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A weekly column by Abel G. Peña, best known for his Star Wars work.

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THE PHILODOXER for 10/29/2006
Trick Or Treat: Sesame Street and Sadism, A Winning Combination

Maybe you do not understand. You see, turning pages will bring us to the end of this book, and there is a Monster at the end of this book...

It's a little known fact that, despite being born in California, my first language was Spanish. Not by much, of course, but while my parents were responsible for teaching me their native tongue, my sisters and Sesame Street took care of the inglés.

Monster at the End of the Book

The Monster at the End This Book celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. Written by Jon Stone -- one of the Street's principal writers, directors, and producers for a quarter century--and illustrated by Michael Smollin, it's a classic book that generation after generation has fallen in love with. For me, it happened around the age of seven, when I found it purely by chance on my sister's bookshelf.

It's telling the book captivated me then. Metafiction, from Donald Barthelme to Charlie Kaufman, has always drawn me like a moth to light. Maybe all children intuitively gravitate to the metaphysical, while our concept of what constitutes reality is yet unfixed.

The story stars "lovable, furry, old" Grover, the shaggy, blue, spindly muppet of Sesame Street fame. The mayhem is anticipated from the title page, where an illustrated Grover breaks story convention by "turning" the page for us. This is a very dull page, Grover says, in reference to the credits and publisher's information above. What is on the next page? Immediately after, the story kick into high gear, as it belatedly dawns on a terrified Grover that the preceding title page revealed there will be a monster at the end of the book.

Henceforth, Grover wages a hilariously futile battle against the reader, "tying" up, nailing, and building a brick wall around the pages to keep you from getting to the end of the story, where he will surely encounter this monster. Smollin's outlandish and dramatic illustrations of Grover culminate in the muppet's pleading with us to go no further. Our sympathies go out to Grover, who is at the whim of forces beyond his control, but with equally mischievous delight, we continue reading, forcing him toward the inevitable confrontation.

Similar in style to the classic Merrie Melodies picture Duck Amuck, in which Daffy Duck endures the sadistic whimsy of a cartoonist (available as part of the Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Vol. 1), The Monster at the End of This Book breaks the fourth wall with memorable zeal and creativity.

A few years ago, a sequel to this book was spawned, Another Monster at the End of This Book, which also includes Elmo. Like most sequels, that one is instead for the masochists.

Happy Halloween, folks!

- Abel

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