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Meeselphe: A Surreal Adventure

Updated: May 6

Meeselphe, written and illustrated by Claude Ponti, translated by Alyson Waters and Margot Kerlidou, and published by Elsewhere Editions.










 

I could read this story over and over and still find something new and clever. But let’s start with the title…


Meeselphe is the perfect translation from the original French title, Mouha, which would be pronounced as “moi” [mwa] meaning me or myself. And so anglophone readers enter into this world of “Meeselphe.” She's an adorable little girl with a cute hairdo (depending on whom you ask in the story) who decides to explore the “land on the ground” where she has never ventured before.


Readers’ imaginations are sparked from the first illustration onward and in the playfulness of the language. A “flyby” looks like a type of flying insect with a stinger. When Meeselphe finds a baby bird, she fears he’s been “sadbandoned.” She soon describes the land on the ground full of "wackanana mind-bogglers." And how fitting it is that a seemingly sweet cat character is named Saccharose. Readers of any age will delight in the creative vocabulary, puns, and riddles sprinkled throughout the narrative.


But Meeselphe’s adventure is not all fun and games. Many of the creatures she encounters are ill-hearted and resentful, especially when Meeselphe solves their riddles, and they often insult her hairdo. Unphased, Meeselphe continues her journey. And when they threaten to find her again on pages 38 and 39, and they do, calling her “Horrid-Haircut Head,” she simply recognizes their rudeness and uncivilized manners and walks on by. Her unwavering confidence is inspiring.


There is so much to love in this book. I thoroughly enjoyed that it was not sparse in language. The abundance of language and repetitions add to the cadence and enjoyment of reading Meeselphe aloud. From the first page, “… there are lots of unfamiliar things I’ve never seen, unfamiliar animals and people, tons of delightful and curious things to do, all sorts of delightful and curious plants, loads of delightful and curious sounds and colors and smells and adventures.” And with that, readers are invited to accompany Meeselphe on her adventure, to be carried from one sentence to the next like a carnival ride, to marvel at all she discovers, and to take their time considering them.


Although there is much more to emphasize and analyze, I'll end on this last thought. Meeselphe encounters a creature who tries to explain what “the land upon the ground” is like and then summarizes a main take-away, “What’s important, though, is that you are important.” And I feel that Meeselphe hearing that and readers reading that can help us all when encountering the unknown and the unfamiliar, the kind and the disgruntled, those we can help and those that can help us. It’s a story for “meeselphe”… and you.

 

Imagine It!


The illustrations and text are surreal, meaning somewhere between real and unreal. For example, on page 23 "a quiet carrot guards her flock." But upon turning the page, readers see a group of carrots guarding ... rabbits or are they ducks? Standing as the carrots are, they bring to mind a small forest. And why not? Their shape resembles trees. They have green leafy bits sprouting from their tops. It’s a real image in an unexpected setting. So, that image can be considered surreal.


As for text, “a bloomy bouncy” is an invented word for “flower” but it is just as true. Meeselphe lands on a bloom and she bounces.


In our dreams, our minds love to mix up images and references from our waking world to create often peculiar scenes. Connections do exist, however, whether we understand them or not. The idea of dreams, in particular the space in between sleeping and waking, has always fascinated surrealists.


Imagine your own "land on the ground" or anywhere else from sky to sea or beyond.


Cut out random pictures from magazines. What do they remind you of? Without thinking too hard, rearrange them into a collage on a piece of paper or large cardboard. Marvel in the world you have created. How would you describe it?


If you’d rather work only with words, imagine your own dictionary of favorite things. Make a list of what you see around you, outside, in your favorite place, a list of favorite foods or animals, whatever you’d like. Now look at them differently, closely, what would you call them if you were in charge of language? A chair could be called a “bumrest.” The backseat of a car could be called a “streetcouch.” Why not? How would your own language describe what you see?


Imagine discovering new ways of exploring and and experiencing the world for yourself.

 

 

 

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