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A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears

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4.4/5 AbeBooks

Language  English
Pages  180 pp
Originally published  1995
Genre  Children's literature
Illustrator  Jules Feiffer
4.4/5 Goodreads

Country  United States
Publication date  1995
ISBN  978-0-06-205099-1
Author  Jules Feiffer
Publisher  HarperCollins
OCLC  33950950
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Media type  Print (hardback & paperback)
Jules Feiffer books  The Man in the Ceiling, I Lost My Bear, Sick - sick - sick, Backing Into Forward, Kill My Mother: A Graphic

A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears is a children's book written and illustrated by Jules Feiffer, first published in 1995 by HarperCollins. The first edition was a library binding with 180 pages.


WorldCat Identities contains records of seven editions of this book in 765 libraries worldwide


A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears follows the young prince Roger, who haphazardly sets out on a quest to prepare himself to become king. The book expresses the emotions of various individuals through two long-lost lovers reunited, several unlikely couples marrying, and a friend-turned-evil's attempts for revenge. While Roger himself starts out as pure and innocent, he seems somewhat naive and incapable of feeling serious.

The quest, which contains plenty of sad events, gradually brings Roger to a point where he still is humorous, but is caring about specific individuals as opposed to finding shallow humor in everything. The beautiful Princess Petulia, and her servant, likewise, find similar changes in personality through their experiences, as they go from being bitterly indifferent to loving and plainspoken to kinder respectively.

Plot summary

A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears is a fantasy story about a young prince named Roger who has never seen a sad thing in the course of his life. As a result, he is always happy. He also emits a happy radiance that causes people near him to laugh. Determined to have his son sober up to prepare to rule the kingdom, Roger's father, King Whatchimacallit, orders his wizard to train Roger. The wizard sends Roger off on a very mysterious quest (Roger doesn't even know what to look for), leaving him with a bottomless bag of magic powder, used to turn Roger into a random object to keep him from making people helpless with laughter.

Roger sets off into the Forever Forest which, true to its name, is unending. The forest is filled with people who are lost from years of wandering and Roger forgets his quest to amuse them. In this way, he befriends a peasant named Tom, who does not get along well with the book's narrator. The wizard, in an effort to encourage Roger to leave the forest, causes the supply of magic powder to decrease. Roger, in an effort to restart his quest, tries to think of a way to escape the forest and attempts to walk out backwards which, strangely enough, works. Out of the forest, he becomes trapped in the Dastardly Divide, a barren, rock-filled land. He meets a woman called Lady Sadie who is a servant to the Princess Petulia, a woman so beautiful that all who look at her turn to stone, who has been kidnapped by a lonely giant named Philip.

After weeks of starvation, Roger finally uses the last two pinches of powder on himself and Lady Sadie, turning her into a leaf and himself into an egg. He leaps off a cliff and breaks open, turning into an Eagle. Roger believes that Princess Petulia is his quest so he sets off to find her, surviving the terrible Sea of Screams along the way. When he passes through the Valley of Vengeance where, as the name suggests, every one of the inhabitants are constantly seeking revenge against each other, Roger exercises his ability to amuse people to turn the valley into the Valley of Vengeance. After a while, he sees a man attacking another. He is shocked to find that the attacker is Tom, who is angry at Roger for abandoning the people of the Forever Forest.

Roger takes Tom (who refuses to accept any apologies) to the Dastardly Divide for a short time and leaves to find Princess Petulia. As he passes through a mountain range, the mountain throws rocks with messages on them at him. The messages contain various insults, such as insisting that Lady Sadie is dead, Princess Petulia was rescued by someone else, and that Tom would kill him. Roger becomes extremely depressed, however, he uses his power of flight as an eagle to rescue the people trapped in the Forever Forest. He then sets off to rescue the Princess. As he flies along, he turns back into a man over a body of water. He nearly drowns, but is rescued by none other than the Princess who explains how the giant fell sick and that in her grief for Philip's health, she cried so much that she created a vale of tears. She tells Roger that she was reunited with Lady Sadie, but a strange man seeking revenge showed up to kidnap her. Sadie, in disguise as the Princess, was kidnapped instead.

Roger sets off to rescue Sadie and finds her in the clutches of Tom. A boring fight ensues and Sadie finally ends the fight by pretending to remove her mask. Tom is so certain that he'll turn to stone, that he freezes for months, while Roger and Sadie escape. When Tom realizes that he's not a statue, he believes that he escaped turning into a statue by his own power and, having finally scored a goal over Roger, leaves for good. Roger, having fallen in love with Sadie, marries her, realizing that he no longer makes people laugh all of the time. Petulia, who no longer turns everyone to stone, falls in love with Philip and marries him. The wizard shows up at the wedding and tells Roger that the quest was intended to be something entirely different, however Roger ends up with a happy ending anyway.

Publication history

  • Feiffer, Jules (1995). A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 978-0-06-205099-1. 
  • Feiffer, Jules (1995). A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 978-0-06-205098-4. 
  • Feiffer, Jules (1998). A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 978-0-06-205926-0. 
  • Feiffer, Jules (2001). A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears. Prince Frederick: Recorded Books, LLC. ISBN 978-1-4025-1961-1. 
  • Feiffer, Jules (2001). A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears. Prince Frederick: Recorded Books, LLC. ISBN 978-0-7887-5344-2. 
  • Feiffer, Jules (2001). A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears. Prince Frederick: Recorded Books, LLC. ISBN 978-0-7887-5376-3. 
  • Feiffer, Jules (2003). Der Fluch Des Lachens. München: Omnibus. ISBN 978-3-570-21081-9.  (German language)
  • References

    A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears Wikipedia

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