Friday, March 12, 2010

Danger in Darkest Delaware! Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware (Pals in Peril) by M. T. Anderson

There was not much to do in Pelt. There was a museum in town, but it wasn't very exciting. Its main exhibits were on how people used to churn butter. Now, I have enjoyed my share of incredibly dull museums, but even I found the Pelt Museum unbearable. No one really went there except third-grade field trips during their "Making of Margarine" unit....

Perhaps this is why the town had become so fanatical about their competitive staring matches.

The rules were simple: Pair people off to stare at each other's faces. First person to blink or smile loses. As is said of many games: a moment to learn, a lifetime to master.

Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut, could stare like no one else.... Jasper was the hero of a series of largely forgotten adventure stories for boys in which he invented startling devices and rolled up his sleeves to plunge into adventure from dizzying heights. His powers of staring were almost superhuman. This is because, in the course of Jasper Dash and the Sponge-Cake of Zama, he had spent almost a year studying meditation and martial arts at a secret mountaintop monastery in somewhere like Nepal or Tibet. Now he stared like a force of nature. No one had ever out-stared him.

That is, until Jasper is infamously defeated in a match with the State Champion Stare-Eyes Team--from Delaware. Now, this is not your father's (or even Joe Biden's) Delaware. No. This is the Delaware of quaint New Dark Age peasants, six-armed dancers, a strange almost vowel-less language, Doverian, spoken in purest form in the ancient capital Dover, and towering mountains which conceal an ancient monastery now in the hands of Doverian gangsters headed by Jasper''s nefarious arch enemy Bobby Spandrel. This Delaware is horrible place to visit and a worst place to be captured and suspended over the Delawarian flame pits, so of course that is where Jasper must go.

With Jasper go his cohorts from the earlier Pals in Peril series, Katie Mulligan, girl hero from the Horror Hollow series, and Lily, who goes along to make sure that Jasper and Katie always have a helpless but loyal heroine to rescue. After a couple of colorful days in Dover, the capital city of deepest, darkest Delaware, the three intrepid heroes trek off into the jungle in a quest for the lost monastery of Vbngloom where Jasper senses that his old fellow acolyte Drgnan Pghlik is in great peril.

In the hand of the master of metafiction, M.T. Anderson, all this parody of every comic book, television series, movie serial, and antique hero novel series you've ever heard of (and those you haven't), finds its final spoofing place in Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware (M. T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales) (Beach Lane Books, 2009). It's droll, it's silly, it's witty, it's fast-paced, and the author's tongue is firmly in cheek with every word. It's not a book for fans of realistic fiction, but for fans of Monty Python-esque comedy, it'll be like a old friend.

In an incredibly chicken cop-out that parallels taking the fifth, I'm not even going to try to describe what happens in this quirky novel. Instead I quote the wise (and equally craven) critic from Kirkus Reviews, who says...

"...there is no way to summarize a plot that includes shards of and snarks at Eragon, Tom Swift, chick lit and sports novels, Galaxy Quest and Indiana Jones movies and so on. Extremely funny, it's for adults, who will get at least half the references, and for children, who will get the other half."

Previous books in the series are Whales on Stilts: M. T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales and The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen: M. T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales, and forthcoming later this year is the next thrilling installment, Agent Q, or The Smell of Danger! (Pals in Peril Tale, a).

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