Howl came upon Mr Boo

Issue 4/1983 | Archives online, Children's books, Drama, Fiction

The first Mr Boo book was published in 1973. Mr Boo has also made his appearance on stage this year; his theatrical companions are the children Mike and Jenny, who are not easily frightened – Mr Boo’s courage is a different matter, as can be seen in the extract from the stage play that follows overleaf.

Hannu Mäkelä describes the birth of Mr Boo:

To be honest, Mr Boo has long been my other self. The first time I drew a character who looked like him, without naming it Boo, I was really thinking of my fifteen­ year-old self.

The years went by and the Mr Boo drawing was forgotten for a time. It hadn’t occurred to me to write for children; I seemed to have enough to do coping with myself. Then I met Mr Boo, whom I had not yet linked up with my old drawing. My son was about six years old and we had been invited out. There were several children present. As I recall it it was a wet Sunday afternoon. I had entrenched myself with the other grown-ups in the kitchen to drink beer. The noise of the children grew worse and worse (in other words they were enjoying themselves). At last the women could bear it no longer and demanded that I, too, get to work. Really, what right had I always to be sprawled at a table with a beer glass in my hand? None. So I rose and went into the sitting-room. I shouted at the children to form a circle around me. At that time I had a motto: ‘Mäkelä – friend to children and dogs’. The reverse was true of course. The name Mr Boo occurred to me, probably as a result of some obscure private (and possibly even erotic) pun and I begun to tell a story about him. In telling it I paused dramatically and accelerated just as primary school teachers are taught to do: that part of my training, after all, wasn’t wasted. I was astonished; the children listened in complete silence. And if my memory doesn’t fail me (or even if it does, this is the way I wish to remember it), at the end of the story the smallest of the children said, rolling his r’s awkwardly, ‘Hurrrrah’. I was hooked.

The children themselves asked me to tell the same stories again. They still enjoyed them. It wasn’t long before I began to think seriously of writing a whole book about Mr Boo. For the first time in my life I really wanted to write for children. Every day after work I wrote a new Mr Boo story. Then in the evening I read it to my son. That is how the stories grew into a book.

The child likes right to triumph; he likes the good and the moral. The child is the kind of person we adults try in vain to be. It was only through Mr Boo that I began to see children in a totally new way and above all to become seriously interested in them.

Translated by Mary Lomas

Mr Boo

Characters:

Mr Boo
Mirror image of Mr Boo
Grandfather’s picture on the wall
Plant
Mike

Scene 3

A contented MISTER BOO bustles about in his shack. It is day, with much light and birdsong. It is spring, although MISTER BOO doesn’t know it.

MISTER BOO

Come on, get boiling … nice water … (Pours tea to steep and immediately pours tea into cup) Tea’s ready. That’s what I call instant tea. Care for a cookie? The answer is yes. But where are they? (Searches) Sugar or spice? Which would taste best? The first thing is just to find either kind … Here! (Familiar sound of GRANDFATHER’s picture clearing his throat) No, Grandfather… I won’t take too many … just a very few … (MISTER BOO stuffs his pockets with cookies and when no more fit he passes some to children around stage) Shhh, so Grandfather doesn’t notice … he’s very strict about these …

MISTER BOO goes to chair and stretches.

MISTER BOO

Whoo-eeee. This is the life. There’s tea. And cookies. And my own home. My own castle. My own peace and quiet. (Ponders) Only, it also tends to get pretty boring. The children are even so nice that I never see them anymore … ‘(Chuckling) They’re afraid I’ll do a repeat performance … shucks … I’m not all that fantastic a magician … a fair average … above average, I’d say … (Ponders) Now I’ve had something to eat. Now I’ve had something to drink. What do I do now?

MIRROR IMAGE

(Appears yawning in mirror) Ho-hum … I’m exhausted … Do something useful… now that it’s spring … Plant something, sow something …

MISTER BOO

What do you mean, spring … ? (Goes to window and draws curtains aside, light floods into his eyes) It’s true … spring … and I’m awake again in the middle of bright daylight. I must have a fever… Somehow everything is so different now …

MIRROR IMAGE

All you ever do is think, when you might actually be doing something … (Yawning) It’s downright sinful to see you so lazy …

MISTER BOO

Lazy, am I? Wait a second …

Hustles and bustles, locates seed packets and pots in cupboard, puts seeds in earth, attaches labels to pots: FLOWER NO. 1, FLOWER NO. 2. Studies fruits of his labors with satisfaction, offering appreciation and bowing to himself.

