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The Lovesick Salesman

The Lovesick Salesman

5.0 1
by Margaret Gray, Randy Cecil (Illustrator)

A very long time ago, when this morning's mud puddles were still vast oceans, and dragons prowled their shores, there lived a little boy named Irwin who wanted to be a hero.

The uproarious prequel to the Christopher Medal

winner The Ugly Princess and the Wise Fool

Every boy in the kingdom of Coriander dreams of being a hero, which


A very long time ago, when this morning's mud puddles were still vast oceans, and dragons prowled their shores, there lived a little boy named Irwin who wanted to be a hero.

The uproarious prequel to the Christopher Medal

winner The Ugly Princess and the Wise Fool

Every boy in the kingdom of Coriander dreams of being a hero, which makes it hard to get into the Heroic Academy. Young Irwin's brave swagger is more of a meek stumble, yet he is sure the teachers will see the heroic qualities that hide beneath his slightly silly exterior.

But they don't. So Irwin resigns himself to selling candy, which he doesn't really mind-until he meets the princess. Julia is exquisite and brilliant, and Irwin adores her, but she only has eyes for the greatest hero of all. Can the young salesman discover his inner hero in time to win her heart?

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-This prequel to The Ugly Princess and the Wise Fool (Holt, 2002) stands alone, yet clearly echoes that book with its satirical take on fairy-tale conventions laced with a purposeful intent. Focusing on the nature of true heroes, Gray follows Seymour, a startlingly handsome yet shallow hero-in-training, and Irwin, his sincere yet lumpy friend. Having failed to gain admittance to the Heroic Academy, Irwin appears destined to merely tag along as Seymour scouts out a worthy quest. Meanwhile, Julia, a startlingly beautiful princess, has been left to run the kingdom while her parents are abroad. One fateful day, she sneaks out of the palace disguised as a knight, tumbles into a rushing river, and is rescued by Irwin who, though completely smitten with her, is too modest to take any credit, leaving her to believe that Seymour is her savior. Thus begins a convoluted series of misunderstandings and magical misdeeds involving a talking raven, two witches, and a plethora of champions, all culminating in a tournament for Julia's hand in which the true hero finally gets his girl. Unfortunately, the didactic plot meanders too far to be engaging, while the satirical tone often jumps from silly to out-and-out preachy. Comical black-and-white illustrations lend some continuity to the story but lack much expression. The regrettable title, which refers to Irwin's job at his parents' candy shop, ill prepares readers for the fantasy that's to come. Overall, this farce falls short.-Teri Markson, Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School, Los Angeles Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A lighthearted romantic fantasy, set in a time and place when "the stories we call fairy tales were breaking news," and featuring a humble shopkeeper deeply in love with a stunningly beautiful, eminently capable princess. Popping caramels from his parents' candy store, Irwin pines for Princess Julia; she has eyes only for self-absorbed but hyper-hunky Seymour. Tossing in a pair of evil witches, a magical parenting manual, an enchanted raven, and like ingredients, Gray whips up a Shakespearean concoction replete with unexpected encounters, mistaken identities, comic twists, and much discussion of just what True Heroism is all about. In the end, Julia, disguised as her armored alter ego Sir Bildungsroman, enters the climactic tournament in order to keep the wrong suitor from winning her hand-whereupon the scales fall from her eyes, and she hies off with Irwin to rule the Kingdom of Couscous. Cecil's cartoon illustrations give the tale a deceptively "young" look; its most likely audience will be fans of Jean Ferris's Once Upon a Marigold (2002) and similarly urbane fare. Still, despite the lame title, this prequel to The Ugly Princess and the Wise Fool (2002) will draw chuckles. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.68(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.79(d)
Age Range:
9 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt


A very long time ago, when this morning's mud puddles were still vast oceans, and dragons prowled their shores, there lived a little boy named Irwin who wanted to be a hero.

If you think he sounds a little too ambitious, you should remember that the young people of olden times felt more pressure to succeed than we do. Not only was history being made all around them, but the sense of limitations that prevents you and me from, say, turning into frogs or sleeping for hundreds of years hadn't been invented yet. Real people did those things, and even odder ones, every day, and the stories we call fairy tales were breaking news. So although children had more interesting career choices than we do, they also had a lot to live up to.

