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Mr. Awesome

London-based Hamilton Richardson is the most undeservedly overlooked voice in the field of literary criticism. Though his work is spare -- only seven reviews to date -- his reach limited to customer reviews on Amazon UK, and his scope narrowed to the Mr. Men series by Roger Hargreaves, few critics working today could hope to match the precision of his prose, the scope of his knowledge, or the acuity of his understanding. Unlike high-profile, power-drunk critics who write for more visible outlets, Richardson's work remains uncorrupted by money or fame. His review of Hargreaves' seminal text, Mr. Messy, provides an accessible point of entry for the unitiated:

 mr messy

 

If '1984' or 'The Trial' had been a children's book, Mr Messy would be it. No literary character has ever been so fully and categorically obliterated by the forces of social control. Hargreaves may well pay homage to Kafka and Orwell in this work, but he also goes beyond them.

We meet Mr Messy - a man whose entire day-to-day existence is the undiluted expression of his individuality. His very untidiness is a metaphor for his blissful and unselfconscious disregard for the Social Order. Yes, there are times when he himself is a victim of this individuality - as when he trips over a brush he has left on his garden path - but he goes through life with a smile on his face.

 

His review of Mr. Small shows the depths of Hargreaves' engagement with the greater culture:

mr small

...Hargreaves himself seems to give up on Mr Small - in a wry narrative flourish of course. Beneath the surface positivity of the ending, we at best encounter stoicism, with a definite undercurrent of fatalistic dread at what the very near future holds. The shadow of the impending Thatcher years is already falling across the world of the Mr Men. If Hargreaves has deprived him of revolutionary socialism in Mr Uppity - or even the more modest protection of the centre-left - there is nothing Mr Small can do but passively accept his situation.

 

However, it is Richardson's review of the uneven, if lauded, Mr. Tickle in which Richardson's  powers as a Hargreaves scholar blooms to full flower:

mr tickle

 

Hargreaves' first work, and regarded by many as his masterpiece, Mr Tickle is something of a rarity amongst the Mr Men books. Elsewhere, we see much exposition on the pitfalls of excess - such as in Mr Greedy and Mr Messy, for instance - but a distinct lack of discourse on personalities that are over- rather than under-regulated. A case in point might be another work, Mr Fussy, which stands out as an opportunity glaringly missed. Despite a faintly ridiculing tone to the prose, this is essentially a lamentation on how others cannot live up to the high ideals and perfectionism of its titular central character. It is at best an ambiguous critique of repression, and Mr Fussy escapes the moral judgment so often dished out to others in the series.

 

Richardson burned too brightly; he only wrote reviews from February 28th to March 1st of last year. Though small -- as small as Mr. Small, in fact -- his ouevre remains a potent reminder of what criticism aught to be. You can read more of it here.

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