King Machush The First And The U.S., Part 1.

King Machush the First is celebrated throughout Poland and Europe as a masterpiece of children’s literature.  However, despite at least four English translations of Janusz Korczak’s work, it has not taken hold in the U.S.  I believe there are many reasons for this.  However, before discussing them, I’d like to comment on the story itself.  Professor Suchodolski tells us that it is precisely in this novel that Korczak’s deepest hopes and disillusions find their expression.  Marek Jaworski views King Machush the First as a rare entity in world literature comparable in depth of interpretation to Alice in Wonderland, and Gulliver’s Travels.  Indeed, throughout the novel Korczak works on many planes employing humor, shock and reason to convey his thoughts.  Jaworski notes that the fantastic and unreal blend with a psychological character into a whole.

The novel begins in a whimsical, comical vein, then changes into a realistic descriptive one.  The change can be unsettling to the reader.  When Machush learns about the horror and futility of war, few details are spared.  And even when Korczak returns to a playful manner, the reader feels the presence of a dark threat that is ready to destroy King Machush’s world at any moment.  The conflict between the child’s world and the adult world becomes menacing and cruel.  However, Korczak also shows how adult behavior parallels a child’s:  the ministers are just as greedy as the children who ask Machush for gifts;  the Melancholy King’s parliament is just as ineffective and unruly as the children’s;  Machush’s construction of a doll for a girl is paralleled by the ministers’ construction of an elaborate Machush doll when he disappears in a war.  Another Korczak theme concerns civilization.  What does it mean to be civilized?  He reverses our expectations by showing that the African Kings are Machush’s true friends, and Princess Klu-Klu becomes a staunch supporter and ally in Machush’s quest for reform.  She is shown as being a capable learner, just as agile in outdoor sports as boys and willing to speak her mind without fear.  The Young King, who is jealous of Machush’s success, is shown to be more of a child than Machush.  Perhaps, the Young King is a child that has grown up “the wrong way.”  It is he who is the most selfish, and would rather cover up his loss in war time by piling up ammunition rather than help people as Machush does.  Machush learns to think about people less fortunate than himself, while the Young King never does. 

About Robert M. Weiss
From an early age, I've taken great pleasure in reading. Also, I learned to play my 78 player when I was quite young, and enjoyed listening to musicals and classical music. I remember sitting on the floor, and following the text and pictures of record readers, which were popular in the 1940s and 50s. My favorites were the Bozo and Disney albums. I also enjoyed watching the slow spinning of 16s as they spun out tales of adventure. I have always been attracted by rivers, and I love to sit on a boulder with my feet in the water, gazing into the mysteries of swirling currents. I especially like inner tubing on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. Since my early youth, I've been interested in collecting minerals, which have taught me about the wonderful possibilities in colors and forms. Sometimes I try to imagine what the ancient Greeks must have felt when they began to discover physical laws in nature. I also remember that I had a special passion for numbers, and used to construct them out of stones. After teaching Russian for several years, I became a writer, interviewer, editor, and translator. I continue to delight in form, and am a problem solver at heart.

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