Since I hadn’t read Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater in a couple decades, I decided give it a reread.
Lizard Music is one of Pinkwater’s first books, certainly one of the first for a Youjg Adult audience as opposed to a childrens audience. In some ways, it’s more grounded than a lot of his later works but goes just as off the rails when Pinkwater really gets going.
Eleven-year-old Victor’s parents go on a planned vacation to help their marriage, leaving him with his teenage sister. When she goes on a camping trip in the first chapter, he’s left in his own for the rest of the book. From there, Victor discovers late night TV, the nearby city and a secret island of human-sized, intelligent lizards.
(And, just as a I typed that, I realized that Pinkwater was spoofing the concept of the reptilian conspiracy theory. Not only are the lizards friendly, they have the long term goal of saving the human race from becoming pod people)
Pinkwater’s work (at least the first twenty years or so of it) has a very low key fantastic element to it. The characters don’t discover a vast hidden conspiracy. They discover that the world they already live im and will continue to live in is just a little more fanatastix than they knew. Discovering a new neighborhood in a city is just as life changing as an enlightened lizard society.
Lizard Music certainly has that in spades. In fact, it might even be more earnest than later books. Victor is a very serious narrator.
There are elements that I wonder how well they’ve aged. The idea of television stations signing for the night is a foreign one to young whipper snappers but that’s the time Victor gets to see the lizards’ tv shows and start his adventures.
More than that, Victor’s extreme latchkey kid experience of being left alone for weeks would probably seem a lot more extreme to a modern audience. Or maybe not. But it does seem more fantastic than it did forty years ago.
I also find myself asking if someone could find the depiction of the Chicken Man, the old black man who serves as Victor’s guide (literally, he’s a licensed guide), as racist. A black spiritual guide is a cliche after all.
That said., I think you can argue against that. The Chicken Man is on his own journey. In fact, the actual ‘adventure’ part of the book (as opposed to Victor’s character arc) is really the Chicken Man’s adventure. Victor is just along for the ride. Heck, at one point, the Chicken Man has to drag him kicking and screaming along.
Regardless of changing social mores or technology, Daniel Pinkwater did a good job capturing how adolescents think and feel. That’s something that hasn’t changed. Victor and the characters that followed him are quirky but readily identifiable.
Lizard Music is 20% cultural artifact and 80% still relevant today.
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