PUNCH AND THE MAGIC FISH – by Emanuele Luzzati
Punch and the Magic Fish is a vintage book and a charmer full of whimsy. An amusing retelling of a Brothers Grimm tale (The Fisherman and his Wife) with what I think are genius illustrations by Emanuele Luzzati (1921-2007).
Punchinello – Punch for short – was a poor fisherman. He and his family lived in a hut without a door or a roof. At night they all slept together on a bed of straw – five children, Mrs. Punch and the cat. It was so crowded that poor Punch couldn’t sleep. Instead he would go fishing at his favorite spot on the shore.
But Punch, our hapless hen-pecked hero, has little luck and Mrs. Punch gives him an ultimatum: Tomorrow you’d better come back with plenty of fish or not come back at all.
This seems to have done it; Punch hooks a whopper of a fish – a talking silver fish who strikes the usual ‘I’ll-grant-you- any- wish- if-you-will- only- let-me-go’ type of deal. Hungry Punch gives him up for a barrelful of spaghetti with tomato sauce.
But Mrs. Punch, even with a belly full of spaghetti, isn’t happy. Go back to your fish, she says, tell him about the leaky hut and the one bed for seven. Predictably, they end up with a new house with seven beds in it. But Mrs. Punch still isn’t happy. She wants two maids and a red velvet drawing room. You can see where this is going.
The end is a slight twist from the Grimm’s original (in which the fish doesn’t get cooked), but, needless to say, Mrs. Punch’s greed brings them back to zero, namely to a leaky hut with one bed for seven.
Punch and the Magic Fish is delicious, but the real treat is Luzzati’s black marker illustrations and highly imaginative collage (using intricate fabric and paper designs (how does he do it?!)). If you don’t know Emanuele Luzzati and would like to get a taste of his art, here is a wordless animation of Puncinella – Punch’s character, but not the book – which I found on The Big Cartoon Database. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!