Brief sound clip
You're hearing some of the opening theme song from the 1992 animated film, Little Nemo in Slumberland, which was loosely based on the full-page Sunday comic strip by Winsor McCay, that tumbled into publication on October 15th, 1905, and which would appear in American newspapers, off and on, for more than twenty years.
In his weekly adventures, McCay's Nemo dove deep, like his namesake and precurser, Captain Nemo, from Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. But Little Nemo's vehicle wasn't a submarine; it was the dream -- something that Sigmund Freud was exploring in Vienna at exactly the same time. On his first adventure, Little Nemo is given a pony to ride to visit the king of Slumberland. He is warned to treat the pony well and not to drive him fast, but when Nemo is challenged to a race by a green kangaroo, he can't resist, and off they go, steeplechasing across the cosmos. The pony trips on a star, and Nemo is tumbled out of the saddle and back to earth, where he awakens, half in, half out of bed.
This is, perhaps, the tamest of Nemo's escapades -- a few weeks later, his bed becomes a raft on a storm-tossed ocean and he is almost eaten by a giant catfish; another night, Nemo is visiting George Washington when he chops down the cherry tree -- only this time, young George blames it on Nemo and George's father chases our hero back to bed. He meets mermaids and pirates, dragons and giant butterflies; he goes to the moon and Mars, to glittering palaces and to the north pole -- and he finally meets the Princess of Slumberland, a charming little girl his own age. He has crush on her that lasts for decades; and every time he is on the verge of receiving that first, innocent, blissful kiss from her as his reward for some dramatic, superhuman rescue, Nemo's side-kick and nemesis -- a small, green-faced, cigar-chomping imp named Flip, who is the mischievous flip-side of the sweet-natured Nemo -- causes some new trouble to break the spell, and wake Nemo up.
The one time that Nemo's wishes all come true, is for Easter of 1908, when an angel gives Nemo a wonderful wand that lets him heal and feed and clothe the starving, sick children of shanty town. With a wave, he transforms the slum into Paradise. For once, Nemo is not at the effect of things and of forces beyond his control. He is everything that the symbolic child represents -- a bringer of healing, a vessel of hope, a source of renewal.
"Little Nemo" is, arguably, one of the greatest, if not the greatest comic strip ever created. It was the imagination writ large, fearlessly, and beautifully across those endless rolls of printing paper and right into the eager hands of our own dreams.
Copyright 2003 © John Cech
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