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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Steampunk Pirates of Penzance

Now that I have your attention . . .

Recently I took a trip with the family to Stratford, Ontario to their Shakespeare Festival, just as I do every year.  And because I am incapable of turning off my brain for even a day, I figured I’d check out the state of children’s literature today as it applies to a town based entirely on a festival celebrating a dead bald man.

But before all of that, the title of this piece.  Ladies and gentlemen I have been to Stratford for years and years and seen many an innovative program.  I’ve seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream reinterpreted as a Vietnam-era flowering of 60s style.  I’ve seen Much Ado About Nothing set in a turn of the century Brazil.  But one thing I have never seen is a practical use of Steampunk.  Because the festival pads out the season with plenty of musicals, The Pirates of Penzance (my favorite Gilbert & Sullivan) was going on, and it was a remarkable production.  First off, the program gave some mighty fascinating information about the show, including the fact that Gilbert and Sullivan had a simultaneous premier of the show in both America and England and yet they attended the New York performance!  Then the director explained the Steampunk.  He mentioned the fact that the genre’s current appeal is a response to our current technological state of wires and clouds and touch screens.  We yearn for good old-fashioned gears and rivets sometimes.  Pirates, as it happens, makes for a good mix and mash if you tread lightly.  The show wasn’t filled with iron-plated jetpacks or goggle monocles, but the Steampunk elements were worked in naturally.  A dirigible here, a Jules Verne nod there.  The wheel of the pirate ship was nicely gearish, and one of the Major General’s daughters was first seen wearing goggles and wielding a pick-axe.  All in all, a very good use of a genre that has yet to find a perfectly firm footing in the YA sphere of literature.

Here’s a glimpse of what I’m talking about:

Moving on, the bookstores of the city.  On the street you can run into some good children’s literary fare, even if it is in the form of a t-shirt.

Then the Festival Theatre.  The main hub of all things gift shoppy.  The place you would want to go if you were on the lookout for an elegant scarf or a pack of good Shakespearean insult gum.  I bee-lined for the children’s section, curious to see what is dubbed adequately Shakespearean or play-related.  There are the usual classics:

Some contemporary fare, including one of the Who Was? books.

This one may be self-published.  Hard to say.  Could just be from a small Canadian publisher.  Looked nice enough.

Anyone familiar with this “Drama!” series?  Should I know it?

Very happy to see Keeper here, though not sure what the tie-in is.  Still no Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! on the shelves, which is odder still.

And I was very pleased to see Jonah Winter’s Gilbert & Sullivan bio, as well as good old Chicken Dance and some other favorites:

But what I really wanted was this:

Then on the way home we walked by the Stratford walk of fame.  Lots of actors were mentioned.  And then there was this.  Note the legendary Tyrone Guthrie at the bottom.  And who’s that above him?

Ah yes.  The local boy made good.

Later we walked around a fancy gift shop, the child dripping Cheerios the entire way.  While looking at some of the prints for sale I saw this little sign and was struck by an uncanny sense of deja vu.

Eric Beddows . . . Ken Nutt  . . . Eric Beddows . . . why so familiar?

Oh, how quickly the mind forgets.  It was just a month ago that I included that Canadian staple Zoom at Sea by Tim Wynne-Jones at #78 on my Top 100 Picture Books Poll.  And the author of that title?  None other than Mr. Beddows/Nutt.  And it all comes full circle.

Doesn’t matter where you go, folks.  There are children’s literary connections to be made every which way.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Penelope Fleming says:

    To answer your inquiry: DRAMA! is a teen series (four books) by Paul Ruditis; not stellar literature destined to be a classic, but a fun romp through high school theatre drama clubs and also a fine addition to the GLBT genre. Hope that helps!

  2. Hey, weird coincidence. I received “steampunk” versions of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Poe’s stories in the mail for review today (original texts with new illustrations). Looks like there’s also a H. G. Wells.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Isn’t making H.G. Wells Steampunk essentially bringing coals to Newcastle? Interesting links.

  3. ChrisinNY says:

    Did you ever track down that book, Zoom at Sea?

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      I never had a chance to grab a Zoom at Sea, no. Doggone the doggity gones.

  4. Alyson Whatcott says:

    LOVED Pirates as well. The Major General coming Down out of his dirigible was a hoot, as was seeing Ruth in her scuba gear!