Much publicity surrounded the publication of The Minpins in 1991, eight months after the author’s death: ‘told with all the skill and flair of the master storyteller’ (so the publisher said). A ‘special presentation proof produced in a limited edition [500 copies]’ was circulated and much play was made over the master’s choice of illustrator, Patrick Benson, after a competition. Dahl, it seems, ‘realised that this particular story would need very detailed and beautiful illustrations – quite a different style to that of Quentin Blake’ (who had been working on Esio Trot at the time).
As it turned out, the presence of Benson was the only element worthy of celebration in this final book. The narrative motor was running on idle. The reachmedown plot had the usual elements: bright boy escapes from overcaring mother, meets with a Red-Hot, Smoke-Belching Gruncher in the forest that adjoins his garden (funny that nobody knew it was there) and we never meet the other threatened inhabitants with their tired old names: Whangdoodlers, Snozzwangglers and suchlike.
Chased by the Gruncher, the boy is instrunental in saving a (similarly unknown) huge population of little people – the Minpins – who live
in the forest trees and get about wearing Suction Boots, first invented for the Gremlins who figured in Dahl’s first book. (I never found out
if these Minpins were related to the Minnipins a tribe of little people in Carol Kendall’s story of that title published in 1951.)
Patrick Benson did indeed do marvels with this half-baked piece of storytelling. He chose, or was given, a quarto format to work with and
responded with masterly watercolours that varied from leafy decorations, to sensitive portrayals of boy, Minpins, and birds who play a role in the destruction of the Gruncher, and there were several full-page depictions both of the details of Minpin life and of Gruncher atmospherics.
The brief text, under a new title and chopped up into ten short chapters, has now been reissued in octavo format, accompanied by workaday pen drawings by Quentin Blake. One must assume that this has been done to complete the totality of the Dahl/Blake series (it is not widely realised how many illustrators preceded Quentin in the Dahl oeuvre). It does nothing to infuse new life into the limp story but it is good to know that Patrick Benson’s gallant attempt at a rescue operation is to remain in print, presumably with its original title and format.