The Mr Men may be 50 somethings but they have stood the test of time, delighting and entertaining generations of children.
The Mr Men provided the visual and wordy landscape of my early childhood – the vivid illustrations from Roger Hargreaves remain so etched on my mind’s eye, that to this day I feel slight shock that worms don’t actually have faces or wear bowler hats, or that nobody owns a pair of Mr Men cartoonish clumpy shoes and my curtains will never hang in Mr Men style Farrah Fawcett hair-flicks.
The brightly coloured characters who come in all shapes and sizes remain popular, despite their ever-advancing years. They are now 50-somethings, eligible for free flu and Covid jabs. Detractors may sneer. but Renaissance UK who analysis and assess children’s books and rate on difficulty disagree. Their analysis found Mr Men books to be ‘almost as hard to read as Steinbeck.” Their researchers singled out a particular passage from Mr Greedy as it describes enormous, gigantic, colossal sausages.” A gluttonous word-feast for adults never mind kids. And of course the repetition so appealing to pre-schoolers. Mr Men walk and walk and walk, or are told over and over to wake up! wake up! wake up!
The Mr Men inhabit a rigid and fairly formulaic world.
The titular Mr wakes up and goes downstairs – the manner in which they do so is indicative of their traits; they eat breakfast, go for a walk or drive, meet their nemesis, return home and go to bed. Some Mr Men (Misters Lazy, Messy and Bump ) suffer greatly whilst others (Sneeze and Bounce) marvel at their good fortune.
There is anarchy to rival anything Dahl and Walliams can imagine. The books contain a harsh life lesson – justice is arbitrary. Take Mr Nosey, whose only crime is being overly curious. Had he not inhabited Tiddletown, this inquisitiveness would perhaps lead to a Nobel Prize for scientific discovery. Instead, his poor nose is splattered with red paint, snapped with a peg, banged with a hammer and he is lucky to avoid a chain-sawing, had he not realised the error of his ways.
Mr Messy is not allowed to indulge his slovenly ways. Subject to a sinister Kim and Aggie type intervention by Mr Neat and Mr Tidy who ‘wash and clean and scrub and comb until Mr Messy didn’t look like Mr Messy at all’.
Yet. Mr Tickle is free to roam around with those extraordinarily long arms of his tickling/assaulting whoever he pleases. Mr Happy is depicted as breaking and entering Mr Miserable’s home, and then practically kidnaps him. If Mr Nosey had done similar one can only guess at the severe reprisals he would face.
The Mr Men can take their place as primary rainbow coloured stalwarts of children’s literature and rest easily knowing they will be delighting children, if not their parents for years to come.