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Literature / Uncle

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A series of six children's novels by English author J.P. Martin, illustrated by Quentin Blake. The series chronicles the adventures of Uncle, an extremely wealthy yet kindhearted elephant who wears a purple dressing gown and lives in Homeward, which resembles more of a city than a house, with great clusters of towers and skyscrapers connected by railway-lines, stairs and quirky transport mechanisms. Uncle is often accompanied by The Old Monkey, Goodman the Cat and Cowgill the Mechanic, among others.

Across the moat from Homeward is Badfort, a tumbledown fortress populated by a group of thugs called The Badfort Crowd. The Badfort Crowd constantly plot against Uncle, their schemes ranging from elaborate pranks to plots to kill him. The stories typically feature Uncle exploring new towers and regions of his castle, visiting the nearby Badgertown, and leading his friends into battle against The Badfort Crowd.

The books are:

  • Uncle
  • Uncle Cleans Up
  • Uncle and his Detective
  • Uncle and the Treacle Trouble
  • Uncle and Claudius the Camel
  • Uncle and the Battle for Badgertown

The first two books were reprinted in a facsimile hardback edition by the New York Review of Books in 2007 and again in 2009. In March 2013, a Kickstarter campaign was announced to reprint all six Uncle books in an omnibus edition. The reprint had the support of — and added material from — several authors and illustrators, including Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, David Langford, Justin Pollard, Martin Rowson, Andy Riley, Will Self, Kate Summerscale, and Richard Ingrams. The campaign was fully funded in a little over four hours, and the book was published on 31 October 2013 under the title of The Complete Uncle. The series has been published around the world in six languages, with a Chinese version in the works.


Tropes featured in the books include:

