Wednesday, August 18, 2010
GRAHAM GREENE: THE LITTLE STEAMROLLER
GRAHAM GREENE'S fourth and final picture book (under his own name at least, more on that in a later post) was The Little Steamroller (1955). Here the crime has been elevated to international smuggling, an appropriate Graham Greene topic although a questionable one for what is nominally a Christmas story. Overall, this book feels thin and uninspired, which was Graham Greene's own feeling about the work as expressed in a 1959 letter to his publisher Max Reinhardt at The Bodley Head. Note that the theme of obsolescence from the previous two books is dropped here even though an actual steam-powered steamroller seems like it must have been archaic by the mid-1950s. However, true steamrollers were still in use into the mid-1960s. Why a steamroller is being used to clear snow instead of a snowplow remains a separate question.
"'WHERE WERE ALL YOU POLICEMEN the day the Little Steamroller broke up the Black Hand gang?'"
The little steamroller works at London Airport keeping the roadways in working order. He is manned by Bill Driver and the pair work all year round, their only holidays being "Christmas, Easter, Whitsun and August Bank Holiday (and it always rained on August Bank holiday)."
The Black Hand gang is an international smuggling organization that deals predominantly in precious jewels and metals. They are particularly effective because they employ a complex pictographic code for their communiques.
This particular Christmas Eve, the Black Hand's cleverest smuggler Mr. King is bringing a shipment of gold nuggets from Africa.
He has hidden the gold in fake toy blocks that he claims are Christmas gifts for his children.
At London Airport it has snowed all night causing serious flight delays. The little steamroller has rolled back and forth back and forth clearing the snow. Despite this work, he wakes up at five in the morning Christmas Eve with a sense that something is amiss. He must be early to the airport today.
It is just then that Mr. King's plane arrives at London Airport twelve hours late. He pushes his way to customs.
He sails through without any trouble. He's out of the airport and almost into a car when the wind snatches a piece of paper from his hand and blows it up against the little steamroller.
The little steamroller recognizes that the paper contains a secret code. He tries to summon the authorities, but there is no time, so he smashes into the smuggler's car.
When the police arrive, the criminal is on the ground, ready to be apprehended. The little steamroller is awarded the Queen's Police Medal for his bravery.
AS WITH GRAHAM GREENE'S OTHER CHILDREN'S BOOKS, The Little Steamroller re-illustrated by the great Edward Ardizzone in the early 1970s.
Background material for this post comes from Norman Sherry's three-volume biography of Graham Greene (Volume Two in particular) and Brian Alderson's article The Four (Or Five?... Or Six?... Or Seven?...) Children's Books of Graham Greene, which appeared in the December 2005 issue of Children's Literature in Education.
For more information on Graham Greene and his other children's books, see my posts:
The Little Train
The Little Red Fire Engine
The Little Horse Bus
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