A reviewer recently wrote of a children’s book, ‘I’d definitely recommend this for kids around 9+ and for any parents with a slightly silly sense of humour. This is Monty Python meets Tom Holt, a wonderful read.’ At first sight and beyond, this seems to be excessive praise for a book written for young readers, but almost certainly the reviewer had a more modest intention of highlighting certain features of the style of writing and humour that are reminiscent of these two great sources of innovation in historical writing and contemporary comedy. The children’s book in question might be described as retelling familiar historical events in a manner reminiscent of Tom Holt’s novels, and the humour might be described as in a style similar to some of Monty Python’s satirical sketches.
Tom Holt is a British novelist, born in 1961, who writes historical novels in his own name and fantasy under the pseudonym of K. J. Parker. Some of Tom Holt’s novels have been described as mythopoeic in that they take themes from history and mythology and retell them from a new perspective, often with humour. Holt has also produced satirical works, most notably a pseudo-autobiography of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, entitled, ‘I, Margaret,’ written jointly with Steve Nallon and published in 1989. Tom Holt has helped to popularise mythopoeic literature and something of the style of this genre may have been noticed by the reviewer in the children’s book.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus was a hugely popular BBC television production that was broadcast in the UK in forty-five episodes over four series from 1969 until 1983. Its effect on television comedy was profound, breaking new ground and intruding on territory that had previously been widely regarded as off-limits. Some Monty Python sketches have become classics that have been played repeatedly over the years since their creation. Numbered amongst these are the Dead Parrot sketch, the Lumberjack Song and Spam, which led to the term spam being used for unwanted emails. Monty Python’s innovative and distinctive style of humour is now established as ‘Pythonesque.’ Yet despite its revolutionary impact, Pythonesque humour remains rooted in a British comedy tradition that owes much to euphemism.
The author of a children’s book would be astonished to find his book described as mythopoeic with Pythonesque humour, yet these were traces found by the reviewer. What children want is good stories and there is no better store than that provided by history and the myths. Humour can be provided on two levels. The young reader likes more direct situations based on characters and storyline, while an attendant adult might appreciate more subtle satire. A book for bedtime must have something for both generations of readers. If this involves taking inspiration from Tom Holt and Monty Python it is further testimony to their enduring impact.