Book Review: Mr Men #3 - Mr. Happy
While in the western world man chases fame, fortune and the respect of his peers, in more archaic cultures the pursuit is for a higher level of understanding or some kind of connection with a higher force. But we do this for a single reason: because we think it will make us happy. This pursuit of happiness is the meaning of life, the always just-out-of-reach goal for humans the world over.
Mr. Happy, the fourth member of the Mr. Men family, is in a state of perpetual happiness. Quite how this state of happiness has been achieved is unclear. He lives in a house of a similar size and style to that of the other Mr. Men we have already met. He displays no obvious trappings of wealth or success no enviable family from which he may derive some kind of pride or worth and offers no insight, wisdom or religious beliefs.
Happy, we are told, lives in a land called "Happyland" in which all the people, the birds, even the worms are happy. One begins to wonder if our hero is a member of some kind of cult. The next notion is that perhaps My. Happy is under the influence of some kind of narcotic which makes him THINK that the birds and the worms are conversing with him and confirming that they too are enjoying life to the full. So many questions and (given that this is short form fiction) so little time for answers.
After the scene has been established, Mr. Happy goes for a walk whereupon (and with a nod to the great CS Lewis) he discovers a tiny red door in the trunk of a tree. Behind the door is a small room in which we meet Mr. Happy's alter-ego, Mr. Miserable.
Mr. Miserable is suffering from a textbook case of agoraphobia. And whilst Miserable doesn't obviously experience any kind of panic attack during the course of the story he is clearly displaying symptoms of anxiety. Mr. Happy, with an alarming lack of caution, attempts to win his new patient's trust and prescribes a course of exposure treatment. Happy leads Miserable outside and encourages him to engage with the world.
Whether Miserable actually exists, or is just a manifestation of the buried emotional distress, doubts and fears of Mr. Happy - that's left up to the reader to decide. However, to diagnose our hero as suffering from schizophrenia would be perfectly justified - and the classic 'voices in the head' symptom would certainly solve the talking birds/worms quandary.
In he end though, it matters not how you choose to translate or frame the fable. Mr. Happy is a profound tale - a story that reaffirms the value of human friendship and appeals to society to recognise the devastating affect of mental illness. It's a plea for us to tackle these issues and to those in throe to depression, it's a simple message that there are people who care and who can help.
Simply choosing to tackle a subject and a message of such gravity in a form more suited to frothy, flimsy stories is shocking. What's more shocking however, is the apparent ease and aplomb Hargreaves displays whilst dealing with this thorny issue. Hargreaves isn't just an author of children's fiction, he's a poet, a social activist, the voice of reason and, surely for some... a lifeline. It is our duty to cherish and champion his work.
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