This novel of the Minnipins is an unusual, but very enjoyable story. It is partly a social satire, set in an idyllic country ruled by a sort of traditional wisdom that, by its rigid changelessness, has become foolish. And it is partly a fantasy-adventure yarn in which five free-thinkers come to the rescue of the society that has cast them out.
Central to the story is a plump, tender-hearted, common-sense young woman namedbrace yourselves, Potter fansMuggles. I kid you not. At first reluctantly, then wholeheartedly, Muggles throws her lot in with the oddballs of the village of Slipper-on-the-Water in the land of the Minnipins. Most villages can learn to put up with a few local eccentrics. But this village is ruled by the Periods, descendants of a revered historical figure who want everyone to wear the same color and to paint their front doors the same shade of green.
The Periods, so named because they have names like Etc. and Ltd., want their village to be judged the best in the isolated Land Between the Mountains in which the Minnipins have lived for 880 peaceful years. They want to win the prize of having the Gammage Cup enshrined in their town museum. And the Periods think that people like Curly Green (who paints her front door bright scarlet) and Walter the Earl (who is always digging for buried treasure and questioning the official version of Minnipin history) will surely cause the village to lose the cup. So Walter, Curly, and the mischievous rhymer and scribbler named Gummy are resented and shunned off the bat. When Muggles, along with Mingy the Moneykeeper, share Walter the Earls concern that the Minnipins ancient enemies are preparing to invade the land, the Periods have had enough. All five of them, branded as disturbers of the peace, are banished from the village.
The five outlaws start to build a new life for themselves down the river at Gummys country house. And Muggles discovers unexpected leadership qualities within herself, out of range of the intimidating power of the Periods. But the idyll of their fresh start is darkened by the growing menace of the Mushrooms, a.k.a. Hairless Ones, who have found a way through the sheltering mountains that surround the Minnipins peaceful valley. What can five people, whom no one in their home village will listen to, save the land that they love? The answer lies, in part, in the secret of the swords, and again, in part, in the brightness and valor hidden in the heart of even the silliest and meanest Minnipin neighbor. But before the tale is told, five outcasts will be heroes, two matches will be made, and a triumphant army will arise from timid villagers and long-buried armor.
The Gammage Cup is full of wit, song, natural beauty, thought-provoking ideas, and excitement. The characters are interesting, the setting is unique and detailed, the unexpected is always just around the corner, and the irony is sometimes very biting. A lot of what makes the Minnipins so special is their ignorance of the outside world, so that what little knowledge they have of it is deliciously skewed. Take, for instance, my favorite bit in which three Minnipins each take a stab at literary criticism of the revered but mysterious poem, Mary had a little lamb. The maxims of Muggles are also a joy to ponder, such as, When something happens, something else always happens.
This 1960 Newbery Honor Book has a sequel called The Whisper of Glocken, which I ordered as soon as I finished reading this book!