Ervin Lázár: The Adventures of Benny Bean

Translator’s Note

Ervin Lázár
(Budapest, June 1989)
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Ervin Lázár was known primarily as a writer of children’s books, although his writings resist being confined to a particular genre or audience. Magical realism is perhaps the most apt label that could be applied to his works. His adult books are replete with magical events and creatures, while the magical characters populating his children’s books struggle with very serious and very real problems. The fairy tales that make up The Adventures of Benny Bean were published over a span of eight years in literary magazines read often by adults. Subsequently they were published as a novel for children, which was selected as the Book of the Year in Hungary in 1989. The first three tales, one of which is presented here, are perhaps more philosophical and less eventful than the adventures proper, but are thoroughly representative of the book as a whole. Puns and word play are a key attribute of Lázár’s writing, setting his imaginary world ever so slightly apart from the reality we know.

This world — the world in which Benny Bean and his friends live — is divided into two parts: the city of Atubia, oppressed by an evil queen supported by a wicked politia and milice, and the forest, where human misfits, outcasts, and eccentrics find refuge among sprites, fairies, and wizards. The magical creatures themselves are far from perfect. Benny Bean is constantly fighting his bad mood and loneliness, but he jumps at any opportunity to help others, and takes everyone’s foibles in stride. While the book raises serious questions about subjects such as child neglect and alcoholism, the endearing characters and the good-natured humor suggest the healing power and motivating force of love in an imperfect world.

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