: Sébastien, Agathe and Seraphine Alavolette

Les Voyageurs Sans Souci (The Carefree Travellers) is a fantasy children book written in 1970 by French writer Marcelle Lerme-Walter (1906-2001). It was illustrated by Patrice Harispe.

The story is set at the dawn of the 20th century, in a world where children can understand animal speech. The co-protagonist is Sébastien, an eleven-year-old kid who moves to Saint-Isidore -a little town in southern France- after losing his parents to live with his Aunt Ursule. Shortly after arriving at the village, he makes friends with co-protagonist Agathe and learns one of his schoolmates -Rosalie, the daughter of his father's childhood friend Captain Albatros-, disappeared mysteriously one week ago.

Sébastien and Agathe decide to go to the fairground after school, but most of tents have already left due to bad weather...except for one, ran by one eccentric lady called Séraphine Alavolette de Plumauvent and her assistant Grand-voleur (French word for Great Thief). Miss Alavolette claims to sell magical flying suits...but she will only make deals with lazy students. Sébastien and Agathe definitely fit the bill, but unfortunately Alavolette doesn't have clothes for their size; so she promises to sell them suits of the right size if they visit her booth at the Fontclaireau Fair the next day. After their meeting, Agathe guesses Miss Alavolette must be a witch, but her friends scoff at the notion.

Sébastien is the only who doesn't laugh it off, and later that night he comes to believe Agathe is not misguided at all: after being woken up by his aunt's cat Blanchebelle at 4.00 in the morning, Sébastien witnesses Miss Alavolette riding one broomstick, landing on his aunt's garden and breaking all birds out of their cages. Sébastien then eavesdrops on the released birds referring to Alavolette as their queen, and the woman cursing humans for Golden Eagle's disappearance. Miss Alavolette swears she will keep kidnapping children until her dear friend is back, but she will let all her hostages -even Rosalie- go when humans release Golden Eagle.

At the morning, Sébastien meets with Agathe and reveals what he saw Later, Sébastien and Agathe are playing in the attic of Captain Albatros' house when a pigeon arrives, bringing a message from Rosalie to her father. She has indeed been kidnapped by Miss Alavolette and will only be released if Golden Eagle returns to the Castle of Plumauvent (literally, Featherwind). Mirliflore also reveals Miss Alavolette's flying costumes are a trap for gullible kids, who eagerly try to fly off without any prior training and are picked and blown to Plumauvent by the queen's friend Northern Wind. Agathe is aghast at Miss Alavolette being a children kidnapper, to which Mirlifrlore angrily replies that, as far as the birds are concerned, Alavolette is protecting them from humans who would hunt and kidnap them. Sébastien and Agathe are left to wonder if they would be able to find Golden Eagle so the queen lets her hostages go.

Later that day, both kids meet Mis Alavolette in the fair, but she becomes gradually annoyed with their inquisitive questions regarding the suits' proper handling, so she offers them a soft drink. Incautiously, both children take a sip and start getting sleepy. Fortunately, they are saved from being carted off to Plumauvent by Opportune -Aunt Ursule's maid- angrily bursting into the wagon, dragging Sébastien and Agathe out of there and dumping them in their donkey-drawn carriage. Unwilling to let her prey go, Alavolette puts a magic hat on the donkey Zacharie's head and orders him to go to Plumauvent. The donkey dashes off before Opportune can get in the carriage and runs like a crazy wind until Sébastien manages to slap the hat off the donkey's head.

When Zacharie finally stops his mad race, both children see they have been led to an old, abandoned castle. It is not Plumauvent but they are many miles away from Saint-Isidore, they don't know the way back home and they cannot count on Zacharie because the donkey ditched them as soon as they turned their backs on him. As speaking with the birds living around the castle, though, Sébastien and Agathe learn that Golden Eagle was last seen in that castle, and one of the birds may have a lead to find her. However, if both kids want to track down and free Golden Eagle in order to release Rosalie and all kidnapped children, they must learn how to use their flying suits properly.

A sample of the book can be read here, and here.


