Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming, illustrated by Joe Berger, 142 pp, RL 3
Ian Fleming published Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1964, the last two of his fourteen James Bond books in 1966. Fleming wrote it for his son, who was ten at the time, while he was convalescing from his first heart attack. While I have read one or two 007 books and seen more than a few of the movies, I had never read or seen the movie (which IS NOT a Disney production) or musical of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! When I heard that Frank Cottrell Boyce, a favorite of mine, was writing updated sequels to the book, I had to give it a go. Candlewick Press has reissued the original and the sequels, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time, with new illustrations by Joe Berger. After my review, I have images from the sequels (in which Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's original engine is put in a camper van before being restored to her original body in the third book) as well as the original cover and interior art from another favorite of mine, the amazing John Burningham.
Fleming's novel, which was inspired by Count Louis Zborowski, a racing driver and automobile engineer who named a car he built in the 1920s Chitty Bang Bang, is a Roald Dahl-esqu (who wrote the screenplay for the movie) romp. Commander Caractacus Pott, formerly of the Royal Navy, is now an explorer and stay-at-home inventor, husband to Mimsie and father to eight-year-old twins Jemima and Jeremy. But, exploring places and "inventing things can be very exciting indeed, but it is only very seldom that, in your explorations, you discover a really rare butterfly or animal or insect or mineral or plant that people will pay money to see, and practically never that you discover real treasure, like in books - gold bars and diamonds and jewels in an old oak chest." Solitary inventors don't bring in much money either. In fact, because Commander Pott was,
always dreaming of impossible inventions and adventures and explorations in the remotest parts of the earth, he was generally known in the neighborhood as Commander Crackpott! You may think that's rude, and so it is, but Commander Pott was a humorous man and he knew his own shortcomings very well, so when he heard that that was his nickname in the neighborhood he was not at all cross. he just roared with laughter and said, "I'll show 'em!" and disappeared into his workshop and didn't come out for a whole day and a night.
However, when the Commander sells his Crackpot Whistling Sweets to Lord Skrumshus, owner of Skrumshus Limited candy company, he is paid one thousand pounds and "an additional one sixpence on every thousand Crackpot Whistling Sweets sold," which is not unreasonable seeing as how "Skrumshus Limited sell five million every year of just one of their sweets called the Chock-a-Hoop," so things are looking pretty good for the Potts. So good that the Commander takes the family out car shopping and, after starting on a more traditional path, the family find themselves at the garage of a once famous racing car driver who is on the brink of sending his beloved hunk of metal to the scrap yard when Commander Pott falls in love with it. However, Jemima and Jeremy must return to boarding school before the car can even be delivered. When they are fetched from school at the end of the term and the doors of the garage are opened for them, they see the "twelve-cylinder, eight-litre, supercharged Paragon Panther" which is the most beautiful car in the world, looked upon with "round and shining eyes" by all.
On their first drive in the new car, they name her after hearing the sound she makes when starting up and observe that most modes of transportation seem to be referred to as females except, as the Commander points out, maybe "rockets and Sputniks - somehow they don't seem very feminine to me - but I bet rocketeers and Sputnicators, or whatever they call the Sputnik experts, I bet they call their spaceships and things 'she. Odd, isn't it?" I have to confess, while Chitty Chitty Bang Bang took some twists and turns that seemed a little bit kooky, although typically, strangely British-y for the time, overall I found it very charming and quotable. My son is also quite taken with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and, while we are listening to the audio version at bedtime, he is picking it up and reading bits on his own.
Having not seen the movie, which I assume everyone else has, I am going to share a bit more of the plot of the book with you since I hear that it is quite different from the film. After their initial drive in which they get the car into fourth gear and up to 100 miles an hour, Commander Pott reveals that the car seems to have built itself at times while he was working on it. In fact, there are several buttons and knobs on the dashboard that the Commander has no clue as to what they do. The family soon finds out when, on a particularly hot day when they (and the rest of the car owners in Dover) have embarked on a trip to the seashore, they find themselves stuck in traffic and one of the knobs begins glowing pink, saying PULL! When the Commander fails to follow orders, the knob begins to glow read and now reads, PULL IDIOT! He obeys and, well, you know what happens next. The family flies over London then out into the channel where Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, whose license plate reads GEN 11 or, as Jemima notes, GENII, lands on a sand bar, giving the family their very own beach. Fleming laces his book with instances of,
that signal to the reader excitement (and peril) to come.
Cliffs, caves, skeletons, secret hide outs, explosives, an explosion, baddies, a vacation in France, kidnapping and a desperate ploy to pull a heist on Le Bon-Bon, the most famous chocolate shop in the world, make up the rest of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Of course Chitty Chitty Bang Bang knows what's going on and her homing system saves the day along with some smart planning on the part of Jemima and Jeremy. As a reward, the children are loaded down with boxes and boxes of chocolates as well as a special honor from Madame Bon-Bon. She reveals the closely guarded secret recipe for making her world famous Bon-Bon "Fooj," which is the way she pronounces fudge. In fact, Fleming himself added the Fooj recipe at the end of the book but, as his website reveals, the recipe was tested by his secretary and editors and found to be not very edible. They spent a day testing alterations to the recipe and came up with the one included in the book that is supposed to be quite good!
Stay tuned for reviews of the next two books in the series written by Frank Cottrell Boyce,
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again and
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time.
Joe Berger's illustration of the camper van
with the magical engine...
John Burningham's original cover and some interior illustrations for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang can be seen below. Fleming originally wanted the Daily Mail cartoonist Trog, Wally Fawkes, to illustrate his book. Fawkes began work on the art for the book. He even tested the Fooj recipe along with Fleming's secretary and editors, but, the Daily Mail refused to let him complete the work as Fleming's 007 books were serialized in the Mail's competitor, the Daily Express. Burningham (picture book royalty in the UK today) had just won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 1963 (British Caldecott) and was chosen instead.
Source: Review Copy