If you're anything like the Blagger, you may have wondered what happened to the Owl and the Pussycat after they were married with the piggy-wig's ring by the turkey who lived on the hill. Did the mixed marriage last? Were there children? What would they look like? And what is a runcible spoon? Well you're in luck: there's a sequel! The Further Adventures of The Owl and the Pussycat by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Charlotte Voake, is published at the end of the month. In the story, the wedding ring is stolen, and the newlyweds embark on a series of rhyming adventures. It begins:
"The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sleep
By the light of the moon so pale.
Their beautiful ring was tied with string
In a bow round the Pussy-cat's tail.
They dreamed of mice, and raspberry ice,
While slumbering cheek to cheek.
But down flew a crow who unravelled the bow
And flew off with the ring in his beak,
His beak, his beak,
And flew off with the ring in his beak …"
Edward Lear wrote his famous poem for Janet Symonds, the three-year-old daughter of his friends, the poet and Renaissance scholar John Addington Symonds and his wife Catherine. It was first published in 1871 in the book Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets.
Lear was the 20th of 21 children, and was given to his aunt to look after when he was four. He suffered from epilepsy, which he kept secret, and was unlucky in love, though children adored him. His self-portrait in verse begins:
"'How pleasant to know Mr Lear!'
Who has written such volumes of stuff!
Some think him ill-tempered and queer,
But a few think him pleasant enough."
The Ashmolean in Oxford celebrated Lear's bicentenary year in 2012 with an exhibition of 100 of his drawings and paintings. As well as illustrations for his nonsense verse, Lear was an accomplished landscape painter. "I think he's probably the best ornithological illustrator that ever was," said Sir David Attenborough, who owns some of Lear's works. "They are magnificent – not only scientifically correct but as works of art, they are amazing."
Terry Jones, on the other hand, is not a fan of Lear's verse, which posed problems when he wrote the libretto to an opera based on "The Owl and the Pussycat" last year. "I mean, the word 'runcible' – it doesn't mean anything," he said. "They just sail in a pea-green boat with plenty of money and honey, and they get married and dance by the light of the moon. The only drama is, 'What shall we do for a ring?' and that's solved by having a wood in which a piggy-wig stood." He got around it by writing a prequel. "What interested me was how they got together. There must have been some tension …."
The genders of the Owl and the Pussycat are not explicit, though most readers assume that Pussy is female because Owl describes her as "beautiful". On the other hand, Pussy proposes to Owl. What a very modern cross-species romance.
The Further Adventures of The Owl and the Pussycat, by Julia Donaldson and Charlotte Voake, is published on 29 August by Puffin (£10.99).