The most popular celebrities of all were heroes, who walked the earth with mighty treads, slaying villains, righting wrongs, and setting hearts a-flutter. Every little boy hoped for a job in the field, but only the Heroic Academy could confer a license, and it was ruthlessly selective.

Irwin planned to apply as soon as he was old enough-ten. Of course he knew the competition would be tough. All of his friends looked a lot more heroic than he did: lean and bronzed, with curly hair and satin capes that fluttered jauntily in the breeze. Irwin was simply too fond of candy to be lean, his skin wouldn't tan nor his hair curl, and his cape must have been cut wrong, because it just hung limp, even in strong wind. His demeanor, too, was less impressive than everybody else's. When his friends galloped across the hills, their jaws working with resolve and their steely eyes scanning the horizon, Irwin followed at a slower pace, chewing caramels. The one time he tried the most fashionable move of the day-leaping onto a rearing steed and galloping into the sunset-he wound up facedown in a blackberry bush.

But he wasn't as troubled by these shortcomings as everybody else seemed to be, and he didn't imagine that they would make any difference to the Academy. As long as his heart was pure, how could it matter that he sometimes slipped out of his saddle or had sugar on his chin? None of the other boys could resist his silly sense of humor, or his generosity in sharing the candy his parents made in their shop. He'd even won over the most dashing boy in the entire kingdom, Seymour. Some of the others wondered jealously why Seymour didn't pick a best friend more like himself, a boy who would constantly try to outdo him and keep him on the top of his game. The truth was that although Seymour seemed to accomplish everything effortlessly, it took all of his strength to be so magnificent, and Irwin was the only person easygoing enough to help him forget the burden of his greatness.

Seymour was so impressive that the Academy had already offered him a spot in the next freshman class. So naturally, as his friends' auditions approached, Seymour was much in demand as a strategic consultant. Irwin didn't ask him for advice, but Seymour couldn't bear the idea of going to school without his friend and stayed up all night developing an application routine for him anyway.

He wrote it up on a parchment scroll and presented it proudly the next day as they ate caramels together in the shop. "It's been a challenge because you're deficient in so many basics," he said, "but I think I've finally done it. For example-the opening gambit. It's usually best to gallop in on a charger, but you look like so much like a sack of potatoes in the saddle that it would be counterproductive, so instead you'll stride in on foot, ringingly claiming to be greater than all the committee members put together."

Irwin handed the scroll back to him and laughed. "You could say that, but it would sound ridiculous coming from me. I'm just going to open with a few jokes and then talk a little bit about the man who inspired me to be a hero."

Seymour groaned and clapped his hand to his forehead. "Not your favorite speech about Mortimer and true heroism?"

Irwin nodded. "Of course." Mortimer, the greatest hero of the era, had single-handedly beaten back the goblin hordes into the wastelands and the dragons into their mountain caves. But the real reason Irwin idolized him was that he avoided attention. Other champions made public appearances for extra income, or showed off at heroic rallies, but Mortimer always refused such invitations, implying that until evil had been beaten from the face of the earth, he couldn't spare the time. He seldom even waited around to be thanked. "Mortimer gives me hope that a person doesn't have to be a showoff to accomplish great things," added Irwin. "He's the one hero I've ever heard of who's not in it for the glory."

Seymour sighed. They'd had this argument before. "You can't be sure of that. His elusiveness doesn't hurt his business, after all. In fact, it's a clever strategy. When he finally makes an appearance, people will pay through the nose to see him. But in my opinion it's a cold and calculating way to go through life. Fans want to admire their heroes. I'll always be available to mine."

Irwin sometimes thought that Seymour was a little too interested in being admired, and that he was letting his own personality color his view of Mortimer. "Have you ever considered that Mortimer just might not make a very good first impression? I'm sure that has something to do with why he's never rescued a princess. They're notoriously hard to please, and they probably make Mortimer feel awkward and shy."

