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March 2004
 
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Curiosities

The Rolling Pin by Charles Williams (1955)

A FROG HOPS onto a park bench and sings "The Barber of Seville."

This sounds like the cartoon "One Froggy Evening" (1955), but it happened first in a novel published several months earlier. The Rolling Pin features an operatic frog named Turkey, a bench that acts like a choo-choo train, a dachshund who paints landscapes…and Looie, one of the funniest villains in fantasy literature.

The Rolling Pin, by Charles Williams, deserves a place beside Through the Looking-Glass and The Phantom Tollbooth. The story's narrator is Uncle Fritz, a bland Everyman whose life turns upside-down when he drops his stickpin. The pin hits the ground, and keeps rolling…and he follows it into some hilariously surrealistic adventures.

Charles Wilbur Williams (born in West Liberty, Iowa in 1917) was an Air Force radioman, a juvenile-court officer, a clarinetist, a carnival roustabout, a school principal in the U.S. and a teacher in Thailand, where he died in 1992. He published only two works of fantasy. It Was All Very Strange (1953) is his linked series of whimsical tall tales, just a notch below the sustained dementia of The Rolling Pin. His two fantasy books were published by Abelard-Schuman, which later imploded in a bankruptcy which has kept The Rolling Pin and It Was All Very Strange out of print ever since.

But Chuck Jones probably read this book. The last chapter of The Rolling Pin features Turkey the frog onstage in a dilapidated theater, singing "Figaro, Figaro, Figaro.…"

—F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre

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