i’ve started reading head for my fall classes! one of them will be on children’s literature, and the first book i’m reading is james otis’s Toby Tyler, or, Ten Weeks with a Circus. you can read the entire book online since the text is old enough to be in the public domain. project gutenberg has this lovely scanned version with illustrations:
i believe i’ve only been to the circus three times in my life – once, somewhere in france, when i was very small and i really only remember coming home from it. once when i was in primary school, in germany, about seven or eight years old, with all my classmates and our teacher. what intrigued me most (yes i was a peculiar child) was the spelling of the word circus.
in german, it is pronounced [tsirkus], so should be spelled “Zirkus”, and that is the more accepted spelling, but the banners on the tents all said “Circus” instead, which was immensely confusing for me who had just learned how to read and write! according to what our teacher had taught us, this should have been pronounced [kirkus] – so i pointed out to her that they misspelled it. i was wrong. 🙂
another thing i remember is the smell of dung and animals, and dry grass in my sandals. the last time i went a circus was in 1999, – some friends and i went to see a russian circus troupe perform in reading, england. the performance was very colourful, although i wasn’t completely blown away by it.
the idea of the circus as a place where exotic animals and and beautiful children, both decked out in sequined costumes, play and eat cotton candy and popcorn and have fun all day was long gone for me, and had probably only existed, for me, in books. this may be because of the very ‘down to earth’ way i was raised, i don’t know. circuses have changed, too. i like the idea of circuses with no animals. anyway, i’m rambling. let’s talk about toby…
|toby meets the albino children|
this children’s story was written in the late 1800s. toby is a young boy who runs away from his foster home to be with the circus after the candy man offers him work. he is an upright boy and realizes, even as he is getting ready to run away, that maybe uncle dan’l (his foster father) was not really mean to him after all. on the other hand, toby has promised the candy man that he will go with the circus – and so he goes.
the candy man, appropriately named mister lord, turns out to be a mean, verbally abusive man who also whips the boy. there are two distinct groups of people in the circus – toby’s enemies: his two employers, and toby’s friends: a venerable old monkey, the living skeleton, the fat lady, the albino children, and several others.
having run away with the circus, toby needs to find a way to run away from the circus, which is a difficult undertaking since the candy man has all of toby’s things. when one of the wagons breaks down on the road, all the monkeys break free, and with everyone distracted and busy fixing the damage, so could toby –
i’ll let you find out for yourself what happens next. 🙂