In Mr Tickle the author Roger Hargreaves first introduces us to his fictional world living under the ethereal real world we inhabit, a place where names make the person. This is a tip of the hat towards our own past and the surnames that were in use in medieval times – a writing technique designed to anchor us in the mythos of the book immediately -, but ultimately Hargreaves is striding towards something far more sinister and encourages the readers to consider the corrupting and binding power of words on a complacent society when they correlate Mr Tickle’s name and his actions.
Mr Tickle himself is a rather joyful person on the surface as you would surmise from his name. Yet Hargreaves is deliberately lulling the reader into a false sense of security. The Tickle character is a hedonist who derives pleasure from inflicting pleasure. Again, our first instinct is to find this a noble act but we soon learn through the victims of Tickle that too much of a good thing is ultimately bad.
When the story starts we find out that Mr Tickle is also slothful. Hargreaves considers pleasure and indolence to go hand-in-hand. The author is trying to warn generations of readers by describing the wastefulness of living in blind bliss without simply using the words themselves; this is a return to the author’s cautionary approach to their power and danger. This subversive, subliminal indoctrination technique is used throughout the entire Mr Men series and is indicative of Hargreaves’ genuine concern for society tempered with authoritarianism borne of the era in which he grew up.
The disturbing issue of rape appears in the novel over and over again as a metaphor. We can clearly surmise that Hargreaves equates the spread of the corruption he fears so much with physical molestation. Mr Tickle’s rape scenes take the form of inappropriate handling of the people he meets and it is revealing to examine the sorts of people who Hargreaves sees as victims here. The teacher, policeman, and doctor all represent powerful, friendly figures in our lives and we see that they are no match for Tickle. The station guard and policemen are people we trust for protection, the teacher is a person we trust with our children, we trust the doctor with our lives, the greengrocer and butcher with feeding us, and yet all these people are powerless against the long reach of Tickle. A clearer message of how words have power and laziness penetrates all barriers. And yet in a final masterful twist we also discover the postman – the bearer of communications – is also susceptible. How now do we unravel Hargreaves’ tale? How can we trust his words?
Mr Tickle is a wonderful, layered, philisophical masterpiece. Easily accessible to readers of any background, interwoven with ominous portents and stark admonitions. In this reviewer’s mind the only sour taste from the delicious tale arrives with the climax. The ending transpires to be a tad unsatisfactory in that the hard work of satire and suggestive propaganda built up during the story is then spelt out so brutally: Mr. Tickle could be lurking around your doorway, waiting to tickle you. In the final reckoning, however, a must-read.