Babar And The Subpoena

October 07, 1990|By Christopher Corbett | Christopher Corbett,Christopher Corbett, a Baltimore writer, is the 1990 James Thurber Journalist-in-Residence at Ohio State University and the author of the novel "Vacationland." He wrote this commentary for the Los Angeles Times.

"Babar," the famous children's book, has been the subject of a bitter two-year legal battle over licensing agreements. As one newspaper headline read last week: "Lawyers in Celesteville? Babar Is in Court."

One morning Babar, the king of the elephants, opens his mail.

"Damn it, another subpoena," he shouts.

Babar looks out the window of his palace. He sees the crowds lined up in front of the savings-and-loan office. He sees the police pushing angry depositors back in line. He looks up the street. A mob is assembling.

"You know, it was one thing when we just did the books. Recordings. Dolls. Coloring books. T-shirts. Balloons. A few endorsements. Some tie-ins. But then things got out of hand real fast in a big way. Savings and loans. Bonds. Mutual funds. Limited partnerships. Racetracks. The Cayman Islands. What the hell do I know about limited partnerships? I'm an elephant for Chrissakes. Racetracks? I don't even like horses. Now look at us. We're in a helluva mess."

"What about our friend Father Christmas?" asks Cornelius, the wisest and oldest of the elephants.

"Father Christmas." says Babar. "Listen, pal, it's going to be Christmas in Allenwood for us."

Babar calls to his wife, Queen Celeste, and their three children Pom, Flora and Alexander.

"Start packing, kids, we're outta here."

The weather is warm in Celesteville. Birds have built their nests in the trees and bushes. Bank examiners have been sniffing about town too. It is too hot for Babar. Maybe it is time to visit the Great Forest.

Depositors are starting to get nervous. The Old Lady is driving Babar nuts. She calls every day wanting to know why her life's savings can't be withdrawn from the Celesteville Savings & Loan.

"Tell that old broad to shut up," Babar tells his trusted adviser, Cornelius.

"Look, boss," says Cornelius. "We've been in a few jams before, but this is not going to go away."

"Let me do the thinking, Gramps," Babar replies. "You just stand around looking distinguished. That's what I pay you for. OK?

"But what about the Old Lady?" asks Cornelius.

"The Old Lady can drop dead. We should have never gotten mixed up with her in the first place." "So what do you want me to tell her?" asks Cornelius.

"Tell her nothing. If that old dame doesn't shut up, I'm going to send my cousin Arthur and Zephir, the monkey, around to see her."

"No, not Zephir, the monkey," says Cornelius. "He's an animal."

"Just give the old girl a scare. If she doesn't shut up and stop writing letters and making a fuss we're going to have a major financial crisis on our hands," says Babar.

"OK, boss," says Cornelius.

"Just tell Queen Celeste to start packing her shoes. I think it's about time for a little trip until things calm down here in Celesteville."

"What about Doctor Capoulosse?" asks Cornelius

"Capoulosse is a big boy. He can sort out his own problems with Blue Cross. I wash my hands of him. Look, I came up the hard way. My mother was shot by a hunter. When I got to town I didn't have a thing. Nothing. The Old Lady picked me up. I kept my mouth shut. She gave me whatever I wanted. I didn't have any class then. I wore bright green suits and derby hats and spats. Jesus, I looked like a damn hick. But I learned. I picked things up. I started reading GQ and it was au revoir spats. I see William Styron wearing nice sweaters. I see T. Coraghessan Boyle wearing nice sport coats. I see Gordon Lish wearing cashmere. They're book guys. Hey, I'm a book guy, too. I got me some class.

"And I waited for opportunity to knock. When the king of the elephants died from eating a poison mushroom, I was waiting in the wings. Where the hell do you think he got a poison mushroom?

"As for Celeste. You know she's my cousin. Hell, she's only 15 years old. Of course we do things a little differently back in the Great Forest."

"And so you are returning to the Great Forest?" says Cornelius.

"The Great Forest!" says Babar. "The hell with the Great Forest. We're going France. Why do you suppose I hung on to those French passports all these years. Look, they took in Baby Doc. They won't let me down. I'm Babar, king of the elephants, beloved by children everywhere. All rights reserved. Start packing."

If you enjoyed this story of Babar you will want to read these other books:

Babar Makes Bail

Babar's Plea Bargain

Babar Takes the Fifth

Babar in the Federal Witness Protection Program

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