  • Androcles' Lion: Sébastien and Agathe find and free Golden Eagle, which had been caged by an abusive circus ringmaster, and in return the giant bird personally flies their friend Rosalie -who had been kidnapped- back to their hometown.
  • Amplified Animal Aptitude: All animals are able to communicate among themselves and have human-level intelligence which let them perform complex tasks. An eagle-owl is able to figure out how to lock one door despite obviously lacking hands to turn the key. And the dog Timoleón runs his owner Captain Albatros' store in the absence while he is away.
  • Animal Talk: All animals can understand the human language and hold conversations with other species (seen when Timoléon (dog) and Blanchebelle (cat) have an argument, or when Mirliflore (pigeon) delivers messages to other birds: sparrows, blackbirds, finches, warblers...). Young children can also understand their language before reaching adulthood.
  • Artistic License – Ornithology: When Sébastien, Agathe and Timoléon are running down a tower's staircase as fleeing from a furious eagle-owl, it is said that the swooshing of his wings is akin to the rumbling of a storm. Very dramatic, but eagle-owls make no noise whatsoever when flying.
  • Bad Liar: The pigeon Mirliflore brags about being the Grand Master of Ceremonies of the realm of the birds to Sébastien and Agathe. Several days later, the main characters meet Mirliflore again, and he is greeted with "The postman! The postman is here" shouts from a flock of birds. Sébastien and Agathe suspiciously ask if he has just been demoted, and Mirliflore -who does not want to admit he has always been a run-of-the-mill messenger pigeon- quickly changes the topic.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: The heroes and good-aligned people treat animals respectfully and would never think to harm them. Bad people and jerkasses hunt and hurt birds for fun, causing their queen to hate humans, and are responsible for the mess which must be fixed by the protagonists: Golden Eagle is captured by one poacher and sold to one cruel ringmaster, who proceeds to cage her for display, and Alavolette decides to punish humans in retaliation for her best friend's disappearance.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Séraphine Alavolette may look human, but she is really a magical creature who rules over all flying creatures, simultaneously cherishing all birds and loathing humans. When the pigeon Mirliflore tells Sébastien and Agathe that Alavolette has kidnapped thirty-six children -and counting- to punish humans for her dear friend Golden Eagle's disappearance, both kids become aghast at the queen being a child-kidnapper; to which Mirliflore angrily retorts humans kill, rob and capture birds and eggs, sometimes just for fun, and he has opinions regarding bird traps and cages which he will not voice aloud for the sake of a civil conversation. Rather than deeming her evil, both kids decide that judging the queen of birds according to human morals is pointless, so they focus on searching for Golden Eagle so that Alavolette sets her hostages free.
  • Bullying a Dragon: When exploring an abandoned castle, Sébastien and Agathe notice a noisy flock of sparrows flying over the rooftops as chirping and singing as mad. A blackbird scoffs that flock loves taunting a group of owls who live in the castle's garret, but neither of them will be anywhere near by the nightfall when the owls get out and begin their night-hunting.
  • Canines Primary, Felines Secondary: The dog Timoléon has a semi-important role whereas the cat Blanchebelle does little more than delivering snarky comments. Additionally, Timoléon is named before Blanchebelle in the Character List provided at the beginning of the book.
  • Carnivore Confusion: The flock of owls inhabiting the old castle are outraged because Séraphine Alavolette wants them to stop hunting other birds and become vegetarians. The owls argue their instincts -and hunger- do not suddenly and conveniently stop working when they spot a pigeon; and they think their queen should watch over her Prime Minister if she is so determined to establish harmony between birds, because nobody will convince them that Golden Eagle lives off tiny mammals, exclusively.
  • Cat Scare: Sébastien, Agathe, the dog Timoléon and the donkey Zacharie arrive at an abandoned castle and read a sign on the door warning the castle is haunted. They then are spooked by a white shadow flying overhead and hooting, but it is only a scoops owl.
  • Clothes Make the Superman: Sébastien and Agathe can fly thanks to their magic outfits.
  • Cock-a-Doodle Dawn: Subverted. Agathe knows their journey is over and she and Sébastien are back in Saint-Isidore when she hears a rooster night. It is Miss Brousse's rooster, who always crows at the wrong hour.
  • Creepy Crows: Big Crow holds the position of Grand Sorcerer in the court of Séraphine Alavolette, Queen of All Flying Creatures. Coveting the position of Prime Minister, Big Crow and its flock ambush Golden Eagle during a trip and harass the larger bird until shooting her down, and they try to put a curse upon the hermit who finds and takes care of the wounded bird of prey.
