… the Men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale…

December 26, 2012

At some stage this week, this series of posts on children's stories is going to have to come to an end.  Maybe New Years Eve.  The problem has been that books have called out from the dark hidden corners of my memory and the list of candidates is now simply too long to accommodate them all.  I'll aim to finish with a post listing not only those candidates who did not make it to the final list, but also ones that were excluded from the very start.

The title comes to from the opening lines of Noggin the Nog, one of the many great creations of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin in the 1960s.  It was a difficult choice between Noggin, The Clangers and Ivor the Engine, all products of the same creative stable, all brilliant, all making profound social points in simple language.  For those who don't know Postgate had deeply held principles; he was a consciousness objector in WWII and blogged for the New Statesman in his later years.  I settled on Noggin in part because my children fell in love with him too, watching video's on visits to their Nain (welsh for Grandmother) in Wales as well as demanding readings of the stories before they went to bed.

There are some great characters in the book including the eccentric inventor Olaf the Lofty and Noggin's two main companions Thorn Nogson, Captain of the Guard and Graculus (pictured) the talking green sea bird.  They also have the best named villain of Children's Literature namely Nogbad the Bad.  I always loved Groliffe the ice dragon who just wants to be left alone and when summoned by Noggin to the desert for assistance claims bitterly about the heat, a sentiment I share.

All three of the series I haven mentioned here are slight surreal in nature, they contain much to amuse the adult.  All the plots really focus on doing the right thing, respecting that other people may be different and trying to find ways round problems rather than simply mounting a frontal assault with weapons and on civilised susceptibilities. The voice of Postgate on the recordings is part of their magic, and the original inspiration for the visual style came from Firmin's interest in the Lewis Chessmen now found in the British Museum.

The theme music was a bassoon score which some found dark and threatening, but I always (and my children) found it more an entry into a different place.  The simply rhythms of the language were part of the attraction.  Let me give you the opening in full:

In the lands of the North, where the Black Rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long the Men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale … and those tales they tell are the stories of a kind and wise king and his people; they are the Sagas of Noggin the Nog

I don't know if the stories ever got out of the UK and would be interested to know if they did.  Great fun, with moral purpose and all in ten minutes.  You can't do better than that for young children.

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