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Literature / The Land of Green Ginger

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And now, if you are ready to begin, I bring you a Tale of Heroes and Villains, just as in Life; Birds and Beasts, just as in Zoos; Mysteries and Magic, just as in Daydreams; and the Wonderful Wanderings of an Enchanted Land which was never in the same place twice...

The Land of Green Ginger is a children's book by the South African/American writer Noel Langley. It was first published as The Tale of the Land of Green Ginger in 1937, and was successful enough that it may have landed Langley his job working on the script The Wizard of Oz and hence helped launch his career as a screenwriter. It was revised with the shorter title in 1966, and that is probably the best-known and most popular version. An abridged version was published in 1975, and is widely hated by fans of the earlier edition, as it loses some of the jokes, one or two significant characters, and too much of the prose, which verges on the edge of Purple without ever quite falling in.

Some editions have illustrations by popular children's book artist Edward Ardizzone, which are another part of the book's charm. Its profile was raised in the UK in 1968 when it was read on Jackanory by Kenneth Williams (who could be just as lemony as the book's narrator).

The story is an early example of a modern sequel to a classic popular story, in this case that of Aladdin, asking what happened after the Happily Ever After ending. In this case, though, there's no attempt to subvert the original story; Aladdin remains Happily Married to his beloved Bedr-el-Budur and is now Emperor of China, and the story begins with the birth of their son. However, to the surprise of all present, the child starts talking soon after birth, and begins by saying that Aladdin's mother has a face like a Button-Nosed Tortoise. Aladdin consults the djinn of the lamp (from the original story), who realizes that the boy must be the Chosen One destined to break the unfortunate Spell of the Land of Green Ginger. And so, when the boy (who was also destined to be named Abu Ali) comes of age, he sets off on his adventure — which brings him romance, and also conflict with two rival princes, the Wicked Tintac Ping Foo of Persia and the equally Wicked Rubdub Ben Thud of Arabia. Langley clearly had a keen eye for tropes as well as that prose style, so the book, while aimed at children, is an immense pleasure for parents to read.

In which we bring you an Account of Tropes, Honored, Parodied, Invoked and Occasionally Subverted:

