GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

September 6, 2012

Back to the 'Bong-tree'

Gail McCarthy
Staff Writer

---- — The 1871 nonsense poem “The Owl and The Pussycat” blossomed into another creation in the mind of a local writer and artist who has now written a book about the later generations of this interspecies couple, delivering with it a humorous and colorful message on tolerance.

In the poem by England’s Edward Lear (1812-1888), one line states that the owl and the pussycat “sailed away, for a year and a day, to the land where the Bong-tree grows.”

The owl and cat, who were madly in love, found the island and were married there and “they danced by the light of the moon” in the happily-ever-after poem.

With these and other verses in mind, Gloucester’s Ellen “EJ” Lefavour takes the story on to its natural evolution in her book “Tales of Bong Tree Island: Interviews with Descendants of The Owl and The Pussycat.” She calls it a story for the inner child in everyone.

“As a middle class white woman who was married to a Jamaican Rastafarian, I understand well the challenges faced by ‘The Owl and The Pussycat’ and others whose friends, lovers or spouses are from another race, religion, culture (or species it sometimes feels), as well as those in same-sex relationships,” she said. “I learned so much about how people are effected by differences but don’t need to be.”

Not only did Lefavour write and publish the 122-page book; she also created the art for the 26 illustrations, many which hang in her gallery called the Khan Studio on Madfish wharf.

Lefavour, who lived four years in Jamaica when she was married, described her book as a historical fantasy that spins the background and history of Barney (the owl) and Caterina (the pussycat).

“Being a mixed couple, the owl and the pussycat were subjected to interspecies relationship discrimination in their native Ramsgate, England. They were forced to sail away to find a home where they could be free to love, marry and have their offspring without fear of discrimination,” said Lefavour laying out the background of her tale.

When they arrived on Bong Tree Island, they found themselves face to face with many creatures that clearly were the product of unions of different species, such as the hedgepiggywigs, hummingbunnybirds and painted manaturtles.

Lefavour tells the story through a series of interviews with the owlpusses, who are the descendants of Barney and Caterina, conducted by a character in the book named Martine Bates from Gloucester, who is a world-renowned explorer.

Bates is sent on an expedition by the Queen of England who is trying to find a long lost friend who went in search of the island in 1906 and never returned. For the illustrations of Martine Bates, Lefavour used her high school photo to create this image.

With the help of a pod of dolphins leading the way, “after a year and a day,” Martine Bates reaches Bong Tree Island, which is located in the center of the Bermuda Triangle. On her expedition, Bates learns the history and genealogy of the owl and the pussycat, as well as the intricacies of the fauna and flora of Bong Trees Island.

“The book chronicles her travel adventures, including many lessons that could only be imparted by creatures such as owlpusses and hedgepiggywigs,” said the author.

“I hope that in a lighthearted and fun way, this book can help break down barriers that keep us from loving and respecting each other just as we are unique and unrepeatable miracles of the universe. We have much to learn from the wisdom of the Owlpusses.”

The book so far has been a hit with its readers, including Gloucester’s Karen Ristuben who read the book this past weekend.

“This is a brilliant story and project,” said Ristuben. “It’s amazing to me how she takes a poem that we all knew as kids and continues the story with amazing humor and her imagination is crazy fun with a great message. She was able to develop the themes and the characters and the geography in short chapters, and it was very effective. It’s a special gift that she has given to us.”

Lefavour has been a professional painter, photographer and writer since 1990 when she left the corporate world in which she worked in the field of risk management for a large real estate company. She now runs a gallery on historic Rocky Neck in Gloucester and is a regular contributor to the GoodMorningGloucester blog.

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Gail McCarthy may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3445 or gmccarthy@gloucestertimes.com.

Bong Tree Island What : Gloucester's Ellen "EJ" Lefavour holds a book launch of "Tales of Bong Tree Island: Interviews with Descendants of The Owl and The Pussycat." When : Saturday and Sunday, from noon to 4 p.m., followed by a Kickstarter backer reward party on Sunday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Where : Khan Studio at 77 Rocky Neck Ave., in Gloucester Events are free and open to the public. For more information, call 857-891-9054, or visit www.khanstudiointernational.com.