The Mysterious Shin Shira

March 22, 2007

The Mysterious Shin Shira, by G.E. Farrow, is a book of children’s stories about a guy who is occasionally forced to disappear and reappear elsewhere. It’s narrated by an writer of children’s books, apparently the author himself — some children in one of the stories credit him with having written a book of Farrow’s that’s mentioned on the title page.

When Shin Shira first meets the narrator and finds that he’s a writer, he asks, “What line? You don’t look very clever,” to which the narrator responds, “I only write books for children…and one doesn’t have to be very clever to do that.” I’m still not sure what to think about that, although I suppose the stories do seem as if they’ve been written by someone who thinks you don’t have to be clever to write children’s stories. Not that it’s bad, exactly. It’s just that most of its charm is unintentional. It’s as if the author doesn’t really know what makes fairy tales enjoyable, but stumbles on it by accident. There are children’s books where adults don’t really understand the magical things that are going on and it’s on purpose, but this isn’t one of those.

Shin Shira is a little man dressed in yellow who claims to be part fairy and who has a habit of disappearing at both the most convenient and the most inconvenient times. A fairy queen put a curse on his family, causing them to disappear whenever she wants them too, but for some reason it only worked on Shin Shira. The stories aren’t terribly exciting, but the contrast between the mundane narration and fantastic happenings give it some appeal.

My favorite part is when the narrator acquires Aladdin’s lamp. Shin Shira tells him to wish for diamonds, but the genie says that the diamond mines are too busy these days, so Shin Shira suggests, as an alternative, that they wish for the Roc to come, at which point they will ride on its feet to it’s home, where precious stones are scattered all over the ground. So they do. And then, when they’ve gathered up four bags full of precious stones, a couple of guys in a hot air balloon pass by and offer them a lift to Baghdad, which happens to be where they’re staying. Unfortunately, Shin Shira disappears during their trip, and then, when the balloon starts losing gas, the balloonists toss the bags full of stones over the side, thinking they’re ballast.

The best thing about this book, though, is the illustrations. There are plenty of them, and they’re attractive and colorful. Here’s the frontispiece, which is probably the best of them:

And I’m wondering if this one might not be a better header for Redeeming Qualities than the one I’ve got up now.

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