So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

McWhinney's Jaunt


McWhinney's Jaunt is a travel adventure delightfully illustrated by the author Robert Lawson with pen and ink drawings. It tells of an absent-minded professor who develops a "hitherto unknown gas having tremendous lifting power" that he names Z-Gas and uses to fill the tires of his bicycle. He finds that the weight of his body counterbalances the buoyancy of the tires, and he can rise in the air by "leaning back in the saddle and peddling briskly." Since the university is on summer break and his wife had taken up needlepoint, he decides to ride his modified bicycle to Hollywood, where he feels it will "earn him an engagement in the motion pictures more remunerative" than his professorship.
Professor McWhinney sells some of his Z-Gas to a carnival ballon vendor for $50 to fund his trip. There is a drawing of the vendor holding on to about 3 dozen balloons and floating into the air over a grocery store "drifting slowly in a southeasterly direction." With his finances set and the baskets of his bike filled with a few necessities, he takes off the next morning down a well-known Connecticut parkway to cross the George Washington Bridge on the supporting cables of the suspension bridge.
Across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri he rides, earning more money in a bicycle race along the way. Travelling through the midwest and Oklahoma, he heads for the Grand Canyon where he earns some more money with his trick bicycle. His arrival in California is less than a success as the Hollywood producers are not impressed by his amazing bicycle. "In this realm of fantasy they could see nothing especially unusual about it."
On his way home, McWhinney visits the Boulder Dam and Yellowstone Park. Illustrations of McWhinney and his unusual bicycle set against national landmarks make up the heart of this book, but the character of this odd professor and his unusual approach toward life are what bring it to life.
Jim Vadeboncoeur Jr. tells a wonderful tale about this being the first illustrated book he remembers reading in his Illustrators website entry for Robert Lawson. I myself had a similar experience, and went through many years of my life wondering about the book, until I rediscovered it a few years ago. Originally published in 1951 with a paperback re-issue in 1979 by Little, Brown & Co., McWhinney's Jaunt is now again available in a hardcover edition from Oxford City Press. While I have not seen the new edition, I treasure my 1951 copy.

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