Duffy and the Devil was a popular play in Cornwall in
the nineteenth century, performed at the Christmas season by groups
of young people who went from house to house. The Zemachs have
interpreted the folk tale which the play dramatized, recognizable
as a version of the widespread Rumpelstiltskin story. Its main
themes are familiar, but the character and details of this picture
book are entirely Cornish, as robust and distinctive as the
higgledy-piggledy, cliff-hanging villages that dot England''s
southwestern coast from Penzance to Land''s End.
The language spoken by the Christmas players was a rich mixture of
local English dialect and Old Cornish (similar to Welsh and
Gaelic), and something of this flavor is preserved in Harve
Zemach''s retelling. Margot Zemach''s pen-and-wash illustrations
combine a refined sense of comedy with telling observation of
character, felicitous drawing with decorative richness, to a degree
that surpasses her own past accomplishments.
Duffy and the Devil is a 1973 New York Times Book
Review Notable Children''s Book of the Year and Outstanding Book of
the Year, a 1974 National Book Award Finalist for Children''s
Books, and the winner of the 1974 Caldecott Medal.