The Land of Green Ginger by Noel Langley

Abu Ali, Prince of China and son of Aladdin (yes, THAT Aladdin) sets off on a quest to find the Land of Green Ginger, collecting on the way two travelling companions, a small djinn still sporting his magic lamp L plates, and a somewhat waspish but eminently resourceful mouse.

This is one of the best books ever for reading aloud, and also one which gets better and better as you get older. It’s real laugh out loud stuff and immensely cheering reading if you’re ill. I don’t think anyone could resist a story with two princes called Tintac Ping Foo and Rubdub Ben Thud, and a djinn called Boomalakka Wee. Particularly with Edward Ardizzone’s beautifully expressive illustrations.

Chaos abounds, the two princes squabble and generally make themselves ridiculous, Abu Ali comes across his future bride, Silver Bud, and also a conversational but rather underhand dragon, wicked uncle Abanazar who has rather gone down in the world and is reduced to selling carpets in the middle of the desert, a clairvoyant called Nosi Parker and two very well-spoken and dignified Phoenix birds, among others. It’s a mark of Langley’s writing that the perfect Abu Ali comes across as charming and likeable and not a complete prig, and the two princes are a tour de force of comic dialogue. So many phrases from this book have passed into our family lexicon, such as; ‘ “No Pencil!” said the Lord Chamberlain’, ‘I have Friends who will Become Anxious,’ and ‘I’m off to Yokohama to hunt Yak.’

The other major attraction to my mind is the ingenious insertion of emphatic capital letters at every conceivable opportunity. I am usually to be found muttering crossly when proofreading things and removing extraneous capital letters with a large red pen. But this is so cleverly and deliberately done, and it adds so hugely to the humour and eccentricity, that it is not only entirely forgivable but completely right.

If all that is best about British pantomime could be captured in a book, this, by an American writer, would be the one. It’s an absolutely wonderful read for anyone from eight to eighty. Rush out and buy a copy, but I urge you to try and find one published in 1966, as I gather, in complete astonishment, that a later version in 1975 removes the capital letters and therefore most of the theatricality and charm. Sheer literary vandalism.

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