Thursday, January 17, 2013

When the Sidekick Tells the Story: Professor Brinton “Uncle Brinnie” Garrett

Cover Illustration by Michael Conway, 1986
 He’s been crushed by collapsing ancient ruins, trudged across the Sahara, paddled up Central American rapids, stopped government coups and archeological frauds, and had everything explode around him from riverboats to gift-baskets of bratwurst.  All things considered, it’s a wonder Professor Brinton Garrett survived long enough to narrate the six books that comprise the Adventures of Vesper Holly series by the often-overlooked and almost-always-underappreciated young adult author, Lloyd Alexander. 

And who, you may ask, is this Miss Vesper Holly?  Only Professor Garrett’s adventurous teenage ward who keeps dragging him from his peaceful home in Strafford, PA to exotic and dangerous locales abroad!  With marmalade-colored hair and a penchant for danger, Vesper not only is the orphaned daughter of Garrett’s old colleague, she’s also a genius in her own right and has the wanderlust of a Victorian female Indiana Jones.  She also owns a volcano.  But just a small one.

Deciding to call him “Brinnie” as soon as she meets him, Vesper immediately drags Brinnie away from his musty Etruscan translations and tranquil wife Mary to the land of Illyria (read: Fake Turkey).  There they meet their arch nemesis…whom I won’t name because it would spoil the first book!  

From that point onward they go to El Dorado (Fake Nicaragua), Drackenberg (Fake Germany), Jedera (Fake Morocco), and Philadelphia (Fake…uh…Philadelphia) before wrapping up the series with an excursion to Xanadu that would make even Samuel Coleridge sit on the edge of his seat before closing the last book a bit misty-eyed. 

Throughout it all, Brinnie proves to be a stouthearted sidekick, bringing an element of much-needed calm into the tempestuous life of Vesper.  He is naïve to the point of utter gullibility, and he may also have a tendency to go on pointless and embarrassing rants of the “you-won’t-get-away-with-this-you-fiend” variety when captured by their foes. 

But the undercurrent of Brinnie’s character is fundamentally to protect and nurture his young charge and—by fighting the forces of petty ambitions and evil—try to give Vesper Holly world filled with goodness and idealistic wonder as his legacy.

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