Tolkien Gateway

Mr. Bliss

The name Mr. Bliss refers to more than one character, item or concept. For a list of other meanings, see Mr. Bliss (disambiguation).
Mr. Bliss
MrBliss.jpg
AuthorJ.R.R. Tolkien
IllustratorJ.R.R. Tolkien
PublisherGeorge Allen and Unwin (UK)
Houghton Mifflin (US)
Released20 September 1982 (UK)
17 January 1983 (US)
FormatHardcover
Pages104
ISBNs0048232157
0395329361

Mr. Bliss is an illustrated children's story J.R.R. Tolkien, first published posthumously in 1982. The story tells of Mr Bliss's purchase of a car, and the misadventure that follows his poor driving: he encounters several neighbours, three bears, an angry shop-owner, and his own pet the "Girabbit".

The story was likely written down in the early 1930s, is fully illustrated by Tolkien, with his own calligraphic handwriting integral to the design; it was first submitted for publication in 1936 but the cost of reproducing the artwork made it prohibitively expensive. Tolkien endeavoured to redraw it, but never got around to it; it was finally published in 1982, and in 2007 it was rescanned and republished to a higher quality.

Contents

From the publisher

Tolkien’s illustrated tale about the eccentric Mr Bliss, a man notable for his immensely tall hats and for the girabbit in his garden, whose whimsical decision to buy a motor car quickly becomes a catalogue of disasters.

Professor J.R.R. Tolkien invented and illustrated the book of Mr Bliss’s adventures for his own children when they were very young. The book was handwritten with lots of detailed and uproarious colour pictures.

This is a complete and highly imaginative tale of eccentricity. Mr Bliss, a man notable for his immensely tall hats and for the girabbit in his garden, takes the whimsical decision to buy a motor car. But his first drive to visit friends quickly becomes a catalogue of disasters. Some of these could be blamed on Mr Bliss’s style of driving, but even he could not anticipate being hijacked by three bears. As for what happened next the readers, whether young or old, will want to discover for themselves..[1]

Plot

Mr Bliss lives with his pet Girabbit in a white house with red roofs. Girabbit informs Mr Bliss that it will be a "fine day" so he decides to buy a yellow car, with red wheels, from Mr Binks for five shillings and sixpence; forgetting his purse, Mr Bliss leaves his silver bicycle with Mr Binks as collateral. However, on his way to visit the Dorkinses, Mr Bliss proves to be a careless driver, driving into Mr Day and breaking his barrow of carriages, and then round the next corner driving into Mrs Knight and breaking her donkey cart of bananas. He gives a lift to both Mr Day and Mrs Knight, with the donkey tied at the back.

When they reach the wood, they encounter three bears: Archie, Bruno and Teddy. After scaring the group, the three bears use the donkey to carry the cabbages and bananas and hide them in the wood for themselves. When they return, they insist on joining Mr Bliss in visiting the Dorkinses as they "could know them". Rolling down the Hill from the Wood they crash into the Dorkinses' garden wall with Mr Bliss, Mr Day, Mrs Knight and the three bears landing right in the middle of the Dorkinses' picnic, with Archie landing in their soup-terrine; the donkey flew up in the air and landed in the car. The Dorkins brothers - Fattie, Albert, Herbert and Egbert - were angry at their picnic being ruined, but the group stayed for lunch, whilethe bears went off for a walk and ate all the cabbages, apples and potatoes in the kitchen-garden. Furious, Albert Dorkins set the dogs on the bears.

The bears run off anyway saying they have bananas and cabbages; Mr Day and Mrs Knight want their cabbages and bananas back, but Mr Bliss only agrees to join them if the Dorkinses come with the dogs. Mr Bliss, Mr Day, Mrs Knight, the four Dorkineses and their dogs, travel in the car which is pulled by the donkey and three horses owned by the Dorkinses (Fattie Dorkins was too fat to own a horse). At the Cross Roads they stop at the inn for tea (and the bill for it all goes to Mr Bliss), and they then reach Three Bears Wood at dusk. The dogs track the bears but they have painted themselves to look like "bogies, or ghosts, or goblins, or all three" and Mr Bliss runs off in terror. The bears start laughing and everyone else goes to the Bears' House for supper - eating cold chicken, ham, lettuces, beetroot, trifle, cheese, brown bread, and asparagus - and they all stay the night.