  • Defiant Captive: Rosalie deals with being kidnapped by Miss Alavolette by being the most unpleasant prisoner ever: she tears the queen's favorite dress, goads crows into laying eggs on her throne cushions, makes mud pies using a valuable china tureen, writes gags on the castle's hall and walls, puts hedgehogs in the servants' beds...suffice it say that Miss Alavolette is actually relieved when Rosalie is given back to her father.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Grand-voleur ("Big Thief") was kidnapped when he was a kid by Séraphine Alavolette, Queen of All Birds, and forced to work as her servant for seven years for robbing and sucking one magpie egg (called an "unforgivable crime" by Alavolette when Grand-voleur complains about his punishment being too severe).
  • Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: When Sebastién and Agathe try to bring a wind-blown straw hat back to its owner, Eastern Wind threatens to blow them to the Castle of Plumauvent -where they will be imprisoned- if they interfere with its "amusement". Feeling emboldened by his adventures and overconfident about his flying skills, Sébastien unwisely challenges Eastern Wind to try. Fortunately for both children, Eastern Wind is so fickle that it forgot about them and its toy before Sébastien was finished speaking.
  • The Edwardian Era: Published in 1970, it takes place in the South of France at the outset of the twentieth century. Flying machines have just been invented, fuel-powered cars are starting to replace carriages, and Saint-Isidore's kids read strips, books and magazines which were popular among French children back then.
  • Elemental Embodiment: The four Winds are living, sapient creatures who can speak to humans but are not exactly friendly entities. Northern Wind and Western Wind are old friends of the Queen of the Birds, who hates humans. Eastern Wind is a fickle, petty jerkass who blew one hat away from its owner only to be an ass and threatened the main characters when they tried to interfere with its "fun", but forgot everything about them one second later. On the other hand, Southern Wind is a loony and reckless nuisance, but it is able to acknowledge when it takes its jokes too far.
  • Evil Chancellor: Big Crow is not Alavolette's Prime Minister but her court's Grand Sorcerer; but he wants the position, so he repeatedly attempts against the life of the actual Prime Minister -and the Queen's best friend- Golden Eagle, setting the main plot in motion.
  • The Fair Folk: Although she is not explicitly identified as one, Séraphine Alavolette de Plumauvent ticks most of the boxes. Although she may look human, she is a magical creature who is bonded to elemental and nature forces and has rule over birds. She lives in a distant realm which cannot be reached by mortal means such like flying machines. And she despises humans and steals their kids when angered. Speaking of which, tasting her food is a real bad idea.
  • Female Feline, Male Mutt: Aunt Ursule's cat Blanchebelle is female; Rosalie's father's dog Timoléon is male.
  • Flying Broomstick: Séraphine Alavolette rides a talking, magical, flying broomstick made from birch wood while posing as a witch. Nonetheless, her broomstick is sick of serving her, so the queen of birds throws it away angrily when the broomstick complains that she wants to be let go to go back to sweep floors.
  • Foreshadowing: When Sébastien and Agathe are dragged to an abandoned castle, they find a sign that reads "Warning: Haunted Castle" on the door. They are arguing about the alleged presence of ghosts when they get scared by a white shadow flying over their heads. They then realize that it is not a ghost but a scops owl. Later, they decide to spy on the supposedly haunted garret, and discover the "ghosts" are a colony of eagle-owls.
  • Haunted Castle: Subverted. When Sébastien and Agathe are dragged to an abandoned castle, they spot a sign on the gate which reads: "No trespassing. Warning: Haunted castle". Later, both children find out the castle is not haunted at all. The former owner believed in ghosts and was convinced that they were responsible for the noises in the garret, no matter how many times her grandson Ted assured a flock of owls were causing the noise.
  • The Hermit: Sébastian and Agathe must talk to a hermit who lives in a cave on a mountainside to find Golden Eagle. Agathe's idea of a hermit is "a very old long-bearded man who wears a hood and black robes, and lives alone in a cave because he has been hurt by other people or wants to meditate over his griefs without being disturbed." When they meet him, though, he is a blonde, blue-eyed -filthy- man who suffers from unrequited love and is seventeen at most.
  • I Gave My Word: Seraphine Alavolette may despise humans, blaming them for her friend Golden Eagle's disappearance, and punishing them by kidnapping children. But when Golden Eagle is rescued, Alavolette releases all her hostages without hesitation because she promised she would give them back to their families when Golden Eagle returned to her castle.
  • Instant Messenger Pigeon: Messenger pigeons are used by Alavolette to carry messages and spread news around her realm. The pigeon Mirliflore can easily remember dozens of messages and find their recipients whenever they live. Mirliflore also has an uncanny knack to run into the main characters, even accidentally, when he needs to transmit a message to them.