MISTER BOO

Fine work, Mister Boo … thank you, thank you … no, truly excellent … Isn’t that somewhat of an exaggeration? No, Mister Boo yours is actually the work of a genius …

Notices that there still remains one packet on table.

MISTER BOO

Grandfather, may I plant this one too? No answer … away again … He wanders way far afield … on the seven seas … You’d never get me to sail in a storm … Oh well … let’s do these too …

Makes another label: FLOWER NO. 3. Waters flowers, tends them, clapping and crooning.

There’s more to Mister Boo than meets the eye. With his green thumb he makes our garden hum. He puts seeds in the ground and spreads the dirt around. Next thing you know they’ve grown up to the sky.

Flower No. 3 takes heed, thrusts up green stem in a rush, sprouts buds, and nods; but MISTER BOO, busy tidying up room, doesn’t notice it. And flower grows at appalling pace Soon entire window is covered and stage dims.

MISTER BOO

What’s going on… is it already evening? So soon? The sun was just shining out.

Window is completely covered by green PLANT.

MISTER BOO

Odd. Strange. Most peculiarly astounding.

MISTER BOO turns toward window and drops watering can with a clatter to floor. PLANT sways and waves itself and stares at MISTER BOO. MISTER BOO stares back mortified.

MISTER BOO

Oops … for not noticing before … you get there? I just planted the seeds …

PLANT

I’ve been here for ages on end … waiting you see fit to offer me a little something drink. But no! You just keep straightening the room!

MISTER BOO sits in chair, hand to heart. Shakes his head. Looks around inquiringly, but no one appears to explain to him why PLANT has to be on his window sill, of all places.

MISTER BOO

Where in the world could a boogey-bush like that have come from? I haven’t even opened the door… and the window was closed. It was! I don’t get it!

PLANT

(Listening, dissatisfied, to MISTER BOO’s blather) Pipedown … Weren’t you listening to what I said? I am thirsty … and it’s a mighty thirst too … I could drink a river. Some water.

MISTER BOO recovers sufficiently to search for watering can; takes it to PLANT and begins dousing its roots. But PLANT grasps can in hand-like branch … and drains it in a flash. Then PLANT throws can to floor.

PLANT

More. You call that a river? Nothing but a blamed trickle! Water! And food too … as a matter of fact, I am extremely hungry … a whale of an appetite.

MISTER BOO

(Slowly retreating) What is it that you eat? For other plants, water is enough.

PLANT

What do I eat? Meat, of course. But it has to be prime cut! And well marbled. You won’t catch me eating soup meat, only steak. (Considers) I think I also like hotdogs. Don’t ask me why … With mustard. And ketchup! Lots.

MISTER BOO

I don’t get it at all … How did that get there? There’s not a whole lot to eat here… (rummaging in cupboard) … cookies and tea … and a can of Spam … will this do?

MISTER BOO holds out can, PLANT opens it at once and gobbles Spam.

PLANT

More. That was nothing but a snack. And what’s holding up that water?

MISTER BOO

What are you … ? How did you get there … ?

PLANT

What and how … You planted me yourself. But you make a lousy, lazy caretaker. Water!

MISTER BOO brings water, PLANT instantly gulps it down, then looks more kindly on MISTER BOO.

PLANT

Since you’re at least trying to be nice, I promise not to gobble you up just yet. Even if I am feeling ravenous …

MISTER BOO backs off, looking to GRANDFATHER’s picture for assistance.

MISTER BOO

Grandfather . . . what do I do now? This is your fault. It was your packet of seeds … Oh, how far away have you gone? Help me. (Listens) Not a sound. What do I do now? (MISTER BOO looks at MIRROR IMAGE, which momentarily gawks terror-stricken at room, then draws curtains and flees as well. MISTER BOO is left all alone.)

PLANT

I’m hungry! More food! I’m thirsty! More water!

MISTER BOO

The plant is growing and growing… and I’m all out proper food … And if I give it my bread, what will I eat? (Louder) I don’t have anything more. You have my permission to remain hungry. You’re not getting anything more until tomorrow.

PLANT

Mister Boo … such talk… Come over here and we’ll discuss the matter more fully …

MISTER BOO

What is it you want?

PLANT

(Grasping MISTER BOO) My dear friend … if you don’t quickly bring me enough to eat, you can kiss the world good-bye.

MISTER BOO

(Kicks and punches at PLANT, which gives him a slight shake that sends him sprawling to floor) I’m going to go … now … and do some shopping… (Softly) There’s just no coping with that. It’s like rubber …

PLANT

And when you get back, also remember not to try anything funny. My patience does have its limits.

