It was a dark and stormy night, and in walked Harris Burdick: He clutched in his hands 14 drawings, and they were stunning

As we get older, nostalgia may sneak in to our otherwise well-organized and forward-thinking brains. For a 15-year-old, it might be memories of the My Little Pony they played with a decade ago. Or for a near 30-year-old, for that matter. My Little Ponies started coming off the production line in 1983.

Some 400 years ago, Swiss doctors created the diagnosis of “nostalgia” for homesick soldiers. It is “a sweet sadness for what is gone… rose-tinted, or stained with evening sunlight.” These are visions in sepia, bright colours drained away.

That’s what makes ponies so much more urgent; even in memory, they are covered in sparkles and rainbows.

In fact nostalgia, notes a BBC exploration, can be good for you: “The researchers call it a ‘meaningful providing resource’, a vital part of mental health. Nostalgia acts as a store of positive emotions in memory, something we can access consciously, and perhaps also draw on continuously during our daily lives to bolster our feelings. It’s these strong feelings for our past that helps us cope better with our future.”

Indeed, Good Reads would like to suggest that nostalgia can be fun.

What’s not fun about My Little Pony? It’s primarily marketed to girls. But as adults, a group of men who call themselves bronies have as much fun collecting up the vinyl figurines as do nostalgia-struck women. In fact, these folks have built up a community of fans that gives them the same sort of trivia game challenges and friendly collectors’ competition as does a hobby in memorizing old hockey statistics or an interest in the minutia of the life of Harris Burdick.

In short, to be a nerd is to have a specialized knowledge that impresses others.

I mean, Harris Burdick! Who could forget Harris Burdick!?

Ah. Perhaps you? You have forgotten Harris Burdick? Nerds who are already in on this, your indulgence, please.

It was a dark and stormy night… in the year 1953.

Burdick was an illustrator, to begin, who arrived at a children’s publisher with 14 gorgeous black and white drawings. He was also a writer and, upon being told of the publisher’s interest, promised to return the next day with the 14 stories he’d penned, one for each illustration.

Harris Burdick was never heard from again.

The publisher was perplexed. What to do? He did everything he could to track down the lost contributor — telephone directories, newspaper searches, perhaps even a consulting detective. The publisher waited years before, finally, publishing the illustrations along with the story title and the single caption Burdick had left for each picture.

• Under The Rug: “Two weeks passed, and it happened again.”
• Archie Smith, Boy Wonder: “A tiny voice asked, ‘Is he the one?’”
• The Seven Chairs: “The fifth one ended up in France.”
• Oscar And Alphonse: “She knew it was time to send them back. The caterpillars softly wiggled in her hand, spelling out ‘goodbye’.”
• The House On Maple Street: “It was a perfect lift-off.”

The Mysteries Of Harris Burdick appeared in 1984. Still, Burdick did not appear.

Children saw the illustrations and came up with their own stories, creating fantastical tales to go with each portrait. Some of those children grew up to become writers themselves. (And some of the parents who used the pictures to inspire their children to greater leaps of imagination took inspiration themselves.)

Fourteen members of that community of nerds, inspired by Burdick (who, it must be said, is as real as is Sherlock Holmes), came together in 2011 to each present a tale to go with an illustration. The Chronicles Of Harris Burdick is a collection of hip lit folks and their fab fun shorts. There’s horror, fantasy, and humour.

The great kid’s author Jon Scieszka’s “Under The Rug” explains what, exactly, that guy is about to thump into submission. (It’s his own fault. Grandma told him to “never sweep a problem under the rug.”)

Stephen King tackles the Maple Street rocket ship that looks like a happy home, featuring four kids, a mean stepdad, and some sort of… thing. A horrible thing. (This story is also the only one of these shorts that was previously published.)

The proudly neurotic cartoonist and writer Jules Feiffer has some (ultimately sad) fun with “Uninvited Guests.” Kate DiCamillo’s “The Third Floor Bedroom” is a collection of letters from a “kidnapped” child: “You insist that she is our aunt, but I don’t believe that it’s possible for me to be related to someone with such fat ankles.” The child becomes terribly ill, and a physician is called. “Various and assorted tunes came out of his nose as he examined me.”

Sherman Alexie’s “Strange Day in July” is another great, spooky tale, with twins who bully everyone into accepting their triplet.

And all this because of a strange dude in 1953, lost. “Is there any author more mysterious than Harry Burdick?” asks Lemony Snicket in his introduction to the Chronicles. “Modesty prevents me from answering this rhetorical question, but the fact remains that Harris Burdick has cast a long and strange shadow across the reading world, not unlike a man, lit by the moon, hiding in the branches of a tree, staring through a window and holding a rare and sinister object, who cast a long and strange shadow across your bedroom wall just last night.”

The original introduction to The Mysteries Of Harris Burdick, midwived by Chris Van Allsburg, is reproduced at the back of the newer Chronicles Of Harris Burdick (which is filed at C-266 in the Lennoxville Library). Read that older introduction first! Then flip back to the beginning. Each illustration and caption from the first book is faithfully reproduced, so you don’t actually need bother with the original at all. Unless you’re having a nerdness attack (in which case you can get it via interlibrary loans).

Here’s one last bit o’ nerd-dom. There is a lost Burdick illustration. You can find it here: https://secure.flickr.com/photos/texasadam/5047537540/.

Does all this nostalgia make you want to laugh at the young whippersnappers mooning over 1984? It may be time for you to peruse the shelves and revisit old favorites.

But you can do more than recall the past. You can pop in for a proper visit, kick the tires, check under the hood, top up the gas and repaint that spot on the bumper. Then take it out for a drive to somewhere you’ve never been before.

In the meantime, some of the My Little Pony books are available, mostly in French, via interlibrary loans. And of course, fans of Chris Van Allsburg can find his other popular children’s books on our shelves, such as The Zed Was Zapped in C-20; The Polar Express in C-74; and Probuditi and Zathura and Jumanji are all in C-108 (that last was made into a Hollywood movie).

– Eleanor Brown, May 8, 2015

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About BiblioLennLibrary

The Lennoxville Library, in Quebec's Eastern Townships, offers free memberships to all residents of Sherbrooke. We have a great selection of books in French and English, plus books on tape and CD, too! Check out our large-print section, our graphic novels... La Biblio Lennoxville se situe dans les Cantons-de-l'Est du Quebec. Les residents de Sherbrooke peuvent devenir membre gratuitement. Nous avons une grande selection de livres en francais et en anglais. Venez donc nous voir! Hours/Heures d'ouverture: Mardi-Tuesday, 10am to 5pm -- 10h a 17h Mercredi et Jeudi -Wednesday and Thursday, 10am to 6pm -- 10h a 18h Vendredi-Friday, 10am to 5pm -- 10h a 17h Samedi-Saturday, 11am to 4pm -- 11h a 16h Pour plus d'info, vous pouvez nous trouver au http://www.bibliolennoxvillelibrary.ca/ Click on the above to get to our website!
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