Departing the Text

Reviews I generally read online are usually about newly published books. But sometimes it’s worth reconsidering an older one, one with which we may not be familiar.

So today it’s the turn of ‘Goodnight Opus’ by Berkeley Breathed (published 1993).

So … what does this picture book have in common with ‘Arrested Development’ and ‘The Simpsons’?

Not a question that would be generally discussed over the breakfast table, but nevertheless, let’s have a look.

Is Sideshow Bob actually Bob Loblaw? Unlikely. How about Opus’s origins in the 1980’s comic strip ‘Bloom County’ inspiring the story lines of ‘The Simpsons’? Well, yes but let’s put that aside for another day.

Rather more broadly, they are all examples of that lovely word ‘metafiction’. Defined as    ‘a form of fiction in which the text – either directly or through the characters within – is ‘aware’ that it is a form of fiction’.

The recently revived TV sitcom ‘Arrested Development’ is televised metafiction; frequent voiceovers, flashbacks and self-referential, intertextual storylines all combine to give the impression of a TV reality show.

‘The Simpsons’ cartoon TV series demonstrates many elements of metafiction: it often parodies itself; within the framework of the episodes it showcases the fictional cartoon series of ‘Itchy and Scratchy’; and the latest spin-off from ‘The Simpsons’ merchandise (‘Tapped Out’ – a game in app form for mobile devices) even mocks the player for wasting so much time playing the game.

And now to ‘Goodnight Opus’. A picturebook for young readers, either to read themselves or to be read to (preferably with all involved in the reading process being dressed in pink bunny jammies), it features the penguin Opus.

goodnight opus

In rhyming couplets, Grannie reads to Opus. She reads from a book which can be seen to be titled ‘Goodnight Opus’, the ‘book within a book’ trope of metafiction.

“Which book, dear Opus, may I read you tonight?”
asked Grandma with love at the start of that night.
“Why my favourite,” I said, “the one with the rhymes,
The same one you’ve read me two hundred nine times.”

‘I can’t really say how this happened next:
After two hundred times ,
I departed the text …’

Grannie’s disapproval of Opus’s flights of fancy is displayed by the neat monochrome illustrations, but when she snoozes off, Opus joyfully continues to ‘depart the text’ and the pages become colourful and chaotic. Opus’s adventures are surreal and wonderful. There’s plenty for young minds to explore and I imagine that parents or teachers who read the book will love it too. There’s a very sweet ending which I won’t spoil, which just completes the perfection of this book. As an encouragement to think beyond the normality of routine, it will earn its place on your bookshelf.

As Opus would say – Sometimes it’s good to focus on things that are out of sight.

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