Baffled in Toyland: A Noddy Adventure, as told by John Banville

By Niall McArdle
John Banville, Booker-prize winning author of The Sea and The Book of Evidence, has, under his crime-writing pen name Benjamim Black, written a highly-praised detective novel for the estate of Raymond Chancler.
This isn’t  the first time Banville has taken on another writer’s legacy. The Enid Blyton estate recently commissioned him to pen a Noddy story.
Below, in an exclusive extract, is the first chapter.
noddy big ears
Baffled in Toyland: A Noddy Adventure, as told by John Banville

Noddy sat listless and canted on the edge of the bed, staring bleakly through the cracked window. The scene outside was like one of Watteau’s landscapes, he thought. Clouds the colour of slate scudded across the sky and a watery sun was struggling to shine its peculiar light down on to Toyland.

Noddy could not focus. His head felt as if it was encased in a soft and suffocating pillow. His mind was still clawing at the corners of the gruesome tableau it had presented to him as he slumbered, something about that appalling midget Mr. Wobbly Man and Tessie Bear, the little man bobbing back and forth and pawing at her.

He shook his head, the bell on his cap sounding a rueful, melancholy dong. It sounded like both a faint echo and grim judgement of last night’s debauch. His lips were caked with flecks of white and his mouth felt awfully dry. Why had he drunk that last glass of milk? Oh, Noddy, will you ever learn? Foolish wooden boy! He staggered into the bathroom, rearing back when he saw the ghastly reflection in the mirror. Who was this person leering at him? It was like looking at a version of yourself that is not you, but an artist’s caricature of you, all exaggerated, sharply drawn features, bulging eyes with their girlish lashes, and that slim crescent of a mouth, like a parenthesis mark that had toppled over onto its side. Pah.

Shaking, he crept downstairs like a lover eager to flee the scene of the crime. His car was parked jauntily on the path in front of his house-for-one, its door lewdly hanging open, and beside the car stood the forlorn figure of Mr. Milko.

“Horrible day, isn’t it?” said Mr. Milko staring up at the sky. Poor Milko, thought Noddy. His dark moods were something to behold. He thought the man was the kind who might one day poison the milk and kill everyone in Toyland. The milkman limply held up a bottle. “Milk, Noddy?” Noddy held on to the car door and doubled over, retching at the thought.

 A ragged bark startled them. The neighbour’s cur came bounding out and bumped the milkman, sending him sprawling in a mess of broken glass and spilt milk. Noddy hated the animal, with its ridiculous moniker, Bumpy Dog, and its dim, excitable nature. He turned his back on the dog and struggled into the car, staring in puzzlement at the wheel, the dashboard, the handbrake. Every morning began this way, with Noddy seated in the car, trembling like a callow boy in the embrace of a perfumed doxy. What to touch first! The engine sputtered and whined, a stern rebuke at being woken at such an early hour. How Noddy had become a taxi-driver was a source of wonder to him. He often felt that the car mocked him with its sounds of complaint and spewing fumes. Grimacing, he ground the gears. The car stalled and stumbled on to the road.

At this hour the village was still abed and, it seemed to Noddy, it wore the air of a jilted lover; it held itself back, hiding the promise of pleasures it had only lately eagerly supplied. The streets were deserted. Not even the dreadful Skittle children were to be seen. Horrible, boisterous little tykes, always running out in front of the car. If they only knew the crimson, murderous pleasure Noddy took in bowling them over! He pictured seven or eight of them, scattered beneath his tyres and spinning like dervishes.

Ahead of him Noddy could see the lone figure of a golliwog sauntering lazily down the road. He thrust out his thumb as Noddy approached. Noddy pressed the horn and parp-parped him, giving a cheery salute and hurtled by, the engine’s roar drowning out whatever dark curses the blackamoor was raining down upon him. Ha! Perhaps on his next visit to Mr. Golly’s garage, the sly wog won’t be so quick to overcharge.

Big Ears sat on a chair outside his toadstool, slumped and exhausted like an enormous, docile creature, a mastodon, say, after its rut, baffled at itself. Noddy looked at his friend, at the frothy beard and russet cheeks and drinker’s nose. He looked for all the world like a portrait by a minor Dutch painter; the effect was there but the brush strokes were too broad, the colours too vivid. Noddy tried not to notice the gnome’s frightful brown smell. Big Ears was over a hundred years old. More than once Noddy had seen a glazed and panicked look come over him. He would gaze meekly at Noddy, unsure of who or what he was, then all at once shake it off, as if his dotage was an old raincoat, and recover. Then he would open his toothless maw and clap his hands and grin stupidly.

Noddy wondered how different things would have been if Big Ears had not found him naked in the forest all those years before. True, the gnome had given him his own house to live in and put clothes on his back, but he reminded Noddy constantly of this act of generosity. Their friendship was never one of equals. He paraded the wooden boy around town as if he was his, well, as if he was a toy! And he insisted that Noddy wear the ridiculous polka-dot scarf. Big Ears had visited every shop in Toyland in search of le chapeau parfait for Noddy to wear. Noddy could never quite forgive him for the little bell, the irksome sound of which followed him everywhere like a familiar. It announced his presence before he entered a room, cheerily ringing like a plague bell.

The gnome swivelled his button eyes at him.

“Up for an adventure, my little wooden friend? Let’s give Mr. Plod something to do. A little game of chase.” The gnome’s hearty contempt of P.C. Plod was well-known in Toyland. In truth the policeman had few friends. Noddy almost pitied him. He was a pompous, fussy little man, a pencil-pusher, blowing his shrill little whistle and hollering “Stop in the name of Plod!” Even that stuck-up French bitch Miss Pink Cat despised him. “Oh, heem,” she would drawl in her ludicrous accent, “I ‘ave no time for heem. He try to fine me for selling les glaces without a license!”

Noddy and Big Ears clambered in to the car.

“Before we start,” said Big Ears, “would you mind?” Noddy breathed a weary sigh and smiled ruefully at his old friend. “Must you?” At that the gnome barked a laugh. “You funny little Noddy!” He reached over and pushed Noddy’s head to make it nod. There was a bewildered yellow clatter from the bell. Noddy pressed hard on the horn and with a loud parp-parp they were off, clattering along the road, two figures, hunched and confounded.

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