Arts & Entertainment

Fighting Monsters in Three Easy Steps: The Mighty Barribal and the Rigged Election

“Do I have to do everything myself in my dire condition?”


Just how is a gentleman of quality supposed to take on a dangerous giant while confined to his armchair, recovering from a sneak attack by a tricky landslide? The answer is that he is not, unless...

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Unless... what exactly?

Unless there is a cast of supporting actors ready to step in as the story unfolds. From his earliest days as a story teller, Marten Toonder created a virtual menagerie of mavericks to liven up his tales: giants, wizards and dwarfs, animal creatures from all over the world, and a long parade of neighborhood cats and dogs. And since storybook characters seldom go it alone, expect a good crowd nudging Squire Bomble towards his goal of universal peace and quiet.

And so, in three easy steps, here is how to defeat a monstrous giant.

Step One: Assess the threat level

At the beginning of the story, Barribal had several mountain communities shivering in their boots, and after being so rudely disturbed in his cave, turned out to be even worse than the worst of your nightmares. While Squire Ollie may have initially escaped to the safety of his home, Barribal was not nearly done with him. Not only did he take to the airwaves with his ominous message of a new world order, he actually came down from his mountain to step all over the (political) landscape in town. This is an adversary of note, and the threat level is considerable. So the question is where to even begin when you’re all laid up in your castle, grounded by a bulky plaster cast around your left leg?

Step Two: Choose your friends wisely

There are friends and then there are friends, and it’s no different in Bomble’s world. Toonder developed some very recognizable secondary characters to move each story along, and so we have a diabolical scientist (Zicboq), a career politician (Hippopod), a faithful law enforcer (Bull Bulles), and—to round things out—the town fool Giddy Goose acting out their amusingly predictable roles, counterparts to similarly predictable people from our own lives.

Close to home, there is Squire Ollie’s ever-loyal manservant Jobes, always on duty and always expected to go the extra mile. Theirs is a long-lasting but sometimes brittle relationship with their respective roles firmly locked in place. Looking at Jobes’ resigned demeanor, does it perchance mirror anyone close to home? Or do we gloss it over as ‘maturity’ as we brush our teeth before going to bed?





But how about support from beyond the walls of Bomble Manor? We already know that Ocelot will never leave the good squire in the lurch, but Ocelot is a recognized hero of these tales and what we’re looking for are unexpected friends and allies. Giddy Goose might be a good candidate. Here is a character famously dear to Toonder’s heart, a simple soul with no ambitions beyond the here and now. Even though he seems to have gotten himself mixed up with Barribal’s operation, first distributing pamphlets and then driving his monster truck through the snow, all you need to do is take one look at him and you’ll know that he doesn’t have a bad bone in his body. Let’s put him in the ‘friends’ category and enjoy his innocent take on life.








Further afield are the town’s two highest authorities, Mayor Hippopod and Police Captain Bulles. Now there’s an uneasy pair for you; Hippopod a champion of the politics of the moment and Bull Bulles a devotee of thorough and perennial law enforcement. Uneasy allies, these, as likely to steer anybody towards greater complications as towards simple solutions. Parallels in real life, anyone?

It’s a motley crew, then, Squire Ollie’s team, and hardly a group expected to do well against a certified menace like Barribal. The giant seems to be everywhere and gaining ground by the day. So what will it take to cut him to size? What about that good old stand-by of timeless storytelling, the one that has helped save the day for more than one literary hero:

Step Three: Keep luck firmly by your side

Let’s hope that things fall into place for both Bomble and us, or we’ll be stuck in the current narrative for years to come instead of until Election Day as previously promised. Crude optics and loud echo chambers are not many people’s idea of the good life, least of all Squire Ollie’s, but there is still time to heed Professor Zicboq’s sensible words from when he first entered Barribal’s cave: “Echoes and light effects are but manifestations of an underlying cause, and so we ask ourselves, ‘What cause?’ This is where science comes in, leading us directly to the source.”

We don’t know yet whether Zicboq is friend or foe, but his clear-eyed message that smoke and mirrors are but a cover for underlying motivations seems sage advice against the backdrop of so much current turmoil. With a bit of luck, then, our heroes will remember his keen insight and save the day. But if not, there’s always our own real world that could mark his words and profit equally from it. And with that, enjoy the rest of the story.


‘Tales from the life of Olivier B. Bomble, gentleman,’ was serialized in Dutch newspapers for many years, and Squire Bomble, his good friend Ocelot and many others have become household names in the Netherlands. This is their first appearance in the US after the successful translation into English by Adrian Meerman, a Sparta resident.


© Images Toonder Company, Netherlands

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