However, Mr Bliss ran away during the night and by the morning he had reached the village. He recovered his bicycle from Mr Binks's shed without paying for the car, so Mr Binks tried to persuade Sergeant Boffin to lock Mr Bliss up as a thief; the bears, the Dorkinses, Mr Day and Mrs Knight all arrive in the village determined to get money from Mr Bliss for the various expenses incurred, so they join Mr Binks and Serjeant Boffin in going to Mr Bliss's house. But, when they arrived at Mr Bliss's houses they were scared away by a Girabbit that was so big its head stuck out from the chimney. After everyone has left, Mr Bliss settled all his debts, and then gaves the car to Mr Day as wedding present in his marriage to Mrs Knight; everyone attended the wedding, including the Girabbit. Afterwards, Mr Bliss drives a donkey-cart instead, his only worry is children trespassing in his garden to try to see the Girabbit.

Characters

Listed in order of appearance:

  • Mr Bliss, a man resident in a white house with red roofs. He owned a large quantity of tall hats and a silver bicycle without pedals for he only rode it downhill. The story follows his misadventures following the purchase of a yellow car taken on a drive to visit the Dorkinses.
  • Girabbit, a talking half-rabbit half-giraffe pet that lived in Mr Bliss's garden. Mr Bliss keeps the Girabbit a secret to avoid paying a licence.
  • Mr Binks, owner of the shop who sells Mr Bliss the car. When Mr Bliss recovers his bike from Mr Binks, Mr Binks wants Mr Bliss sent to prison.
  • Mr Day, a man driven into by Mr Bliss who was carrying cabbages. He ends up receiving the car as a wedding-present.
  • Mrs Knight, a woman who owned a donkey and whose cart carrying bananas was smashed by Mr Bliss. She marries Mr Day as her third husband and sets up a green-grocers called "Day and Knight's".
  • Three bears Archie, Bruno and Teddy who Mr Bliss encounters and who then take Mr Day's cabbages and Mrs Knight's bananas. They insist on joining Mr Bliss on his trip to see the Dorkinses. They live in Bears' House in Three Bears Wood.
  • The Dorkinses, also called the Fat Dorkinses, a group of four brothers who live at the bottom of the Hill and all bar Fattie own a horse. Their picnic is interrupted by the group, and their kitchen-garden is ravished by the bears.
    • Fattie, the fattest with black curly hair, a white sleeveless shirt with yellow dots, and he wore no coat (for they always split).
    • Albert, who had very short legs and the angriest of the Dorkinses.
    • Herbert, who swallows a beetle that enters his soup.
    • Egbert, who wore a green jacket.
  • Sergeant Boffin, the local police officer who, after persuasion from Mr Binks, intends to arrest Mr Bliss.

Other named characters include Sam (Sergeant Boffin's son), Uncle Joe, Mrs Golightly, Mrs Simkins, old Gaffer Gamgee, Alfred, the Innkeeper, and Mr Banks (a builder).

History

According to Humphrey Carpenter in J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, the story was inspired by Tolkien's own driving mishaps following the purchase of his first car in 1932,[2] however Joan Tolkien (Michael Tolkien's wife) asserts that it was based on a toy car that was Christopher Tolkien's most cherished toy, with the three bears based on three teddy boys owned by Tolkien's own sons.[3] Christopher Tolkien suggests from the handwriting it is more likely to be 1930s than 1920s.[4] Hammond and Scull thought that it was likely to have been produced in a short summer break, and suggest the summers of 1929, 1930 or 1931 as the most likely candidates.[5] However, in a holiday to Cornwall in 1932 Tolkien named a local character "Gaffer Gamgee" which Hammond and Scull acknowledge indicates a later date.[4]

Following the success of The Hobbit, in 1936 Tolkien submitted Mr. Bliss to Allen and Unwin alongside Roverandom, Farmer Giles of Ham and "The Lost Road".[6] The publishers seriously and realistically considered publication, but the cost of reproducing the images would be too expensive, so the publishers asked Tolkien to redraw them in a simpler style; although he wasn't sure he could improve it[7] and hoped the publishers could find another artist,[8] Tolkien agreed[9] although he never found the time to do so.[10] The original manuscripts - alongside those of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and Farmer Giles of Ham - were sold to Marquette University in 1957 for £1,250.[11] Clyde S. Kilby became aware of the Mr. Bliss in 1964 and, once again, Tolkien and Rayner Unwin considered publication but, again, felt that the artwork needed reproducing in order to be published.[12]

