Behind the Book: Fowler DeWitt’s THE CONTAGIOUS COLORS OF MUMPLEY MIDDLE SCHOOL
I remember floating down the Mississippi River on a raft, back during my Huck Finn-like youth, when I suffered from a severe case of duct-tape worm, which is like tape worm, but much harder to remove. I lay in bed while Mother peeled off those dreadful worms that had affixed themselves to my kidney walls (how she managed to get inside my kidneys is a long story). Eventually, all my internal organs were removed and replaced with bagpipes, which is why I often sneeze “Scotland the Brave”.
I mention this not to make you feel sorry for me, although you should—you can’t imagine how troublesome it can be living with bagpipes in your stomach—but to segue into the next paragraph which I will begin now.
Because of my suffering as a boy, I was fascinated with medical ailments. I caught colds on purpose to study snot (Mother would yell: “It’s winter! Put on clothes or you’ll get sick!” I would sing back, “That’s the point, Mother. Look, I’ve made another snow angel!”).
When I sat down with my quill to ink The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School, I thought back to my illness-infested youth. I thought of the corns that grew on my feet, and the onions that grew on my toes. I reflected upon the day that I lost three pints of blood, only to find them the next afternoon under a tree (they were in small jars, and luckily had not broken). And I sighed fondly as I recollected the painful wheezy lung balls that ached so terribly whenever I exhaled that I held my breath for fourteen days (a world record, although Guinness refuses to acknowledge it due to misspelled paperwork. It was spelled “paprewrok” by my since-fired assistant secretary, blast him!).
I remember the exact inspiration for The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School as if it happened thirty-four years ago. There was a boy in school, which I’ll refer to as “boy in school.” He had five thumbs and no fingers. You can’t imagine the troubles he faced: cars always stopped to give him rides, he was unable to eat finger sandwiches, and whenever he dropped things people told him he was “all thumbs.” Oh, boys can be cruel! But despite his problems, he muddled through bravely. And I thought, there’s a book in there somewhere.
In truth, there wasn’t. Lord knows, I’ve tried seventeen times. But The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School is the closest I’m likely to come, and is honestly far more brilliant of a book. So it ended well for me, and for “boy in school” who eventually became a famous movie critic.
So I dedicate The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School to those boys with mixed-up digits and other rare but terrible ailments like banana nose, spleen splints, and hiccups. Be brave, young ones. Someday doctors will cure all diseases, or my name isn’t Pythagorean K. Hornswagger.