review of Travis Edward Pike's

by Petra Davidson, 5 March 1999
    Once more, I was asked to do a review for Dragonsoup, and more or less eagerly, I accepted. (More because Dragonsoup is my boss and Im eager to agree with everything they want, less, because the last time I was asked to do a review I wasnt too impressed with what I was sent.) This time, the job went further than just looking at a website. I was asked to review an audio and video version of Grumpuss, a story written entirely in verse.
    "In verse??? was my first thought. "Dragons and kings and dwarfs? Oh my!!! But I agreed, and what I got was a handful, but if youll bear with me, youll find your way to an interesting, fun, and underappreciated world of fantasy and good, old-fashioned tale-telling in the tradition of some of the forgotten greats of literary history.

Why I Like This Story:
    I like Grumpuss because it is good. But so are plenty of other stories. Grumpuss is different in its unique style, and that the author, Travis Edward Pike, put a lot of effort and conviction into his story. Pike refuses to adjust Grumpuss to any norm or standards producers and publishers expect him to follow. Instead he holds on and has decided to either do or die with this story thats only flaw is that it was conceived decades after the art of storytelling was limited to content rather than style.

Story Quality:
    Grumpuss is much more than just a fun story. Its not a simple "Hero goes to kill beast but makes friends story, but a tale about understanding the difference between diverse kinds of beings, without ever getting preachy about the morals it teaches. The Grumpuss appears like the last of a minority, hunted down by those who feel they have the right to rid themselves of anything they fear or to capture and contain it to serve their own glory.
    Grumpuss is also unique in that it is entirely written in rhyme. Wilhelm Busch, one of the greatest writers in Germany, wrote all of his stories in verse, and they are some of the best tales ever told. But Wilhelm Busch, granted the title of unofficial forefather of the comic strip, wrote harsh criticism packed into fun-filled rhymes. Travis Edward Pike, on the other hand, writes with more detail and more of a tongue-in-cheek tone about the storys hero, whose dreams of fame make him overconfident and almost cost his life and the life of the Grumpuss. As great as Buschs stories, but with characters that show the quirky qualities of Michael Endes Neverending Story, and with any luck, the author might just take his place in the hall of fame of authors who write to entertain an audience, rather than talk down to them.
    For a younger audience, Sir Ellery will be a hero. For the more mature audience, he will be the prime example of foolishness that often overcomes people when their dreams make them lose sight of reality and its many options, but who, in the end, come to realize that doing the right thing and preserving a dying species is more important than blindly following orders.
    Grumpuss is the story of the knight, Sir Ellery, who is sent off by his king to find the Grumpuss that is roaming the land. The Grumpuss, thanks to his bad reputation, is feared by the king and his subjects, so Sir Ellery is sent on a week-long quest to either capture or slay the Grumpuss, and "return with the beast or its head in hand.
    Dreaming of fame and glory, Sir Ellery misses every piece of advice given to him about the "large, surly cat, and rides off to find the beast. Along the way, he meets Rashpur, the dwarf, who speaks highly of his friend, the Grumpuss. Dreaming of glory and ladies swooning over him, Sir Ellery considers taming the Grumpuss, rather than killing it.
    Sir Ellery finally meets the Grumpuss, and after some training in courtly manners, sets out to return to the king with his prize. Alas, in a small village along the way, the two get into a terrible fight, and by the time the fearful villagers dare come out to see the outcome, both are gone.
    Sir Ellery awakens in Rashpurs cave, and knowing that the Grumpuss is recovering elsewhere in the depths of the cave also, concludes it is best to slay the Grumpuss after all. But as he raises his sword to kill the weakened Grumpuss, he realizes its plight is partly his fault, and decides instead to plead leniency when the king and his search party arrive.

Not quite sure what to expect, I tore into my package, and was pleasantly surprised to see two professionally made box-covers. [ED: The audio tape has been superseded by the DVD-style case containing both CDs and shows the narrator on the cover. The DVD case features images from the live performance and features a Grumpuss Rampant graphic on the DVD face.]
    Both the audio and the video were of high quality. You wont have to activate your hearing aid to be able to hear Grumpuss, and thats good news for all of us who dont have one.

The Grumpuss video production was very well done. I sort of expected some blurry picture of a dark theater and a couple of blobs moving around in the shadows, like those Department of Defense School play videos on the militarys cable channels overseas. (Dont ask. I watched them for 3 years living in Japan.) Instead, a simple, yet beautiful theater set was explored with several cameras by a team of obvious professionals. Good lighting, changes in camera angles, and perfectly clear sound make this production fun to watch.

    The video production of Grumpuss varies from the audio in that it has some added scenes, depicting the Queen of the Sidh (pronounced shee), upon her Fairy Mound, with the three children she "holds in thrall, planning to take them into her otherworldly realm. These additions were written for the world premiere of Grumpuss, which took place at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England, and benefited the Save the Children Foundation. These scenes, framing the four acts of the play, are short pieces that were flawlessly added for the premiere benefit and provide the setting for the telling of the epic narrative rhyme.
    As mentioned before, the set was a simple, but quite good depiction of the Fairy Mound. Some trees, a rock for the poet to climb out from beneath, and some different levels to allow the storyteller to hold the audiences focus. Travis Edward Pike keeps the still set moving along with his story by utilizing almost every corner of it. How he manages not to rustle the leaves strewn about the set is a mystery to me.    There was not much offered in the way of costumes, but seeing that Pike depicts a poet who accidentally happens upon the Fairy Mound, that is probably more appropriate than any lavish outfits would have been.    I wondered, before putting the tape into the VCR, how I would be able to sit through an hour and a half staring at mostly one man on a set, reciting what in essence would be an extremely long poem. And how many obvious cuts would I sit through where the narrator lost his sentence . . . After a while though, I stopped worrying. Especially when I had to mute the tape for a phone call, and found myself staring at Travis Edward Pike talking, trying to follow the story just by watching his expressions. While he mostly directs his tale at his audience, Pike does act along as much as the story allows, without ever going off on overdramatic rampages.

This review was posted more than 20-years-ago. Technological advances dictated that the original hi-definition 30 ips analog studio recording be replaced with a re-mastered digital transfer for the current Grumpuss 15th Anniversary Audio Theater CD package, and the VHS version be re-mastered from the original PAL digibeta to the current Grumpuss 1977 Premiere Performance DVD, resulting in both the audio and video versions having significantly enhanced imagery and clearer sound than ever before. Visit the Otherworld Cottage CD and DVD Catalog to read reviews, liner notes, production notes and reviews, and listen to excerpts from the Grumpuss 15th Anniversary Audio Theater Edition, or preview clips from the Grumpuss 1997 Premiere Performance