|Sept/Oct 1999 Audio/Video Review|
Travis Edward Pike
Otherworld Entertainment Corp., 1998
One could make the argument that there isn't much of a market for epic children's adventure poems these days. As Dennis Miller says, the average attention span of an American youth equates to that of a ferret on speed. Children these days, it seems, need a steady diet of carnage and sexuality. Well, they probably don't need such a diet, but one is certainly being provided to them, with few alternatives.
Here, then, is such an alternative. The hype from the cover of his video states that Grumpuss, "in the tradition of the court bards of yesteryear, is a tour de force by Travis Edward Pike, one of America's greatest living storytellers." Even now, as I type what I intend to be a positive review of Mr. Pike's efforts, I'm made a little uncomfortable by phrases like "tour de force" and "greatest living storytellers." But when you seriously consider the matter, what kind of competition would Travis Edward Pike have to face down in order to earn such praise? The oral tradition of telling stories in verse from memory, with the exception of some kinds of rap and hip hop, has no real marketing niche, and therefore no real presence, in our society. Our storytellers aren't story tellers, per se, they're novelists and movie directors and the occasional radio personality like Tom Bodett and Garrison Keiller, who come close except that I'm pretty sure they work from a script, not from memory, and rhyme is not involved in the stories they tell.
So there presumably aren't many modern-day bards running around committing four-act epic adventures to memory, and an equal disparity of audiences are willing to sit still and pay attention long enough to hear them out.
That said, Travis Edward Pike is one such bard, and if you feel good about yourself as a potential audience member, or more importantly, would like your child to become such an audience member, then I whole-heartedly recommend Grumpuss for your listening or viewing pleasure. It's an engaging story about a flawed but likable young knight who is called upon to capture or kill the Grumpuss, which the story goes "is not like a dragon... rather more like a large surly cat, with tremendous paws and gigantic claws, and jaws that can crush armor flat!" You can buy the video and watch as Pike delivers his story to a fairy queen live before a high-brow London audience, or you can purchase the audiocassette and enjoy the benefit of a few added sound effects. Being a visually oriented person, I preferred the video.
There are many things I like about Grumpuss the story (not to mention Grumpuss the creature). The wordcraft, in terms of rhyme, rhythm, aliteration, etc., is always good and sometimes great. The story is suitable for all audiences, and while there is some violence it's presented in a way that's suitable for all ages. The story teaches a number of underlying values, including general kindness, reserving judgement, love of literature, the importance of paying attention, keeping one's ambition in check, etc.. Travis Edward Pike, while it's revealed in the outtakes didn't really deliver the entire poem flawlessly from memory, is a genuine bard in exactly the tradition he claims, and he possesses a storyteller's wit and charm.
I'm assuming that a conscientious parent puts some consideration into which works he or she selects to show a young child, knowing that the stakes at that age are much higher in terms of the window the child is going to have on the world. With that in mind, the only fault I could find with Grumpuss is that the story doesn't do much to engage young girls. However, the video does contain additional material and performances which are not included on the audio-cassettes, and which do a better job of reaching out to both genders.
Overall, I'm glad I have a copy of Grumpuss, because it's something I'll want to show my own children. I'm pretty sure they'd not only be happy they saw it, but they'd also be smarter and nicer people for the experience. What more can one ask for in a children's story?