BLACKSBURG, VA—Scholars and critics across the country expressed outrage this week following the release of Chomper & Clomper, a children's book that some have called an irresponsible and exploitative portrayal of the celebrated friendship between Clomper, a Brandenburger gelding, and Chomper, a caterpillar of the Junonia genus.
The 22-page picture book, in which author Gerard Radler examines the pair's relationship, has quickly gained notoriety in literary circles, with detractors claiming the work oversimplifies the nuanced nature of the unlikely friendship and glosses over or omits a number of contentious incidents between the two.
"If we're to believe Mr. Radler, Chomper spent every day in an old oak tree by a sunny meadow without a care in the world, the ever-faithful Clomper neighing contentedly at his side," said historian Donald McFarlane, who has written extensively about the duo's relationship in the context of post-Vietnam-era ethical discourse. "Certainly the two frequented this spot; but what of their sometimes bitter intellectual rivalry, or their wildly disparate notions concerning things as fundamental as how life ought to be lived?"
"The author takes their friendship for granted and entirely misses the greater point: that Clomper, in many ways puritanical and dogmatic, and Chomper, the moral hedonist, were able to forge such a tender, lasting bond at all," McFarlane continued. "To reduce their hard-won mutual respect to something as simple as 'Chomper and Clomper both loved to eat juicy green leaves' is certainly reckless, and possibly criminal."
McFarlane also maintained that Mr. Ears, a cottontail rabbit sourced throughout the book, is actually a composite of two separate rabbits—Mrs. Carrots and James Pulaski—who are not even mentioned in the book despite the significant roles they played in the events depicted.
Other scholars have questioned what they called Radler's "baffling disregard" of pertinent source material.
According to biographer Leslie Ruhl, the substantial photographic record from the summer of 1976 is completely absent from Chomper & Clomper, replaced by banal, bright watercolors that bear little resemblance to the subjects or situations they represent.
"Only one crudely rendered page is dedicated to Chomper's self-imposed cocoon exile—the six-week period that most serious critics consider to be the crux of the pair's entire history together," Ruhl said. "Though Radler does manage to capture some of Clomper's despair and sadness during the absence of his dearest friend, he ends the book with Chomper bursting forth from his chrysalis as a beautiful butterfly, giving no treatment whatsoever to the grim aftermath of this transformation."
Ruhl added that Radler's most appalling oversight was his omission of Chomper's subsequent abandonment of his equine friend to live out his life on the Baja peninsula, and Clomper's resulting descent into madness.
"If Mr. Radler ever cares to provide a real, unflinching account, I have several photos I can lend him of Clomper toward the end of his life: wild-eyed, deathly thin, and covered in his own manure," Ruhl said.
Many have accused Radler of being motivated by profit, since the book's release coincided with the 30th anniversary of Clomper's apparent suicide from eating a patch of poisonous mountain laurel. Radler, however, vehemently denied such charges.
"I just wanted to use the story of Chomper and Clomper to show what it means to be a loyal friend," Radler said. "To me, that's the most important lesson this horse and caterpillar could ever teach us."
Those who doubt Radler's intentions cite the questionable timing of his last project, 2007's Sweeps & Scooper, an account of the famed working relationship of the eponymous broom and dustpan published just one month after the two perished in a house fire.