Page 45 Review by Stephen
"It is said that far from the world of man, lies a cruel and mysterious forest. It lures in lost travellers with the promise of safety, only to devour them for all eternity."
We begin with a brief, animistic fable of a man and a woman who were indeed so enchanted, and discovered within the forest a majestic mansion which they decided to make their home. But dancing, singing shadows soon plagued the woman while "the roots played sinister melodies". This divided the couple, for only the woman perceived the threat, and she was so terrified that she panicked and ran, to be swallowed whole by a "deep and thorny ravine". Too late, the husband woke up to the reality of his situation and "collapsed, filled with guilt, and withered away at the centre of their home, unwilling to forget her."
On the page, his hair becomes threaded with leafy shoots, sprouting from his skull, which break through the roof into branches, while below his feet sink deep into water, toes spreading down as roots in the soil.
"The trap had closed around them, like it had done to so many others. Their bodies were swallowed, their memories digested, and their identities consumed."
Three boys have set out on a treasure hunt!
They wend their way across a mountain range's meandering path, striding out east!
If you check the elaborate, ornate end-paper map, it might suggest to you that they should be heading north. You'll quickly discover that you can follow their circuitous progress into the forest which promises the most extraordinary encounters ahead. Yup, those early broken branches are there, then all manner of strange birds and beasts.
Their leader is bursting with confidence! To be honest, he is bursting with a boastful confidence about his ability to navigate, eyes closed with self-satisfied pride. His superior route, his most ingenious shortcut, will have them safely back at the camp hours before anyone else!
His thick-hatted companion thinks their leader thick-headed, and is more than a little sceptical about his plotted course.
The third member of their party is the leader's small, younger brother. He's gaily jumping and thumping about, oblivious to everything, lost in a world of his own. He likes to make beeping-booping sounds. When you're five, you can be a robot whenever you like.
Golly, how I love the leader's intense eyes, fiercely studying his map, cheeks flushed with determination. He kind of reminds me of Philippa Rice's portraits of Luke Pearson in SOPPY. That works so well in black and white, while in full colour the high-altitude track is satisfyingly smooth and flat in contrast to the sheer drops on both sides, as well as the trees which gradually begin to bloom then loom over them, their branches spreading like multi-coloured coral fronds.
I don't know why - unlike Fléchais' THE LITTLE RED WOLF - half of this is in colour, and half in rugged black and white, or why specific pages haven been chosen for the full-colour treatment. People have thought themselves into suppositional knots over Lindsay Anderson's 'If', but personally I liked the suggestion that Anderson simply ran out of colour film. My guess in this instance is that Fléchais had some much fun with the forms and textures in black and white, while the full-colour flourishes are reserved for fantastical emphasis, as when the lads discover the corpse of a fallen stag in their path, wearing a bowler hat.
Some things should be left well alone.
Immediately afterwards (again, as foretold on our map), a bipedal fox in a smart white mackintosh introduces himself, apologising for intruding into "this sacred space", and draws their attention to the trail of his bicycle which appears to have got away from him. The trail looks like a slithering tail and the fox is covered not in fur but the scales of a snake.
Now, how did that fable go?
One of my favourite episodes comes as rain starts to cascade down upon them, and they take shelter under a natural awning.
"What is your weirdo brother doing?"
"He thinks it's his job as a super robot to hold the roots up."
When you're five, you hold up giant roots whenever you like.
It rang such a bell that I'm pretty sure I've done this myself.
You still have much more in store - as do our boys - all of it the stuff of dreams or nightmares as you burrow underground, or meet magical woodland beasties, knowing not which to follow, believe or firmly distance yourself from.
They even happen upon the couple's now-empty mansion, into which nature has encroached in the form of fungi and branches and little white birds. Judging by the chandelier, the mansion's on the electricity grid, which is unexpected. Don't you think the tiled floor is ever so Bill Sienkiewicz? The lighting is too, streaming through the vast windows towering above them.