Mortimer's perpetual bachelorhood was one of the most enticing mysteries about him. His fans didn't look forward to the day his exploits got bogged down in lovey-dovey stuff and wedding arrangements, the way every other hero's did, but they couldn't help wondering why they never had. Rescuing a princess usually led to marrying her, which meant retiring from active duty, and some people figured that Mortimer was too committed to his work to settle down. Still, it seemed odd that he'd never been tempted. Seymour, naturally, believed that no princess had ever been good enough for him, and that he was holding out for a real showstopper.

"But, Irwin, let's just say for the sake of argument that you're right," he said after they'd debated for a while. "Mortimer's got a solid reputation in the field, so he can act however he wants. You're just a kid, and you still need to impress the committee. With my routine, specifically tailored to mask your flaws-"

"Thanks, Seymour," said Irwin, "but I really want to do it my way. Those professors are experts at detecting heroic qualities, and if I have them, they'll know it whether I try to show them off or not. And if not, it's better to find out now. I can always make caramel for a living, after all."

Seymour looked horrified at the suggestion, and Irwin wasn't nearly as lighthearted about it as he sounded, either, but he didn't really think it would happen. Among the hundreds of news stories about people who transformed themselves dramatically in the pursuit of their dreams, there was always one or two in which some unprepossessing person was rewarded for being himself.


li0A few days later Irwin stood facing the admissions committee of retired heroes, enormous, craggy men with flinty expressions. In the center sat the headmaster, Quentin the Hidebound, who was rumored to have been invincible in his youth, and who still looked as though he'd put up a good fight.

"Hi!" Irwin said, with a little wave. "I'm Irwin, and I'm very grateful for the opportu-"

"We know who you are," interrupted Quentin, studying Irwin's application form. "Let's see..." Pausing, he flipped the page over. "You didn't list any exploits in section B as instructed." He looked up sharply. "A rebel, eh?" He jotted a note. "Very good. Just boast to us a bit now."

"Er...." said Irwin. "Well, you see, I haven't actually performed any exploits yet."

"Of course you haven't!" boomed Quentin. "You're only ten! The point is to see how creative you are in inventing them. The whole first year at the Academy is devoted to boasting."

Irwin frowned. "But how can the students have anything to boast about in the first year?"

Quentin shrugged. "Oh, they don't. That's why a vivid imagination is a prerequisite. Studies have shown that it's best to teach the mannerisms-the tone, inflection, gestures-of braggadocio early. Wait too long and modesty can set in. Even a working hero finds it necessary to exaggerate once in a while, so it helps to get the knack of it when you're young." He checked the hourglass impatiently. "Go ahead, make something up. Borrow a feat from your favorite hero if you must."

Irwin tried to picture himself, only ten years old, beating back goblin hordes. The idea made him smile.

Quentin cleared his throat. "Perhaps a tankard of strong ale would steady your nerves?"

"I'm sorry," Irwin said. "It's just that I prepared some-"

Quentin cued a trumpet player Irwin hadn't noticed before, who let out a deafening blast. "Let's move on to your routine, then."

Irwin jumped. "Er," he began. He decided it would be best to skip the jokes and move straight into his main points. "Well, in my view, a true hero . . . "

"Stop the music!" interrupted Quentin. "All right, son, you're trying my patience. Are you ready to do your routine yet, or do you have something else to say?"

"But saying things is my routine. I prepared a brief monologue on the nature of true heroism."

Quentin stared at him. "The whole point of the audition is to see how impressive you are in motion. Do you want to get into this school or not?"

"Of course I do!" said Irwin. "But-"

"Then stop babbling and swagger!"

Irwin gulped. "But, the thing is, I-a true hero . . . "


Irwin could tell from the glitter in Quentin's eyes that he meant business, and it would have taken a stronger will than his to resist such powerful charisma. The problem was that he couldn't swagger. He'd watched Seymour do it hundreds of times-his chin thrust out, his eyes steely, and his shoulders, eyebrows, elbows, and knees all working together in a complex but seamless rhythm-and he'd even tried it himself, but he'd always felt ridiculous. "The trick is to take yourself completely seriously," Seymour always said. "No smirking, no rolling your eyes. If you don't buy it, how will anybody else?" But Irwin couldn't help imagining that he looked like a monkey, and then Seymour would tell him he did look like one, and the practice session would end in laughter.

