Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

Behind the Bum: A Psychoanalytic Reading of Andy Griffiths' Bum Trilogy

Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

Behind the Bum: A Psychoanalytic Reading of Andy Griffiths' Bum Trilogy

Article excerpt

Anal jokes abound in Andy Griffiths' trilogy of novels for children. The Day My Bum Went Psycho (2001)1, Zombie Bums From Uranus (2003) and Bumageddon (2005). The titles of the second and third volumes give a fair idea of the quality and makeup of these jokes: they generally take the form either of double entendres (Uranus or "your anus", a joke likely to be lost on American readers because in the USA "anus" is a taboo word and Uranus is therefore mispronounced "urinous") or anal transmogrifications of common words (Bumageddon for Armageddon). Such jokes can be found on almost every page of the trilogy, sometimes more than once on a page. To date, Griffiths' Bum trilogy has received scant critical attention with the exception of Yvonne Hammer's 'Interrogating the Humanist Subject in Carnivalesque Quest Novels' (2006); but its extreme focus on matters anal in both wordplay and plot invites scrutiny from those theoretical perspectives that take an interest in the scatalogical. In this paper I shall be considering the trilogy's fondness for anal jokes and bums from three such perspectives, those of Mikhail Bakhtin, Julia Kristeva and Sigmund Freud.

Griffiths' first volume, The Day My Bum Went Psycho, is set in an anally inflected version of our world in which almost all geographical features are made up of shit, while animals and plants emit foul-smelling bowel gases, are shaped like bums and faeces and are named accordingly. In this world, human bums can detach themselves from the rest of the body and lead an independent existence. They have arms and legs, a mouth (anus) that can speak and emit toxic gas, and an eye (also the anus) that can emit tears. A twelve-year-old boy, Zack, is the protagonist of the trilogy and in the first volume his bum deserts him to lead a rebel group of human bums plotting to rearrange all human bodies and take what they consider their rightful place above, as part of the head, while human faces are to be sent below to function as buttocks. In these respects, Griffiths' first volume accords very well with Bakhtin's account of the carnivalesque in Rabelais and his World (1984). Carnival, as Bakhtin presents it, is a period of license when social values are briefly inverted, rulers obey and the lowest become the highest. During carnival, behaviour is celebrated that at other times is not approved--practical jokes, obscenities, excessive eating and drinking, unbridled sex. Once the carnival days are over, order returns without any need for the authorities to intervene. Carnivalesque literature, according to Bakhtin, is characterised by emphasis on the lower parts of the body, the dismembered body and exaggerated body parts such as the buttocks. Griffiths' trilogy is in these respects an exemplary carnivalesque text.

The rebel bums' attempt to take the place of human faces is carnivalesque in that it inverts the usual hierarchy of body parts, with the 'nether regions' seeking ascendance. The idea that bums can detach themselves at will and attempt to overthrow their human owners is also carnivalesque. The keen interest that Griffiths' narrative takes in bowel gas and shit is also in accord with Bakhtinian carnival, at which belching, farting, shitting and pissing are relished. At the end of the first volume of Griffiths' trilogy, order is to some extent restored when the human bums abandon their revolt when they come to understand that their real leader, the non-human Great White Bum, intended the deaths of their humans, not just a relatively harmless, even comical, rearrangement of the human body.

However, this bum revolt is not enacted as part of a socially approved period of carnival, nor does the ending of the revolt entirely restore order. Volume 2 expands the arena in which battle is waged between human bum-fighters and hostile bums, to include Uranus, from which hordes of zombie bums travel to invade earth. Volume 3 plays with the paradoxes of time travel, going back through pre-history to the origin of life on earth. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.