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The Owl and the Pussycat

Edward Lear's illustration of the Owl and the Pussycat

"The Owl and the Pussycat" is a nonsense poem by Edward Lear, first published during 1871 as part of his book Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets. Lear wrote the poem for a three-year-old girl, Janet Symonds, the daughter of Lear's friend poet John Addington Symonds and his wife Catherine Symonds. The term "runcible", used for the phrase "runcible spoon", was invented for the poem.

Synopsis

"The Owl and the Pussycat" features four anthropomorphic animals – an owl, a cat, a pig, and a turkey – and tells the story of the love between the title characters who marry in the land "where the Bong-tree grows".

The Owl and the Pussycat set out to sea in a pea green boat with honey and "plenty of money" wrapped in a five-pound note. The Owl serenades the Pussycat while gazing at the stars and strumming on a small guitar. He describes her as beautiful. The Pussycat responds by describing the Owl as an "elegant fowl" and compliments him on his singing. She urges that they marry; however, they do not have a ring. They sail away for a year and a day to a land where Bong trees grow and discover a pig with a ring in his nose in a wood. They buy the ring for a shilling and are married the next day by a turkey. They dine on mince and quince using a "runcible spoon", then dance hand-in-hand on the sand in the moonlight.

Portions of an unfinished sequel, "The Children of the Owl and the Pussycat" were published first posthumously, during 1938. How the pair procreated is unspecified but the children are part fowl and part cat. All love to eat mice. The family live round places with weird names where their mother the cat died falling from a tall tree. The death caused their father, the owl, great sadness. The money is all spent but father still sings to the original guitar.[1]

Media

The "piggy-wig" in the land of Bong-trees.
  • Beatrix Potter wrote a prequel, The Tale of Little Pig Robinson, telling the background story of the pig character.
  • The story has been set to music and animated many times, including by Igor Stravinsky in 1966 using twelve-tone technique (a recording was made under the composer's supervision for Columbia Records), Victor Hely-Hutchinson, Burl Ives, Humphrey Searle in 1951, using twelve-tone technique for the accompanying flute, guitar, and cello, but sprechgesang for the vocal part,[2] and Laurie Anderson. John Rutter set the lyrics for choir a cappella in the collection Five Childhood Lyrics, first performed in 1973.
  • Elton Hayes made a recording of the Hely-Hutchinson setting for Parlophone[3] during 1953. It became a regular item on Children's Favourites and was one of six Edward Lear recordings he made.
  • In the book Explorers on the Moon, the seventeenth volume of The Adventures of Tintin, first published in 1959, Captain Haddock is shown to be singing a slightly modified version of the last line of this poem, replacing Moon with Earth (sic: "And they danced by the light of the Earth").
  • The 1965 film Fun in Balloon Land contains references to the poem, and refers to the Turkey as "The Marrying Turkey".
  • It was the main topic of a 1968 children's musical play about Lear's nonsense poems, entitled The Owl and the Pussycat went to See.... The play was written by Sheila Ruskin and David Wood.[4]
  • The title was borrowed for an unrelated stage play and subsequent 1970 movie featuring Barbra Streisand and George Segal.
  • During 1971, a cartoon based on the poem was made by Weston Woods.[citation needed]
  • In the 1968 Disney animated feature Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, later a part of 1977's The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, the character Owl mentions a relative of his who supposedly "went to sea in a pea-green boat" with a Pussycat.
  • The two main characters were the inspiration for X the Owl and Henrietta Pussycat in the "Neighborhood of Make-Believe" from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.[citation needed]
  • Laurie Anderson composed and recorded a version titled Beautiful Pea Green Boat that appeared on her 1994 album Bright Red.
  • The 1993 movie, "Dandelion Dead", a BAFTA Award winner; Part One, portrays the poem recited by the children before they go to bed. The movie stars Michael Kitchen and Sarah Miles, and is a murder story based on a true events.
  • Eric Idle, a former member of Monty Python, wrote a children's book entitled The Quite Remarkable Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat which was based on the poem. It is an extended story about when the Owl and the Pussycat were attacked by a band of ruthless rats who were trying to steal pies. It was illustrated by Wesla Weller and was first published during 1996 with an audio version which included some songs by Idle himself.
  • Between 2001 and 2003, Stewart Lee wrote and performed a show titled Pea Green Boat. The show included an extended version of the story of "The Owl and the Pussycat" including the original poem. A 21-minute version of the show has been made available commercially.
  • In 2004 the Folk Duo Sandwich (Buddy Freebury and Andrea Hallier) recorded a musical version of the poem to a tune written by band member Andrea Hallier (now Andrea Freebury) It was included on their third album Crystal Ball.
  • Sananda Maitreya's sixth album, Angels & Vampires – Volume II, has a track entitled "The Owl and the Pussycat."
  • A deleted scene intended for the Family Guy episode "Quagmire's Baby" involves Glenn Quagmire reading the book to his daughter, but then getting aroused by the sexual nature of the story.
  • In 2013, Julia Donaldson and Charlotte Voake published a sequel to Lear's poem, entitled The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat.
  • In 2015, Kate Ceberano covered the song on her album, Lullaby.

See also

References

  1. ^ The Children of the Owl and the Pussy-cat
  2. ^ Denis Stevens, A History of Song, The Norton Library 536 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1970): 179. ISBN 0393005364.
  3. ^ [1] Details of the 45 rpm record of Elton Hayes' recordings of Edward Lear songs (accessed 7 October 2011)
  4. ^ "The Owl and the Pussycat Went to See...", the Ruskin/Wood play (accessed 8 February 2011).