chapter  17
“The Attack of the Inedible Hunk!”: Food, Language, and Power in the Captain Underpants Series
Pages 14

The creamy candied carrots clobbered the kindergarteners. The fatty fried fi sh fritters fl ipped onto the fi rst graders. The sweet-n-sour spaghetti squash splattered the second graders. Three thousand thawing thimbleberries thudded the third graders. Five hundred frosted fudgy fruitcakes fl ogged the fourth graders. And fi fty-fi ve fi stfuls of fancy French-fried frankfurters fl attened the fi fth graders. (Pilkey, Wrath 66-67)

Food play and linguistic play in Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books are connected through excess: food fl ies and alliterations abound. Indeed, those moments in the series that are the most over-the-top in terms of the grotesque are also those moments when the language is most playful: alliteration, assonance, consonance, rhyme, puns, parody, and, of course, onomatopoeia all feverishly combine with images of food that is thrown, worn, squashed, stepped on, splattered, or transformed into a monstrous blob (the “inedible hunk”) that devours the gym teacher. Food features prominently in this series for beginning readers, but it is rarely eaten. It is used as a tool to gross out or to humiliate adult characters; it is a focal point for linguistic playfulness; and it is a source of much of the carnivalesque humor in the books. Food functions differently in these books than it does at the dinner table. Foods that please the child characters in the books are precisely those of which adults disapprove (ice cream, cake, and gummy worm sandwiches); food that is fl ung for comic effect is chosen for its color, texture, and sound effect potential (butterscotch pudding); and food that is used for linguistic play is chosen for the delicious sounds the food words make as they pour from the mouth of the reader: say “fi fty-fi ve fi stfuls of fancy French-fried frankfurters fl attened the fi fth graders” three times fast.