‘Xmas is often a bit of a strane wot with pretending that everything is a surprise. Above all father xmas is a strane. You canot so much as mention that there is no father xmas when some grown-up sa Hush not in front of wee tim. So far as i am concerned if father xmas use langwage like that when he tripped over the bolster last time we had beter get a replacement.’
We are more used to seeing Nigel Molesworth in his natural habitat, as the ‘goriller of 3b and curse of St. Custard’s’: an anti-establishment speller in a prep skool satire that explains ‘why Britain is what it is today.’
‘In fact, it is a proper SHAMBLES.
Pop drop the hamer on the cat in the kitchen the xmas puding xplode with a huge crash and the cat spring up the curtains. Outside the sno lie deep and crisp and ect. and just as pop fall off the steplader the WATES arive. ‘
In the second book, How to be Topp (1954), Molesworth is at home for Christmas. Although there are no masters or canings to be avoided, there are still obstacles between him and his beloved space serial on the wireless. If it’s not the tuneless Wates girls warbling on the doorstep and extracting money from the intoxicated grown-ups, it’s his father insisting on reading the classic, xmas carol by c. dickens.
‘Personaly i do not care a d. whether Marley was dead or not it is just that there is something about the xmas Carol which makes paters and grown-ups read with grate XPRESION, and this is very embarassing for all. It is all right for the first part they just roll the r’s a lot but wate till they come to scrooge’s nephew. When he sa Mery Christmas uncle it is like an H-bomb xplosion and so it go on until you get to Tiny Tim chiz chiz chiz he is a weed. When Tiny Tim sa God bless us every one your pater is so overcome he burst out blubbing.’
Speaking on the Backlisted podcast, author and comedy writer Lissa Evans remembered the effect of reading the books after a diet of ‘proper’ children’s fiction. ‘Molesworth was driving a tank over the kind of books I’d read and I was next to him. He was crushing normal narrative beneath these caterpilar wheels (caterpillar spelled with one ‘l’).’
Illustrator Ronald Searle was already famous for both the St Trinian’s series and his satirical cartoons. He combined the two sides of his work in Molesworth, creating what Philip Pullman describes as ‘wildly and gothically extravagant masterpieces of comic art.’ In one of the most gloriously brutal Christmas illustrations you will ever see, Molesworth suddenly worries that Santa might be real and sets a suitably oversized trap.
As an after xmas wheeze, n. molesworth has helpfully included an ingenious self-adjusting thank-you letter to send to any aunts, stinkers, clots or pen-pals who might’ve given you a delicious present or germ gun this year.
‘Still xmas is a good time with all those presents and good food and i hope it will never die out or at any rate not until i am grown up and hav to pay for it all. So ho skip and away the next thing we shall be taken to peter pan for a treat so brace up brace up.’
Buy Molesworth from my Bookshop.org affiliate page and support local independent bookshops (and this blog).