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.