  • Amoral Attorney: Mr. Goatsby, although his active involvement in the Badfort Crowd's plans is worse than amoral.
  • Appropriate Animal Attire: Uncle almost always wears a purple dressing gown with trousers underneath, but has no problem with wearing nothing.
    • Badgers, bears, horses and other civilized animals are usually naked.
  • Arch-Enemy: Beaver Hateman, the grimy and rude bully from Badfort, is Uncle's declared arch-enemy.
  • Berserk Button: Uncle's music teacher, The Maestro, goes mad with rage every time Uncle plays a false note.
  • Big Bad: Although Beaver Hateman is Uncle's nemesis, The Badfort Crowd are ultimately controlled by an evil spirit called Hootman.
  • Big Good: Uncle is elephant-sized and (apparently) the leader of the good faction.
  • Black-and-White Morality: Almost all of the characters are clearly marked as either good or bad. (A rare exception is Old Whitebeard, who isn't necessarily an evil person, and isn't an ally of the Badfort Crowd, but is so selfish and miserly that everyone on both sides despises him.) However, some readers suspect the books of irony, noting that Uncle himself is faintly ludicrous and not very bright, in which case the trope may be being subtly but persistently subverted. On the other hand, Neil Gaiman's introduction argues that the main difference between Homeward and Badfort is that Uncle forgives people but Beaver never does so.
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  • Brains and Brawn: Hootman and Hateman respectively play these roles in the Badfort crowd.
  • Bomb Throwing Anarchist: The Badfort gang, though they are just jealous rather than ideological.
  • Cool House: This doesn't even begin to describe Homeward.
    • Crack House before it's cracked.
  • Cool Old Guy:
    • Uncle himself appears to be at least middle-aged, in a book primarily written for children.
    • Wizard Blenkinsop is the classic grey-bearded wizard.
  • Cool Uncle: Metaphorically, at least...
  • Couldn't Find an Inkwell: A trademark of the Badfort Crowd is writing in blood, just to spite people.
  • The Dragon: Beaver Hateman is this to Hootman, and vice versa; Hootman may be Hateman's superior, but Hateman is usually the mastermind of the Badfort schemes with Hootman as his unseen Consigliere, pulling the strings from the shadows.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Jellytrussle, a grey/blue/purple wobbly Blob Monster. There's also Batty, a bird/bat hybrid monster with giant fists.
  • Eldritch Location: There are a lot of them in Homeward but always fun and safe. There's also the Monkey-and-Engine-Room-Jungle, which is implied to be cursed in some way, its monkey population trapped in some spell.
  • Food End: Every book except the last.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Cowgill.
  • The Ghost: Rudolph in later books.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser:
    • Every Christmas, the Homeward lot and the Badfort Crowd put aside their differences and celebrate together before resuming their antagonism. Naturally, the Badfort Crowd often cannot resist causing trouble even then.
    • The fight is usually kept off when both sides are on the same vacation.
  • The Good King:
    • Very much Uncle's image.
    • See also, the King of the Badgers and the Marquis of Wolftown.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: The Maestro can't resist to throw himself off any height if there's an annoyance.
  • Haunted House: Homeward has a haunted tower. Badfort also has a ghost who was expelled by the other ghosts. Crack House is occupied by a Kaiju.
  • Honorary Uncle: Uncle's relationship to many of his younger followers.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Dearman's store and Dearman. He keeps raising prices for everything daily because he is probably really insane.
  • Laughably Evil: The Badfort crowd.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Several, most of them either living in Homeward or Badfort.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Uncle, a kindly older character.
    • Hateman, a cruel and hateful family of ruffians.
    • Jellytussle, who constantly wobbles like a jelly.
    • Goodman, who is a gentle and loyal cat.
    • Hitmouse, a tiny and vicious person. His younger brother is called Adolfus Hitmouse.
    • Cloutman, who is particularly good at bashing people.
    • Hootman, who is a ghost.
    • Whitebeard, who, despite actually having a white beard, has this as his surname.
    • Cheapman, who runs a very cheap store in Badgertown.
    • Dearman, who is quite the opposite.
    • Flabskin.
    • Oily Joe, or Joseph Oiler, is a dirty shopkeeper.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast:
    • The Hateman brothers and their home, Badfort.
    • Wizard Snipehazer.
    • Cloutman is a non-villainous example.
  • The Napoleon: Hitmouse, a vicious dwarf who lives in a hut outside Badfort and loves stabbing people with skewers.
  • Nice Guy: The Old Monkey.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Uncle once borrowed a bicycle without permission when he was at the University, and, being rather heavy, broke it. The Badfort gang always make fun of this record of theft.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Hootman is described as being a "sort of ghost" who can thrive in mud and seems to resemble a wispy half-man half-spirit.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Uncle is certainly a reasonable figure (at least when people don't call him fat) in a position of power, who listens to people with strange tales to tell. However, he's not somebody who the protagonists talk to; he is the protagonist, much of the time. The King of the Badgers may also match the trope.
  • Take That, Us: Uncle is easily scared of boring poems and songs. This is because the books were edited by J.P. Martin's son-in-law, the poet Ralph Currey. Some, if not all the poems in the book are written by Currey too.
  • Those Two Guys: Uncle's sometime bodyguards, Cloutman and Gubbins.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Nailrod and Sigismund Hateman.
  • The Unfought:
    • Wizard Snipehazer is responsible for at least some of Uncle's major troubles, but does not appear in person anywhere.
    • Abdullah the Clothes-peg Merchant is a mysterious backer for Beaver Hateman, but he is mentioned even less than Snipehazer.
  • Villainous Fashion Sense: The Badfort Crowd all wear dirty, ragged clothes. The Hateman brothers in particular choose to wear grubby sacks.
  • Weapon of Choice: Beaver Hateman and Uncle always carry stone clubs around for fighting, while Hitmouse is armed with skewers.
  • The Workaholic: The One-Armed Badger, who is never happier than when carrying parcels. His counterpart at Badfort seems to be The Wooden-Legged Donkey.


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