  • Invisible to Adults: Children can understand and talk with animals, but they lose this ability when they grow up.
  • The Joy of First Flight: When Sébastien and Agathe try their magic suits for the first time and begin flying over the tall grass they become exhilarated with joy. Agathe would later describe their experience as a wonderful delight.
  • Kidnapping Bird of Prey: Inverted when Golden Eagle carries off 11 years Rosalie -who had been kidnapped by the queen of birds- back home.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: When Sébastien finally returns home, he and Opportune agree that Aunt Ursule (who was spending a week at Barèges Spa) does not need to know her nephew was disappeared for several days because he found a magical flying suit and was searching for and rescuing the queen of birds's best friend. So when Aunt Ursule returns and asks if something unusual happened, Opportune is happy to report "Absolutely nothing".
  • Men Like Dogs, Women Like Cats: Miss Ursule -Sébastien's aunt- owns a white cat called Blanchebelle (White Beauty); whereas Captain Albatros -Rosalie's father- owns a dog called Timoléon.
  • Missing Mom: Sébastien's mother died before the beginning of the story, causing him to move to Saint-Isidore to live with his aunt. Agathe's friend Artémise is a full orphan.
  • Misplaced Retribution: Subverted. Miss Alavolette assumes humans must be behind Golden Eagle's disappearance, so they deserve to be punished until her dear friend is back. However, Golden Eagle disappeared because Big Crow -Alavolette's own court wizard- and his flock attempted to murder her. In fact, Golden Eagle was found by a hermit who tried to cure her, so Alavolette would be wrong to blame humans...if it were not for the fact that Golden Eagle was captured by a hunter as the hermit was away and sold to a circus.
  • Nephewism: The story begins when Sébastien arrives at his aunt Ursule's home in Saint-Isidore. It is not explained why he is moving with his aunt or what has happened to his father (Ursule mentions his mother is dead), and his parents are not even mentioned after the first chapter.
  • Never My Fault: After dragging Sébastien and Agathe to an old, abandoned castle against their will, and then finding out it is supposedly haunted, the donkey Zacharie demands to know why they dragged him to such a scary place.
  • New Transfer Student: The story starts out with eleven-year-old Sébastien moving to Saint-Isidore, transferring to the local school and meeting Agathe, who will become his partner of adventures.
  • Noble Bird of Prey: Golden Eagle holds the position of Prime Minister in the Realm of Flying Creatures and is the Queen's best friend. Described as a magnificent, large eagle with golden-brown plumage and a penetrating gaze, Golden Eagle prides itself in paying its debts and keeping its promises.
  • Ominous Owl: When the main characters arrive at the abandoned castle, they are said that it is haunted by ghosts. Sébastien and Agathe also learn those supposed ghosts are called the Lords/Princes of Night by the local birdlife, who take care to not fly near the castle after sundown because they are terrified of them. Both kids decide to wait until night to climb the tower and spy on the ghosts, finding out they are a flock of eagle-owls. Unfortunately, they are discovered, and have to flee from an angry and very scary eagle-owl.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: Ted's idea of fairies is influenced by the tales of his Irish grandmother, who grew up in the Victorian Era. So, when a young girl wearing a strange winged costume flies into his room, Ted believes her to be a fairy, and he assumes she is friendly, well-meaning and English-speaking (since he believes fairies must come from Ireland).
  • Overly Long Name: People usually call Sébastien's father Roger because his full name is Émile Benoît Roger Sosthène Symphorien.
  • Pesky Pigeons: Although the pigeon Mirliflore is on the main characters' side, he is arrogant, snappy, snobby and demanding (as well as a terrible liar who boasts about being the Grand Master of Ceremonies of Plumauvent when he is a simple postman). All in all, Sébastien and Agathe find him helpful but annoying.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Sébastien and Agathe are fellow adventurers and spend a lot of time travelling together without more company than each other. They are good friends, get along really well and trust each other implicitly, but there are no hints of romantic tension between them.
  • Promotion to Parent: Artémise Pimpante and her baby brothers Jean and Paul are orphans. They have a welfare-appointed guardian, but Artémise is constantly watching over her little siblings and doing chores like washing their clothes.
  • Race Against the Clock: Played light-heartedly. Sébastien and Agathe receive a message from Rosalie stating that they have one week to find Golden Eagle or else...she will be unable to celebrate her birthday at home, which would be terrible. Both kids are not amused at Rosalie's self-centeredness, but they carry the quest out anyway.
  • Repulsive Ringmaster: Bebert-Léopard, who runs the Cirque Tricolore, buys wounded animals from poachers and keeps them in cages. When he spots twelve-year-old girl Agathe flying around, he attempts to capture her to force her to perform for his circus.