Following Tolkien's death in 1973, Christopher Tolkien and the Tolkien Estate worked to release Tolkien's unpublished materials. Mr. Bliss was published by George Allen and Unwin in 1982 exactly as Tolkien drew, with typeset text opposite Tolkien's original drawings;[13] TolkienBooks.net suggested 50,000 copied were printed.[14] A revised and redesigned edition was published in 2007 for the 25th anniversary with all the images re-scanned and presented in an enlarged format with a slipcase;[15] in 2011 this was followed up with a conventional trade hardback.[16]

Publication history

George Allen and Unwin 1982 hardback  
HarperCollins 2007 revised edition  
HarperCollins 2011 hardback  

Reception

When Tolkien first submitted Mr. Bliss for publication, Charles Furth of Allen and Unwin said it was in a class with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.[4] Tolkien's biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, said it "owes a little to Beatrix Potter [author-illustrator of The Tale of Peter Rabbit] in its ironical humour and to Edward Lear in the style of its drawings, though Tolkien's approach is less grotesque and more delicate than Lear's."[2] In a review in Amon Hen 59, Jessica Yates also compares the book to the works of Beatrix Potter: "As a children's picture book it may well be compared to Beatrix Potter's work in presentation, with its high ratio of picture to text, in its rural English setting, and mix of human and animal characters" but the role of the narrator to Kipling's Just So Stories.[17]

Tom Shippey also remarked on the rural setting of "a vanished England where everybody did - and spoke - exactly as they pleased, and life was consequently a series of amiable anrupt collisions" and compares it to Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows[18] Jared Lobdell also compared Mr. Bliss to both The Wind in the Willows - and Toad's driving a car - and suggested that "Lear's Book of Nonsense is among Mr. Bliss's spiritual progenitors".[19]

Hammond and Scull describe the work as eccentric which "defies classification" that shows Tolkien's "remarkable originality as an author";[20] "it is unusual among Tolkien works in that it is a picture book for children, in which words and art are equally important, rather than a story with illustrations".[4] Also writing in Amon Hen, Joseph Houghton compared the story with The Father Christmas Letters, particularly the North Polar Bear and the goblin attack.[21]

Average readers' scores for Mr. Bliss are fairly consistent in praise. On Goodreads it received an average score of 3.82/5 (7.64),[22] while Amazon customers were more positive, giving it a high score of 4.8/5 (9.6/10).[1]

Adaptations

A group of Russian fans created an animated film of "Mr. Bliss" making use of the original drawings by Tolkien. The film was shown at both Tolkien Thing 2006 and Ring*Con 2006.

As part of Tolkien Reading Day 2017, The Tolkien Society hosted a live reading of Mr. Bliss by the storyteller Lucy Walters at The Story Museum.[23]

See also

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Mr Bliss", Amazon.co.uk (accessed 26 December 2018)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, pp. 217-8
  3. "Letters" in The Times, 10 October 1982, p. 25
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (2006), The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: II. Reader's Guide, p. 788
  5. Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator, p. 86
  6. Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, p. 244
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 31, (dated 24 July 1938)
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 23, (dated 17 February 1938)
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 10, (dated 17 January 1937)
  10. Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, pp. 217-8
  11. Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, pp. 299
  12. Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (2006), The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: II. Reader's Guide, p. 789
  13. J.R.R. Tolkien, Mr. Bliss (2011 edition), pp. 5-7
  14. "Mr. Bliss. 1982", TolkienBooks.net (accessed 26 December 2018)
  15. "Mr. Bliss, a tale written and illustrated by Tolkien: 25th anniversary of publication (updated 27.06.07)" dated 27 June 2007, Tolkien Library (accessed 26 December 2018)
  16. "Books by J.R.R.Tolkien - Mr. Bliss", Tolkien Library (accessed 26 December 2018)
  17. "Reviews" in Amon Hen 59 (December 1982), p. 6
  18. "Blunt Belligerence" in Times Literary Supplement, 26 November 1982, p. 1306
  19. "Mr. Bliss: Notes on the Manuscript and Story" in Selections from the Marquette J.R.R. Tolkien Collection, p. 7
  20. Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, "Mr. Bliss", Tolkien Estate (accessed 26 December 2018)
  21. "Reviews" in Amon Hen 59 (December 1982), p. 7
  22. "Mr. Bliss", Goodreads (accessed 26 December 2018)
  23. "Tolkien Reading Day 2017", The Tolkien Society (accessed 27 March 2017)