Things didn't seem so funny all of a sudden. He cracked his knuckles, breathed deeply, and took a step.

He immediately lost his balance and teetered on one foot, windmilling his arms. "Sorry," he muttered, regaining control and trying again. Although he managed to move forward this time, every part of him seemed to be at odds with another, his elbows competing with his eyebrows, his ankles undermining his knees, his hair falling in his eyes. One by one he brought each element in line, though, until he was surefooted enough to add a little hop.

"What are you doing?" demanded Quentin. "You look like a monkey. Chin up!"

But Irwin's chin wouldn't go any higher. His efforts to force it only made his eyes bulge.

"Now you look like a goose," snapped another committee member. "Toes out!"

"Back straight! Tummy flat! Waggle that rump! Come on, really swing it! Keep time! Elbows out! Elbows back in! Do-si-do! Eyebrows up! Eyebrows down!" The commands came faster and faster. Trying to follow them all at once, Irwin stumbled, did a somersault, and ended up cross-legged on the floor.

"Enough!" barked Quentin. He turned to the others, and they all put their heads together and whispered ferociously. Irwin got to his feet, miserably wishing he hadn't let the pressure get to him. He should have calmly refused to swagger and asked for a chance to explain. Maybe there was still time.

"Where to begin?" said Quentin at last. "Your attitude is not heroic at all. Heroes don't wave and say, 'Hi,' upon entering a room. They glance swiftly at its occupants, quirking their left eyebrows to suggest that they don't think much of what they see. And heroes are not grateful for opportunities...." He rubbed the bridge of his nose. "But the real problem is that your ego seems to be very underdeveloped for your age. You could never keep up with the other boys."

"But why does ego matter?" said Irwin. "I know that boasting and swaggering-and the thing with the eyebrows-are impressive, but they're not necessary to doing good deeds, are they?"

Quentin sighed. "Maybe they weren't long ago, when the world was a more perilous place and people really needed help. But now, because of Mortimer and his generation, we're looking at a serious quest shortage. Most of our graduates will never encounter a villain or a rescue a princess, at least not without waiting in a long line. Everybody wants a true hero, and these mannerisms are the only way to announce your qualifications. Without them you won't get work, and the Academy can't take that risk. We have a reputation to protect. Thank you." He crumpled up Irwin's application form and threw it over his shoulder. "Next."

"A true hero-" began Irwin desperately, but his voice was drowned out by hoof beats as the next applicant came galloping in on a charger, sword raised, and nearly beheaded him. As he hurried out of the way, the committee rose as one man and offered this boy a full scholarship.

"Go right back there and boast your heart out," said Seymour when Irwin told him the sad news. "Tell them it was all a mistake. I can train you to swagger properly in five minutes, if you concentrate, and-"

"But it wasn't a mistake," said Irwin. "If that's what being a hero is all about, then I'm not cut out for it." He sighed. "Even if I could fake my way into the Academy, I wouldn't pass a single ochcourse." He put on a brave smile. "But don't be sad for me. I like caramel, after all. It's not a glorious career, but at least it brings people pleasure."

"But what am I supposed to do without you?" asked Seymour. "I'm liable to lose my sense of humor entirely."

"We can still be friends," Irwin said. "You can come by the shop in the afternoons, and I'll give you all the candy you can eat-unless you're on some wild-boar shank and ale diet, of course."

Seymour smiled wanly at the joke. But they both had a feeling that things would never be the same.

Copyright © 2004 Margaret Gray

This text is from an uncorrected proof.

Meet the Author

Margaret Gray has been reading and writing fairy tales since she was little girl, when her aversion to sports frustrated many gym teachers. She lives with her family in Los Angeles.

Randy Cecil has illustrated a number of highly praised books for children, including Big Day on the River, Dusty Locks and the Three Bears, and Little Red Cowboy Hat. He lives in Houston, Texas.

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Lovesick Salesman 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My daughter and I LOVED this book. It was just as good as the author's first book of these characters: The Ugly Princess and the Wise Fool. Both books were very funny. We were upset when we got to the last page and the book was over!!