The Pedant and the Shuffly (1968) is the second published work by John Bellairs. The short, 79-page illustrated fable details the encounter of the two titular characters: the pedantic wizard Snodrog, who submits logic traps to his fellow countrymen to transform their weak-minded bodies into linen napkins, and the fury, mop-topped creature known as the Shuffly, whose cheery and playful mindset constantly circumvents the Snodrog's best laid plans.
The Pedant and the Shuffly is a fable pitting logic against chaos. I am on the side of the latter, since I know no one who uses logic who does not use it as a hammer. And chaos is more the rule in life anyway.
John Bellairs's sophomore effort was shaped in part from his previous decade immersed in academia. For four years he was an undergraduate at Notre Dame, followed by perusing and completing one post-graduate degree and then attempting a doctoral thesis for another. Plus he was in the throes of higher education himself, using standard texts and prepared syllabi to conform to the rigid expectations of a college instructor. As such, from these seeds came inspired bits of chaotic whimsy, to which Bellairs said was more the rule in life anyway.
The story was first put to paper while Bellairs taught at Shimer College, composed in a "deserted college dormitory" (McKee Hall) during a six-week 1966-67 semester break. A penchant for remembering "items seen at junk shops in Chicago" and conversations with "inventive" friends that lovingly labeled his mind as "ragbag" helped spur the "long, serious fairy tale." One such "inventive friend" was fellow University of Chicago alumnus and roommate, Dale Fitschen, who notes the author confessed that the notion of the Shuffly came from a very short sketch he wrote, with an accompanying cartoon, in an attempted Ray Bradbury style of colorful ominousness:
"Pleased and putrescent, the pimply Shuffly sloughed and chafed its batwing, brazening, bombastic bulk over coffined cobbles, leaves lashing in gusts of tree terror, sending sleepy sparrows spattering on black brick walls and mouse-twigged nests with tinsel and ripe grape eggs skittering and bursting on the cloud-hidden street. Shuffly never noticed. The oozing ovula ogled with goggling lenses the blond boy engrossed in a book, beneath a parent-forbidden after ten lit lamp. Boy never heard, never felt a thing, as Shuffly tendrils seeped over the sill, paused and moaned. The boy hurriedly flipped a page and never noticed, until a great shadow slid over the desk and up the wall, and a hoarse morphitic murmur drizzled into his ear, "Wanna play?."
Bellairs, Fitschen says, did his own thing after that.
In an undated letter from late-1966 or early-1967, Bellairs mentions some of his publishing news: Saint Fidgeta was in its second printing [and] Macmillan had accepted a "non-book Marilyn and I put together". The following year, Bellairs's editor at Macmillan, Elizabeth Bartelme, said the book would be published February 26, 1968.
The Pedant and the Shuffly stands out as unique in Bellairs's bibliography: it arguably is his first to feature supernatural elements, it is completely illustrated unlike any book to follow, and its text has a flowery prose that isn’t hard to miss. Bowen says that Bellairs once explained to him that these were deliberate parodies of items the Readers' Digest used to publish in a column called "Toward More Picturesque Speech." The column specialized in similes and metaphors describing such routine phenomena as the sun, moon, clouds, birds, spring flowers going about their customary activities, but couched in allegedly new and vivid terms. "John felt that few of these efforts made valuable contributions to the treasury of English prose." Hence Bellairs inspired to produce such mockeries of scene as these:
- "On nights when the moon was a lost pale pizza floating above the quivering treetops...."
- "One day, when the sun was like a milk bottle cap that has unaccountably gotten covered with tinfoil...."
His descriptions of Snodrog often strike a similar note:
- "Snodrog laughed, but his laughter was like lead washers being dropped down a storm sewer grate."
- "Now his voice was ominous, like soapy water drizzling from an overflowing bathtub."
It is also his shortest, making it something of a non-book: something "small and slight and in an odd literary niche."
One thing's for sure: it was never intended as a children's book but more of an illustrated adult book. Besides, what sort of children would understand roots of the tree clutchant, ignoratio elenchi, or the absurdity of Four Hundred Variations of the Equilateral Triangle anyway? However, a collegiate environment, much like the University of Chicago, which generated the book's mockery, is where a book like this would likely be welcomed, suitable for an erudite but specialized population.
"I believe Macmillan was willing to publish 'non-books' like Pedant because of the culture of largess the industry was going through. Printing and paper were relatively cheap, author royalties and advances were low, and people were buying books. Ten years later it was a different matter. Publishers were dropping whole genres of books. Others were merging or going out of business...we got started during the Golden Age." Of their publisher Marilyn Fitschen recalls Bellairs’s unhappiness at how little Macmillan pushed his books and that contracts mentioned paperback rights, movies, and foreign translations that never came to light.
What national exposure there was appears to have been limited:
The authors' delightful nastiness makes one almost forgive the publisher for publishing in book form what is really a magazine piece of standard length.
What is a shuffly? Who is snodrog? Find out at the autogrphing (Sic) afternoon at Staver's Bookshop and meet the Author and illustrator of the new book: "The Pedant and the Shuffly" a fable inspired by 57th Street. Time: Saturday, February 24 - 2 to 5. Staver Booksellers, 1301 East 57th Street, Chicago.
This was the scene of the infamous non-review by noted author Saul Bellow, then living in the city. According to various sources, Bellow entered the store, picked up a copy of the book, riffed through it, and gave it a derogatory snort before moving on.
Overall the book has an influence of noted American author James Thurber. Bellairs cited that author as "my master for things like this" and was beyond pleased when an editor remarked how Bellairs's writing had a "Thurberesque quality."
A decade later Bellairs called the book "unclassified" and felt this was why it "probably...didn't do too well. People like classification in their reading...you know mystery, history, autobiography, and such."
Long out of print, it was first re-published in paperback by Mythopoeic Press in 2001, complete with a new introduction by Brad Strickland. It and the other two books Bellairs wrote during the 1960s were published together by the New England Science Fiction Association Press in their 2009 anthology, Magic Mirrors.
Sir Bertram Crabtree-Gore, first seen in Pedant, was slated to return to print in the short story, The Paranoid Sunglasses. In it, Sir Bertram wears vomit-colored sunglasses that revealed and ridiculed his paranoid peculiarities about leaving mayonnaise out in the sun and getting tetanus from rusty nails – in reality, some of the same fears Bellairs himself had. The piece remains unpublished.
Dale Fitschen, for unbelievably good editing sense, endless suggestions, and seven years of friendship.
- "Something About the Author" - Volume II, p. 20. Anne Commire, ed. (1971).
- "'Ragbag Mind' Cited As Key To Success". Freeport Journal Standard (Freeport, IL) (Feb, 3, 1967).
- Correspondence with Dale Fitschen.
- Correspondence from John Bellairs to John Drew (undated, 1966-67).
- Correspondence from Elizabeth Bartelme to Fitschens (Feb. 8, 1968).
- Correspondence with Charles Bowen.
- Correspondence with Marilyn Fitschen.
- "The Pedant and the Shuffly." Kirkus Reviews (Feb. 1, 1968).
- Wikipedia: Seminary Co-op
- Advertisement. The Chicago Maroon (Feb. 20, 1968).
- Correspondence with Alfred Myers.
- "Bellairs Books Win Praise". Haverhill Gazette (May 28, 1975).