Voyage of the Basset

James C. Christensen

with Renwick St. James and Alan Dean Foster

The Greenwich Workshop, Inc. $29.95


"Gentle Reader, if a magical journey aboard a magical ship is to your liking, come along; there isn't a moment to lose. There is magic afoot, and the Aisling family is about to meet it head on."

One April evening in 1850, Professor Aisling and his daughters, Miranda and Cassandra, set out to answer the question "Are the old stories no longer of use?" They board the tiny "Basset" -- complete with a crew of dwarves and gremlins -- and sail for parts once known but now forgotten: the lands of legend, where they will meet trolls and mermaids, the Sphinx, Titania and Oberon of Faery, Medusa, and many others.

For all its delightful insights -- including the answer to the professor's quest and other pithy observations, such as the Book of Answers which "lets you zip along (huff) to the outcome without looking too closely (wheeze) at the problem" -- the text of the story is not quite satisfactory for two reasons. First, the narrative tends to condescend to its perceived younger audience; and second, the latter part of the story becomes very crowded and rushed, introducing too many characters and situations to develop fully. Surprisingly, Voyage of the Basset is at its strongest where it relies on traditional myth the least: namely, the College of Magical Knowledge and the "Basset" herself.

If anything, one could wish there were fewer words and more pictures, especially of the College and the Faery Court. Voyage of the Basset is a gorgeous showcase of James C. Christensen's delightfully skewed imagination and artwork. The overdressed Oldest Professor who pulls a stuffed owl on a wheeled platform, the magnificently sultry pout on the Manticore's face, the elderly ogre aunts with their green hair-dressings and red-painted toenails....

Voyage of the Basset is a picture book for the young and the young at heart -- in short (never mind what the Oldest Professor says about the long and the short of it) -- in short, for anyone who can follow the motto:

"By believing, one sees."

 

This review copyright 1997 by Wendy Morris


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