667 Reviews: The Bad Mood and the Stick Nov 8, 2017 3:20:34 GMT -5
Post by Dante on Nov 8, 2017 3:20:34 GMT -5
The Bad Mood and the Stick
written by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Matt Forsythe
The Bad Mood and the Stick is Lemony Snicket’s most recent in a long line of picture books (his second this year), and his first collaboration in this format with illustrator Matt Forsythe. Snicket has now collaborated with a number of different illustrators on his picture books, and while Snicket’s own motifs are becoming familiar, extending to a penchant for unlikely anthropomorphic protagonists and their various strange encounters as they move through the world, his illustrators are each time more of an unknown quality.
Fortunately, Matt Forsythe is another carefully-considered and worthy collaborator to Snicket’s pen. As opposed to, for instance, the emphasis on creative use of pitch-black in The Dark, The Bad Mood and the Stick is liberal in its use of colour, a trend exemplified by the eponymous bad mood itself, a hovering multishade cloud of yellows, blues, and reds. The world itself has a similarly rich palette, but faded and weathered, reminiscent of the sepia tones of old photographs or the late-evening sky. The style is mellow and compromising, and a physicality reminiscent of a child’s drawing, with lines and brushstrokes visible, faces rendered in basic elements. This is not to say that it is unsophisticated; merely accessible and relatable.
It may be worth noting, however, that a major element of the book, the visual representation of the eponymous bad mood, was completely altered in the pre-publication period after complaints suggested it bore an unfortunate resemblance. While the only publicly available example of the original design is the original cover art, the two bear comparison. The colourful cloud of the updated version has a certain plush charm, and frequently appears to interact with the illustrations like an object – but it perhaps lacks the angry satisfaction of the earlier scribble incarnation, and gives a lingering impression, with its solid, clearly-defined edges, or not really suiting the art style of the rest of the book, occasionally emitting a white border which is all too easy to read as part of the cover-up of the earlier version. Without access to Forsythe’s unrevised illustrations, however, it is impossible to make a fair comparison, and of course few of the book’s intended readers are particularly likely to care; those unaware of the change are unlikely to even imagine it had occurred. The replacement is skilful and tactful; whether it is an improvement is a matter of opinion.
The story itself is simple and charming, if perhaps with a slightly wider focus than typical Snicket picture books. A series of random encounters, ranging from the familiar to the improbable, form the backbone of the book’s plot, and these must be charming in and of themselves as it is difficult to identify a clear protagonist; the bad mood itself, frowning in the company of various people and animals, is the most familiar face, but even it exits periodically according to various turns of fortune. As each character encounters a displeasing situation, the bad mood passes to them and from another previously afflicted character, their mood usually alleviated by another’s misfortune – but not always. You never know what is going to happen, the text emphasises, and indeed a number of the story’s events have positive outcomes, the narrative concludes with an event which unites the characters in a happy ending, at least for now.
The metaphor is an obvious one to an older reader but perhaps a useful one to a small child, about how our actions can pass a bad mood from one person to another, and what we find enjoyable may be irritating to someone else; but it also suggests that more pleasure might be had by living in the moment and learning not to brood or get too upset. Occasionally these events can be clumsily expressed, however; the story also feels a little short, even by the standards of a picture book, as if it needed one or two more vignettes of the bad mood’s adventures, or a little more depth to those that already exist. At the same time, though, this also reads as a broader and more ambitious work than Snicket’s previous picture books. the focus is no longer on the fortunes of only a single character, but on those of the many individuals who pass through the book’s pages. The bad mood is a common factor, but the emphasis is on its effects on others – as communicated, generally, by the stick, a yet more minor player which serves as a kind of lightning rod for onlookers’ emotions. The stick may become a tool of joy, by the end, rather than just a tool for poking small children, but the bad mood always moves onto others rather than becoming itself a good mood – a final note of playful anarchy and moral realism in an unexpectedly insightful text.