One of the greatest CD-ROMs ever made, The Book of Lulu is a wonderful children’s tale that will move you in the same way as Le Petit Prince (a.k.a. The Little Prince) and Winnie the Pooh do. It’s one of the rare “children’s story but not only for children” that sold hundreds of thousands of copies in Europe and Japan and won dozens of awards. It has been a hit in 19 languages in 26 countries. Thanks to Organa, it’s now available in English. Bob Hugh’s review of the title that first appeared in UK's The Guardian aptly describes what makes this different to other children’s-books-on-CD titles: |
"On the face of it, Lulu appears to be a children's book translated to CD-ROM--like Broderbund's "Living Books". You have pages that turn when clicked, text that reads itself to you, and pictures that come to life in delightful ways. I've no desire to belittle Living Books but I think it's fair to say that Lulu bears the same relationship to them as "Alice in Wonderland" does to "Noddy in Toyland".
Lulu reaches emotions other CDs leave untouched. There is sentiment here on a scale few English-speaking authors would even dare to attempt. Visually, it is exquisite. It has wonderful haunting music (by Olivier Pryszlak). But that is not where the magic begins. In fact, "Lulu" is not a book. It is a play on the whole idea of books, the people who live in them, and the deep, yet impossible attachments we form with them - especially as children. There is no "real" Book of Lulu (and Victor-Pujebet insists there never will be). Lulu's world only exists when the computer is on, and you are separated from it by the thick glass of your monitor screen. You cannot put it into your pocket and imagine you possess it. That is Romain's whole point: we can never possess the things and people we love. The story goes like this:
The lonely little princess Lulu lives in a beautiful castle, in a beautiful book: the Book of Lulu. She combats boredom and solitude by reading fashion magazines, dressing up, and staging plays for imaginary audiences in the toy theatre she has made for herself in an unused garret in her parents' castle: an "imaginary universe of words and images, paper and ink".
One day a spacecraft containing a robot, Mnemo, crash-lands in the chateau's grounds. Mnemo is trying to return to his home planet and his young master, Prince Megalo Polo (yes, a distant but distinct echo of St. Exupery's lonely Little Prince). Lulu decides to help him and, together, they traverse deserts, jungles, Dore-esque regions of ice, and obstacles peculiar to books: at one point they become lost in the intricacies of the plot (they have rashly attempted to skip a chapter--to get water for the spacecraft's cooling system from the chapter on rainforests). These problems are overcome, but the greatest one remains: how can Lulu, a 2-dimensional being from a book, make the journey into space - which is by definition 3-dimensional? Mnemo realises he can achieve this by "extrudomorphosis": a process, he explains, invented by the Italian renaissance painters to allow otherwise flat, paper characters to enter the 3-D world. A happy ending is achieved by playful subversion of physical laws.
While there is plenty of fun here, it is suffused with a poignant sense of unattainable beauty -- underscored at every turn by subtle interplay between reader and the characters of the tale. Sometimes, when you click on them, they seem aware that someone has touched them but puzzled, then annoyed, because they cannot see who is doing it. One relates to them as through a one-way mirror: unseen intruders in their world.
The word "magical" comes all too easily, but here the word is almost technically correct. Victor-Pujebet started with an illustrative style that he found in a 19th-century book (the illustrator, alas, was unnamed - but he or she clearly was under the inflence of Gustave Dore). In itself, this creates a feeling of a "lost world of perpetual summer". The animations capitalise on this: the ones featuring Lulu herself are redrawn frame by frame from live-action sequences (of the 10-year-old Emilie Cornac) filmed in the TV studios at Castres. The technique in not new, but I have seldom seen it used so appropriately: in this context they seem like ghosts of another reality emerging from the page. Is this too deep and subtle for children, you may ask? I imagine that's what the big publishers asked too. But none of the children who've borrowed my copy over the past year had any problem - although I often had problems getting the disk back. I think it is the first CDROM that qualifies for the label "children's classic": it has depths that make age irrelevant; its greatest depths are conceptual and emotional; it is worthy of, and rewards, serious critical attention."
Fans of the original French version of this CD (or the book itself) would be pleased to hear that the English translation – as far as I can tell – retains much of the same quality as the original. Ray Brooks’ English narration is excellent, although you can hear Romain himself read the tale to you in original French. The bottom line is this: if you’ve waited for years (like me) to see Le Petit Prince or Winnie the Pooh come to life on your computer screen, The Book of Lulu is the next best thing. A truly magnificent and rare title that transcends the “for kids” label on so many levels. A must-have.
Reviewed by: Underdogs