Richard Matheson's first (and, I believe, only) children's book is a charming oriental fantasy that begins in a certain long-ago city in Northern Persia where the beautiful Princess Alicia is rejecting every suitor who comes calling. This frustrates he father, the Sultan, because each offer comes with munificent offers of payment for her hand but he had promised Alicia she would have the final say in whom she would marry -- so what can a doting father do when his hands are tied? One person who is not frustrated is the scheming Grand Vizier Zardak, who wants Alicia for himself.
Zardak's plan is to rescue Alicia from a "lion attack" while she is out for her morning ride, making the lovely princess beholding to him. The lion would be his two bumbling toadies dressed in a lion costume. Since Murphy's Law is at work in ancient Persia as it is everywhere else, a real lion shows up and Zardak skedaddles, leaving the princess to her fanged fate. Luckily, Abu, a poor wood cutter, shows up in time to rescue Alicia. They instantly fall in love as only characters in fairy tales do.
The Sultan is forced to accept his daughter's wishes...but he adds a caveat (suggested by Zardak, of course) -- to prove his worthiness, Abu must seek out the 7 Marvels of the world and bring back a token of each. The 7 Marvels are:
- The Enchanted Castle
- The Flame Bird
- The Frost Dragon
- The Crown of Neptune
- The Witch of Candy Kingdom
- The Giant of Zubu Mountain
Wait. That's six. It seems that no one knows what the 7th Marvel is.
Determined as only a poor woodcutter could be, Abu sets out on his quest, aided by a very old and very tired genie whose magic has seen better days.
Although geared for kids, Abu and the 7 Marvels is an enjoyable romp for readers of any age. Published by Gauntlet Press, the book features a plethora of great artwork by William Stout -- both full color art and black and white line drawings. As with everything I have seen from Gauntlet, this volume is a magnificent piece of work. And Matheson (as many of you know) is a magnificent writer.
One thing that stands out is the Matheson deliberately (and against standard writing advice) substitutes many words for "said." A conversation on the second page of the book has the characters crying, appealing, shouting, answering, entreating, murmuring, raging, advising, crying (again), shouting (again), muttering, and roaring through each bit of conversation, adding weight to the fact that this is, in essence, a children's book.
And there are anachronisms, and slapstick, and perils aplenty.
Matheson remembered what is was like to be entertained as a child, and older readers will gleefully remember also.