As I wait for the final Hobbit film to transport me back to Middle-Earth I’ve been thinking about the books that first sparked my love of fantasy. Certainly Tolkien’s works played their part, along with C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and Norman Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth. But the standout book in the group is too little known and appreciated: The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, published in 1974 by Harper & Row. Written by actress Dame Julie Andrews under her married name Edwards, the story is as inventive and gripping as any Hobbit’s journey.
Through a Halloween dare, three siblings meet a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who has locked himself away to search for the Whangdoodle—a wise and fantastical creature who once lived among humans. Frightened by society’s turn away from imagination and wonder and toward power and greed, the Whangdoodle created a magical land where creatures like him could live with “peace, love, and a sense of fun.” The residents of his land are desperate to protect their benevolent king and steer the human group wrong at every opportunity. As the professor and the children travel they face tests of peril, beauty, and magic that reveal their strengths, weaknesses, and imagination.
Andrews’ fast-paced, precise language sketches a beautiful land any child would love to visit, yet she works in moments that will stop adult readers in their tracks.
“Have you noticed how nobody ever looks up?” says the professor, “Nobody looks at chimneys, or trees against the sky, or the tops of buildings. Everybody just looks down at the pavement or their shoes. The whole world could pass them by and most people wouldn’t notice.”
Prescient in 1974 toward the smart phone invasion of the future!
Andrews has written twenty-five children’s books. Whangdoodle was her second and is a work of sophomore genius, a masterpiece of creativity and charm on par with Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Various scholastic scales rank it from third- to sixth-grade reading level. Read it with your children, read it for yourself, and let your imagination take you back and take you far.