MISTER BOO dashes out into yard, sags against apple tree in utter despair. MIKE approaches and stops to stare in amazement at whimpering MISTER BOO.

MIKE

Hi … what’s with you? You’re crying …

MISTER BOO

(Shaking his head) Wrong … Mister Boos never cry.

MIKE

Uh-huh … your cheeks are just normally wet. Were you taking a shower?

MISTER BOO nods.

MIKE

Uh, can I help? I was just going out to practice a few shots, but … Catch this … (Demonstrating moves) Like this and this and this and then. . . a dynamite hook. . . and there it is, the inevitable … a basket, scored by that renowned forward, that poetry in motion known as Mike. Hey … you weren’t watching. Listen, what’s eating you?

MISTER BOO

Not a single thing!

MIKE

Nobody cries without a reason. Tell Mommy.

MISTER BOO

I’m not crying. I’m laughing.

MIKE

Why are you laughing?

MISTER BOO

Because … (whimpers in the telling) … in Mister Boo’s house there is a meat-eating plant that eats so much that Mister Boo can’t keep it fed. And so the plant is going to eat Mister Boo.

MIKE

Come off it. Mister Boo wouldn’t be exaggerating slightly, would he?

MISTER BOO

Mister Boos never exaggerate. Ever.

MIKE

(Yawning) OK. What if the two of us go and have a look… We’ll give it one right in the kisser. Like that, really. I’m awful strong, y’know.

MISTER BOO

It won’t help. I already tried. It’s stronger than I am.

MIKE

You don’t say … stronger than you … well, then it sure is strong, all right.

MISTER BOO

(Nodding) And I just don’t know what to do … What do I do?

MIKE

Let’s go look. Together we might come up with something… Come on.

And although MISTER BOO resists, MIKE drags him like a spade into shack.

MIKE

Yoo-hoo … anybody here?

PLANT

What? Who’s there! Mister Boo. You swore you wouldn’t do anything dumb. Who is that?

MISTER BOO

Mike.

PLANT

Is he my lunch? Strange. You look just a mite too big.

PLANT reaches arms toward MIKE, who keeps his distance.

PLANT

Come here! Over here! Mister Boo! I am extremely disappointed in you.

MIKE

Hey, I’ve got it. Come here. (Takes MISTER BOO aside and whispers, MISTER BOO listening and nodding)

PLANT

What? No fair whispering with others around. It’s rude.

MISTER BOO

(Digging in his pocket) Where did I put it … where … ?

PLANT

(Grabbing MISTER BOO) If I’m not getting anyone else, I’ll take you. Hopefully you’re easy on the digestion.

MISTER BOO

Help!

MIKE

It’s eating Mister Boo! (Looks around, seeking help; hurls ball straight at PLANT) A lightning fake, throwing the defense off guard. And it’s another basket! (Ball stuns PLANT and it releases MISTER BOO, who runs to side, probing pockets)

MIKE

Hurry up. It’s coming to.

MISTER BOO

It’s not here… or here… or here… It’s here!

Takes out chunk of wood.

PLANT

Stop. (Reaching out hands) I’ll show you.

MISTER BOO

points piece of wood at PLANT and says “Zip zap”. And PLANT’s hands freeze.

PLANT

What is this? What did you do to me? This is no fair at all. Haven’t you had any upbringing?

MIKE

It’s not moving, but … leave it like that.

MISTER BOO slaps his forehead. He runs to shelf, finds little bitty bottle and runs to PLANT.

MISTER BOO

Promise never to reveal what you are about to see. Promise. (Opens bottle, pours its contents over PLANT; hiss sounds, lights dim, some­ thing whistles, fading; and when lights come up again, there’s no PLANT)

MIKE

I don’t believe it … How did you do that?

MISTER BOO

(Dragging himself toward bed, completely tuckered out) Tsk tsk, remember, you haven’t seen a thing… not a thing … nothing …

And then MISTER BOO falls asleep, sleeps and snores.

MIKE looks at him yet a while and then exits, dribbling ball.

MIKE

Once again it’s looking dangerous. He’s fast as lightning, this young forward … only recently still a rookie, but now in the record books. And again he’s pressing hard, he gains possession, finds an opening, shoots, and yeeeesss, believe it or not, a basket. A basket. That’s the third in a matter of seconds. There’s no one can top that. No one.

Translated by Tim Steffa

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