  • Ridiculously Small Wings: Justified. Sébastien and Agathe's flying suits have four pairs of small wings sprouting from their caps, shoulders and ankles. They are not large enough to lift their weight, but they don't need to because their outfits are magical. The wings are mainly used for steering.
  • Sacred Hospitality: As travelling across the countryside, Sébastien and Agathe start feeling tired and hungry. Both kids land near a cottage and walk towards an old farmer, who readily asks that pair of stranger and strangely-dressed kids if they are starving. Sébastien and Agathe nod, and the old woman is happy to feed them and give them directions.
  • Shapeshifting Excludes Clothing: When Séraphine Alavolette, Queen of All Birds, decides to return to her realm, her body floats and she appears to vanish as her human disguise is ditched. Her discarded clothes fall to the ground, and the main characters believe to see "something" big and translucent cutting through the clouds.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When Sébastien and Agathe look over Ted's room, they can imagine him reading Comtesse de Ségur's Mémoires d'un âne (Memoirs of a Donkey) and Georges Colomb's La famille Fenouillard (The Fenouillard Family)
    • When Agathe tells her friend Artémise Pimpante about their adventures, the latter scoffs she read a tale like that the last week in La Semaine de Suzette (The Week of Suzette, a French magazine for young girls which was published from 1905 to 1960).
  • Schmuck Bait: Sébastien and Agathe know Miss Alavolette is a child-kidnapping witch who uses magic to abduct children who are dumb enough to buy her wares. Nonetheless, they reason that they can buy Alavolette's flying suits and still be safe by learning how to use them properly. When they meet Alavolette, though, they smugly ask if her suits have a user's guide or something, visibly clueing her in on the fact that they may be less dumb than that she had hoped. Alavolette gets mad but she says she will answer their questions if they try her special liquor first...which Sébastien and Agathe proceed to drink despite Alavolette's servant making desperate "No, no!" signs behind her back. Needless to say, their drinks were drugged, and they are only saved from getting abducted by Opportune -Sébastien's aunt's maid- storming into Alavolette's tent, and dragging both kids out of there.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: All kids can understand and talk with animals, but they lose that ability when they become adults.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: As searching for the Cirque Tricolore, Sébastien and Agathe wander into a lonely farm. Believing them to be the ringmaster's kids due to their flashy magic suits, an old farmer gives them food and directions to find the circus. Sébastian and Agathe wait until she turns her back on them to fly off, making the woman wonder how they have vanished so suddenly.
  • There Was a Door: When Sébastien arrives at his aunt's house, he decides to look through the living room windows before knocking on the door. When leaning against the large window panes, though, he accidentally pushes it open, so he decides to jump his aunt's annoyance, who protests her family uses doors like civilised people.
  • Thieving Magpie: As learning how to fly, Agathe lands on a branch, right next to a magpie's hoard (full of glass fragments, keys, coins...). Infuriated, the magpie tries to pluck Agathe's hairs and scratch her face, forcing the girl to jump off the branch. Later, Agathe finds out that same magpie pushed Ted off when the boy climbed the tree to retrieve his stolen switchblade knife.
  • Totally Not a Werewolf: Agathe is mistaken for a fairy by Ted when she flies through his bedroom's window wearing a winged suit. After some initial muddle (Ted addresses to her in English because he assumes fairies must come from Ireland, and Agathe, who does not speak English, nods to be polite), Agathe has to explain she is a regular human girl who has found a magical outfit.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: A girl travelling by hot-air balloon gets her straw hat blown away by strong wind. Suddenly and unexpectedly, another young girl -Agathe- wearing a weird, winged suit floats up to her basket and gives her hat back. Rather than wondering who that person is and why and how she can fly, the hat's owner goes back to looking at something through a spyglass.
  • We Need a Distraction: Sébastien and Agathe must rescue Golden Eagle, who has been imprisoned by the Cirque Tricolore's ringmaster Bebert-Léopard. So Sébastien can sneak into the animal cages and break Golden Eagle out unbothered, Agathe literally flies into the tent and keeps the circus' spectators and workers completely focused on her by performing all kind of dazzling aerial tricks.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Saint-Isidore is said to be located in the southwest of France, but the exact location is unclear. There is a French town called Saint-Isidore, but it is located in southeastern France.
  • Wicked Witch: Séraphine Alavolette de Plumauvent takes the form of a witch while travelling around the human world: she has a long hooky nose, wears black, owns a flying broomstick, and uses magic trinkets to lure and kidnap unwary children.