  • Abusive Parents: Sulkpot Ben Nagnag keeps his daughter, Silver Bud, locked up in his home because he intends to ensure that she marries a wealthy prince of his choosing. While he doesn't seem to treat her especially badly otherwise (this is a children's book, after all), Abu Ali is shocked and outraged to hear this, and vows to rescue her.
  • "Arabian Nights" Days: The book is a nigh-Troperiffic collection of features from western ideas of the Arabian Nightsdjinn, magic carpets, sultans, and desert cities included.
  • Artistic License – Geography: In classic Arabian Nights style, the book has princes from China, Persia, and Arabia (and also, it’s mentioned, Japan) running round Samarkand and assorted other locations and bumping into each other en route there. Furthermore, Sulkpot Ben Nagnag of that city is described as “the richest Wholesale Jeweller in all Araby”; Samarkand is nowhere near Arabia.
  • Busman's Vocabulary: Sinbad the Sailor ("Son of the Sinbad!") talks largely in nautical clichés, to the point that the reader (who first encounters him sailing a small boat on a calm river) may well doubt his authenticity.
    "But if you're coming aboard ye'll have to Shake a Leg, ye Pesky Landlubbers!" he added. "There's a Squall coming up on the Port Bow!"
    "Which is the Port Bow?" asked Abu Ali.
    "Whichever you prefer," said Sinbad generously. "I find that Either answers Admirably. All Aboard that's Coming Aboard!"
  • Capital Letters Are Magic: Langley is fond of capitalizing Significant Terms for humorous effect.
  • The Chosen One: Abu Ali is destined to deal with the problem of the Land of Green Ginger. Everyone goes along with this; it's just how things are.
  • Crystal Ball: Nosi Parka the Egg Head monitors events all around the world with his crystal.
  • Fat and Skinny: Rubdub Ben Thud and Tintac Ping Foo (who spend most of the book ganging up on Abu Ali, despite the fact that they hate each other) play hard into this trope visually, especially in Ardizzone's illustrations. However, they're both idiots; most of the bright ideas come from Rubdub's Small Slave.
  • Floating Continent: The eponymous Land of Green Ginger is a small but valid example — a magical flying island, floating out of control when the story begins.
  • Genie in a Bottle: Abdul, the Slave of the Lamp from Aladdin's original story, now freed, can still be summoned, and is happy to act as a friendly advisor. (True to its sources, this story uses an old-fashioned oil lamp rather than a bottle, and treats it as a summoning mechanism rather than a prison.) Later in the story, Abdul's small son, Boomalakka Wee, shows up in his place, and proves rather less competent.
  • Happily Ever After: Not only does this story follow on from the happy ending of Aladdin, but Abu Ali naturally gets his own happy ending. It's all in genre.
  • The Hero: Abu Ali is a Nice Guy, quite competent (though not superhuman), and determined to do the right thing. He goes on a quest, solves a problem, and gets the girl.
  • Hero Protagonist: Abu Ali (see The Hero and The Protagonist.) It's a very old-school story, in a knowing way.
  • Historical Domain Character: Abu Ali finds an ally in Omar Khayyam, who with immaculate accuracy to tradition, is a tent-maker and amateur poet. He also seems to be fond of a drink, which again is appropriate if one knows his Rubáiyát.
  • The Jeeves: Rubdub Ben Thud's Small Slave is a villainous eastern version, being by far the most capable of the villains.
  • Last-Minute Baby Naming: When the new prince is born to the Emperor and Empress of China, a royal council is summoned to suggest a name for him — and can't think of anything. (There are hints that this last-minute decision-making is traditional, though.) Fortunately, it soon turns out that the new prince's destiny as the Chosen One extends to his name (Abu Ali), which everyone accepts.
  • Lemony Narrator: The book is told in the voice of a rather melodramatic children's storyteller.
  • Love at First Sight: Abu Ali seems to have fallen in love with Silver Bud before he meets her, after Abdul the Djinn has just hinted that she may be his destined love and Omar Khayyam has mentioned her beauty and the way her father keeps her locked up. And while Silver Bud initially mostly just seems sorry for Abu Ali, because her father is likely to have him killed, she is soon declaring that she loves him, if only as a way to try and save him.
  • Magic Carpet: Being a story in "Arabian Nights" Days mode, the story naturally features a magic carpet (said to be the last in the world), which proves both perfectly capable of flight and useless when it is needed. First, when the Wicked Princes purchase it jointly, it proves unable to carry the pair of them together, and later, when Abu Ali and Silver Bud attempt to use it to escape from her father, the window they have to fly through proves too narrow, and the carpet stops dead.
  • My Brain Is Big: Nosi Parka the Egg Head has the Baldest Head (and the Largest Nose) in the World, but is otherwise impossible to describe. He is also a mind-reader and a Seer.
  • Nice Guy: Abu Ali is handsome, amiable, considerate, optimistic, industrious, and even-tempered. Nobody in Aladdin's court knows what to do with him.
  • Nobility Marries Money: The Wicked Princes are both interested in Silver Bud because her father, Sulkpot Ben Nagnag, is the richest Wholesale Jeweller in all Araby (and because each of them despises the other). This is despite the fact that their own families are evidently quite wealthy (which is just as well for them, as Sulkpot insists that his daughter will only marry a wealthy prince).
  • Parental Bonus: Although this is essentially a children's book, it has plenty of references and wry humor to make it entertaining for adults, such as the various parodic references to The Arabian Nights and its adaptations into British pantomime. This occasionally swings into invoked Genius Bonus territory, as in the depiction of Omar Khayyam.
  • The Phoenix: Abu Ali is challenged by the father of the beautiful Silver Bud to bring Three Tail Feathers from the Magic Phoenix Bird, which is believed to be Quite Extinct by Those Who Know, in order to win her hand in marriage. It isn't extinct, as it turns out — he finds a pair — but they turn out to be simply large, intelligent, talking birds, not much like the legendary creature.
  • Parrot Pet Position: One of the whole list of stereotypes that mark Sinbad the Sailor ("Son of the Sinbad!") out as a sailor is, well...
    He had a sword in his belt, a telescope under his arm, a parrot on his shoulder, a compass on his wrist, and a small copper weathervane on the end of his umbrella.
  • Power Trio: Abu Ali, Boomalakka Wee, and the Mouse operate as a trio for a fair part of the book. This mostly means that Abu Ali acts as the leader/hero while the other two provide bickering comic relief, but they do occasionally make themselves useful.
  • The Protagonist: Abu Ali. Although the narrative occasionally shifts to other characters, it's pretty much always to set up their interactions with him.
  • Seers: Nosi Parka the Egg Head uses his Crystal Ball with flawless precision.
  • Smart People Wear Glasses: The Magician wears them, and continues to do so even when he's a Button-Nosed Tortoise.
  • Snarky Non-Human Sidekick: The Mouse adopts this role while traveling with Abu Ali and Boomalakka Wee, having a tendency to be sarcastic in a prim and proper way. Her sarcasm is understandable, given that she was magically summoned without her consent, by accident.
    Mouse: May we take it a step at a time? The spell was right, except that you ordered a donkey. And what did you get? You got a mouse. So somebody blundered. It can't possibly be you. So I suppose it's me, for not being a donkey?
  • Summon Magic: This tends to result in comedic failures in this story.
    • The lamp allows its holder to summon Abdul the Djinn, although since Aladdin freed him from servitude, he comes strictly as a favor. He tells Abu Ali that he'll help just once during the latter's quest. Unfortunately, he's sleeping off his lunch when Abu Ali tries to take him up on this, and his small son Boomalakka Wee shows up instead.
    • Boomalakka Wee attempts to conjure Abu Ali a new donkey when asked. However, he gets a mouse instead. The Mouse is quite annoyed, especially as Boomalakka Wee can't send it back, but ends up joining the quest anyway.
  • Talking Animal: Both the Mouse and the Magic Phoenix Birds are happy to chat.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Nicely averted; the Mouse takes up Permanent Residence with Abu Ali and Silver Bud. Though she never does find out what happened to her Friend who had Run Away to Sea.

Alternative Title(s): The Tale Of The Land Of Green Ginger