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Laurent de Brunhoff,

“Babar” author Laurent de Brunhoff, who revived his father’s popular picture book series an elephant king and fueled its rise to a global multimedia franchise, has died. He was 98.

De Brunhoff, a Paris native who moved to the United States in the 1980s, died Friday at his home in Key West, Florida, after spending two weeks in a hospice, according to his widow, Phyllis Rose.

Laurent was only 12 years old when his father, Jean de Brunhoff, died of tuberculosis. When he grew up, he used his own talents as a painter and storyteller and published dozens of books about the elephant that rules Celesteville, including Babar at. the Circus” and “Babar’s Yoga for Elephants”. He preferred to use fewer words than his father, but his illustrations faithfully mimicked Jean’s gentle, understated style.

Cartoonist Laurent de Brunhoff attends Babar's 60th birthday
The French cartoonist Laurent de Brunhoff presents his children’s book “La victoire de Babar” with Babar the elephant on the 60th anniversary of the famous character. His father, Jean de Burnhoff, founded Babar in 1932.

Pascal Le Segretain/Sygma via Getty Images


“Together, father and son have woven a fictional world so seamlessly that it is almost impossible to tell where one left off and the other began.” wrote author Ann S. Haskell in the New York Times in 1981.

The series has sold millions of copies worldwide and has been adapted into a television show and animated films such as Babar: The Movie and Babar: King of the Elephants. Fans ranged from Charles de Gaulle to Maurice Sendak, who once wrote: “If he had come to me, how I would have welcomed that little elephant and showered him with affection.”

De Brunhoff would say of his creation, “Babar, c’est moi” (“That’s me”) and told National Geographic in 2014 that “he’s been drawing the elephant for years throughout my life.”

The appeal of the books was anything but universal. Some parents balked at the passage in the debut, “The Story of Babar the Little Elephant,” about the shooting of Babar’s mother by hunters. Numerous critics called the series racist and colonialist, pointing to Babar’s training in Paris and its influence on his (presumably) Africa-based regime. In 1983, Chilean author Ariel Dorfman would call the books an “implicit story” that justifies and rationalizes the motives behind an international situation in which some countries have everything and others have almost nothing.

“Babar’s story,” wrote Dorfman, “is nothing other than the fulfillment of the colonial dream of the dominant countries.”

Babar
Children’s author and illustrator Laurent de Brunhoff works in his home while being interviewed for the BBC television adaptation of his Babar stories, Paris, September 1969.

Malcolm Winton/Radio Times via Getty Images


Adam Gopnik, a Paris-based correspondent for The New Yorker, defended “Babar,” writing in 2008 that it “is not an unconscious expression of the French colonial imagination; It is a self-confident comedy about the French colonial fantasy and its end.” Reference to the French domestic fantasy.

De Brunhoff himself admitted that he found it “a little embarrassing to see Babar fighting with blacks in Africa.” He particularly regretted Babar’s Picnic, a 1949 publication that contained crude caricatures of blacks and Indians, and asked his publisher to withdraw the publication.

De Brunhoff was the eldest of three sons of Jean de Brunhoff and the painter Cecile de Brunhoff. Babar was created when Cecile de Brunhoff, the elephant kingdom’s namesake and Babar’s wife, improvised a story for her children.

“My mother started telling us a story to distract us” de Brunhoff told National Geographic in 2014. “We liked it very much and the next day we ran to our father’s study, which was in the corner of the garden, to tell him about it. He was very amused and started drawing. And so the story of Babar came into being.” . My mother called him Bebe Elephant (French for baby). It was my father who changed the name to Babar. But the first pages of the first book, with the elephant killed by a hunter and the escape into the city, were her story.”

The debut was published in 1931 by the family-run publisher Le Jardin Des Modes. Babar was immediately well received and Jean de Brunhoff completed four more Babar books before dying six years later at the age of 37. Laurent’s uncle Michael helped publish two more works, but no one else added anything to the series until after World War II. Laurent, then a painter, decided to bring it back.

BABAR TURNS 70
1931: Cecile de Brunhoff and her two sons Mathieu and Laurent, who acted as Babar’s author and illustrator.

Yves Forestier/Sygma via Getty Images


“Gradually I began to feel that a Babar tradition existed and that it should be maintained,” he wrote in The New York Times in 1952.

De Brunhoff was married twice, most recently to Critic and biographer Phyllis Rose, who has written the text for many of the recent “Babar” releases, including the 2017 release “Babar’s Guide to Paris,” which was billed as the finale. He had two children, Anne and Antoine, but the author did not consciously write for young people.

“I never really think about children when I write my books,” he told the Wall Street Journal in 2017. “Babar was my friend and I made up stories with him, but not with children in mind. I write them for myself.”

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