Letters to Anyone and Everyone
Tellegen’s bizarre, moving and unfailingly poetic mental constructions generated a body of enthusiastic readers of all ages and won all major prizes for children’s literature. According to the index in Toon Tellegen’s collected animal stories Misschien wisten zij alles (Perhaps They Knew Everything), there are 169 animals living in the Tellegen’s story-book woods. His favourites appear to be the hedgehog, the frog, the cricket, and the beetle. The squirrel, the ant, and the elephant crop up so frequently that it would be impossible to list all the page numbers.
In fact, the letter and the cake also deserve an entry in the index, because their role is much more essential than that of the gnu or the sandfly, who actually could have been replaced by any other animal. The cake and the letter, on the other hand, are irreplaceable in Tellegen’s woods as symbols, almost as personifications: the one of festive get-togethers of any group, the other of awkward, often futile attempts to make contact.
Luckily, the letter has seen justice done in a new collection of animal stories, with beautiful and poignant illustrations by Mance Post and the unmistakably Tellegenesque title Brieven aan niemand anders (Letters to Anyone and Everyone). The letter makes an appearance in every story, either in a leading role, or simply because the woods’ inhabitants are used to seeing written signs of life being borne along by the wind from sender to addressee.
The human outlines of the letter become visible already on the second page, when the squirrel dresses his epistle to the ant in a jacket and tie before sending it off into the snow on its way to its destination. There are letters in all shapes and sizes. The penguin writes on ice floes that have melted by the time they arrive, and the toad’s furious letter swells up, starts to glow, flies up into the air like a ball of fire and falls, sizzling, into the river.
In these woods where the post flies around in such abundance, a letterless existence is synonymous with supreme sorrow, to be fought against with all one’s strength and creativity. Happily, the author has bestowed both of these qualities on his animals.