Adventures In Slumberland was my first script for Talespinner Children’s Theatre, an adaptation based on characters created by the legendary comic strip artist and animator Winsor McCay.
NEMO: Can I help put up the tree? I want to go out into the street and sing carols and see all the people!
Photo: Steve Wagner
MAMA: No, no, no.
NEMO: I am missing everyone! They are missing me!
MAMA: Nemo, no one misses you, you are no-one.
Perhaps you are old enough to remember the animated film of the same name, which was released in 1989. If so, you have a poor idea of what the original comic strip (Little Nemo in Slumberland) was all about, trust me, my short play had little to do with that.
The great animator Hayao Miyazaki actually had a hand in that film’s production for a very brief moment before walking away. Among other problems he had with the production as it was developing, he reportedly could not get behind a story that literally takes place in a dream, because that means it isn’t real.
And he’s not wrong. You go to sleep, think a lot of amazing things, but in the morning you are still the same person you were when you went to sleep. None of it actually happened.
This, and other issues, were foremost in my mind when creating this play. If the protagonist is a five year-old boy, how might a dream actually change him?
And as it was to be a holiday play, shouldn't it all take place on Christmas Eve? But if the action takes place over the course of only one night, we would miss out on all those hilarious waking moments which concluded every single McCay Slumberland comic strip. I needed to resolve that issue, too.
Then there are all those so-called “Easter eggs” I was aching to include; nods to other pop culture references to Little Nemo, including those found in the comic book Sandman, lyrics from Genesis, and that more contemporary animation with a character named "Nemo." (Chennelle calls them Easter eggs, someone else might call them copyright violations.)
One of my favorite parts of McCay’s strip is how he was able to accurately depict what a dream looks like, how a dream works, how people talk in dreams. Also how maddeningly repetitive or frustrating they can be. Nemo spent years trying to reach the Princess, always failing just before waking -- because that’s what happens in dreams!
But meeting the Princess is a MacGuffin, not the actual goal of the adventure. Neither is finding Santa Claus. I loved including Santa Claus, but he’s not the main event, either! I am so subversive.
My first children’s play, Adventures In Slumberland, is a forty-minute, honest-to-goodness, Joseph Campbell-inspired hero’s journey toward self-actualization and personhood.
And it’s now available in paperback and eBook. Please share and enjoy with the literary manager of your local children’s theater, college or school.