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The Scarecrow and His Servant    by Philip Pullman & Peter Bailey order for
Scarecrow and His Servant
by Philip Pullman
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Philip Pullman's The Scarecrow and His Servant was originally published in England as The Messenger. Black and white sketches by Peter Bailey add to the drama. Farmer Mr. Pandolfo builds a scarecrow to stand in his field of crops, and hides a document inside its shirt. The farmer does not want the evil Buffalonis family to claim his property, because they intend to redirect springs and streams and dry up the town's wells and fountains. The Buffalonis plan to build factories to produce weedkiller, rat poison, and insecticide.

Another farmer steals the scarecrow from Mr. Pandolfo's property, and yet another steals it from that one, until it's not in Spring Valley anymore. During a thunderstorm, lightning strikes the scarecrow and brings it to life. Not far away, an orphan boy named Jack has taken shelter in a barn. He hears someone calling, 'Help! Come and help me!' Jack rushes to the scarecrow and pulls him out of the muddy field. The scarecrow is described as having a 'knobbly turnip for a head, with a broad crack for a mouth and a long thin sprout for a nose and two bright little stones for eyes. A broomstick was its backbone. He wore a tattered straw hat, woolen scarf, and a tweed jacket full of holes'. Scarecrow is a courteous and generous fellow, and offers Jack a job as his 'personal assistant'.

Lord Scarecrow and Jack venture in search of excitement. They perform good deeds, and face challenges along the way - including brigands, broken hearts, and a shipwreck. They take part in a stage play, join the army, do battle, and continue to head for Spring Valley, because the scarecrow somehow knows that's where he belongs. In an old castle, they find swords, daggers, quantities of coins, and food. Realizing that the castle is a home for brigands, Jack attempts to get his master to leave before the rowdy men return. But, Scarecrow has a different plan - to scare the brigands away. While Jack tells the returned robbers an invented ghostly story, his master begins to move around, and the brigands 'take flight from fright'. Meanwhile, a lawyer by the name of Mr. Cercorelli, is on the pair's trail. The lawyer tells a false tale that Mr. Luigi Buffaloni seeks the missing scarecrow to return it to its original field, in memory of the Buffaloni cousin who made it. Cercorelli perseveres in his pursuit until he catches up with the duo in court.

Philip Pullman provides many scenes in The Scarecrow and His Servant that provide pages of laughter - Scarecrow tussles with a road sign thinking it is a footpad; starring in a play as a prop, the scarecrow dons makeup, while the theater director thinks that Jack is a ventriloquist, providing his voice. I especially liked the gathering of birds for a meeting of the 'Grand Congress of All the Birds', to present Lord Scarecrow with a gold medal of honor. The Congress's President Pelican gives a speech, 'We have acclaimed many distinguished laureates in the past, but few whose accomplishments were as varied as those of our guest today. With no regard for his personal safety, he clambered high up a stone wall to restore the fallen chick of Dr. and Mrs. Owl to his parents' nest.'The Scarecrow and His Servant is a tale of courage, optimism, belief in the goodness of others, and friendship - a hilarious and meaningful tale, worth reading over and over again.

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