Jumanji and Polar Express Author Sells Another to Hollywood

Moviegoers who loved Jumanji and Polar Express can expect another film based on the work of author Chris Van Allsburg. Film rights for The Mysteries Of Harris Burdick were recently acquired by Disney/Fox who created both of those previous Van Allsburg works.

Disney/Fox also secured rights to two other Van Allsburg works last year: Allsburg’s debut work, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, and last year it acquired The Sweetest Fig for Paul Feig.

But it is the Harris Burdick project, originally published in 1984, that has the best pedigree and is creating the largest buzz. From Deadline Hollywood:

The book deals with a mysterious man (Harris Burdick) who submits to a publisher a series of fantastical drawings each with a brief caption. Burdick promises to return with the full stories the next day but is never seen again. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick encourages the reader to invent his or her own story to explain each drawing. The best selling book has become core curriculum for high school creative writing classes around the country.

What has enchanted readers for decades is Allsburg’s set up to the book, where he introduces the story of Harris Burdick. Though there are sources that say there is no doubt, I’m still not certain there ever was a Harris Burdick. But Allsburg begins:

I first saw the drawings in this book a year ago, in the house of a man named Peter Wenders. Though Mr. Wenders is retired now, he once worked for a children’s book publisher, choosing the stories and pictures that would be turned into books. Thirty years ago a man called at Peter Wenders’ office, introducing himself as Harris Burdick. Mr. Burdick explained that he had written fourteen stories and had drawn many pictures for each one. He’d brought with him just one drawing from each story, to see if Wenders liked his work.

Peter Wenders was fascinated by the drawings. He told Burdick he would like to read the stories that went with them as soon as possible. The artist agreed to bring the stories the next morning. He left the fourteen drawings with Wenders. But he did not return the next day. Or the day after that. Harris Burdick was never heard from again. Over the years, Wenders tried to find out who Burdick was and what had happened to him, but he discovered nothing. To this day, Harris Burdick remains a complete mystery.

Allsburg’s “recreated” drawings are as enchanting as that foundation story, every one alive with whiffs of mysterious possibility. I can’t wait to see the film! ◊

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About Linda L. Richards 63 Articles
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.

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