BEHAVIOR

The quest for a golden hare

SHONA MCKAY March 2 1981
BEHAVIOR

The quest for a golden hare

SHONA MCKAY March 2 1981

The quest for a golden hare

BEHAVIOR

SHONA MCKAY

From Tokyo, Rome, Vancouver and Auckland the treasure hunters come, drawn by the lure of gold and rubies, turquoise and mother-of-pearl. They have been known to scale the mast of the Cutty Sark at Greenwich, eye “the iron grid between the North Wall and the Victorian brass” in Westminster Abbey and founder on the rocky cliffs of Cornwall. All have been brought to their sundry destinations through various degrees of obsession with a picture book entitled Masquerade.

Written and illustrated by British

artist Kit Williams, Masquerade tells the story of a hare who is entrusted with the task of delivering a gift of love from the Moon to the Sun but manages to lose the valuable present. Which would be the end of the story were it not for the fact that the lost treasure — a 51/2-inch hare fashioned by Williams from precious metals and jewels worth up to $56,000 — is real, and the clues to its whereabouts can be found within the pages of the book.

Since Masquerade was first published in November, 1979, it has sold close to a million copies worldwide. The commercial success of the book, coupled with the British press’ continuing fasci-

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nation with reporting the more bizarre endeavors of the thousands of treasure hunters, has generated a noisy controversy that belies Masquerade’s seeming innocence.

Among the enemies of the book’s hero, Jack Hare, are landowners who are beleaguered by a flow of tireless hunters attracted to property that resembles Williams’ illustrations. Cherry-Ann Knott, curator of the Museum of Childhood in Derbyshire, which is unmistakably rendered in the book, speaks of “the damage done to the grounds by people armed with crowbars and the countless inquiries after golden hares.” Another group, although also disapproving of Masquerade, might long for Knott’s drawing power: the church. More than one village parson has voiced his concern about families of parishioners who have traded in their Bibles and Sunday service for spades and a dig in the woods.

As if the wrath of God were not enough, Masquerade has come up against the moral indignation of certain reviewers. Elaine Moss, writing in the British digest Signal, says that “the sales gimmick that accompanied the launching of this book and continues to sell it is an affront.”

Moss’s fears that the treasure idea behind the book will lead to a wave of exploitation recently found affirmation

in Ottawa. In January, the Ottawa Citizen, as part of a promotion campaign inspired by Masquerade, ran a series of daily cartoons in which the attentive and consistent reader could find clues as to the location of eight gold wafers (worth about $5,500) that were hidden “somewhere in the Ottawa area.” But The Citizen wasn’t as obscure as Williams; after four clues, the prize was found by a Carleton University student. The clues to the second version of the

promotion are more sophisticated. “This time, we are being more devious,” says Ben Babelowsky, Citizen promotion manager. “There are more red herrings. I’ve found it’s easy to manipulate people and send them all over the city. When they reach the locations, they often find that hundreds of people have had the same idea.”

But for every disgruntled property owner, lonely priest and wary critic, Masquerade has a thousand fans — its readers. An enthusiastic example is Ken Rudeen, assistant managing editor of Sports Illustrated, who equipped himself “with a soup spoon from Marks & Spencer and a bicycle” and made Masquerade “an interesting and entertaining part of a vacation trip to England.”

The enjoyment that Rudeen and countless others derive from“Masquerading”is shared by its author, Williams. Described by his New York publishers as “wonderful from the tips of his handpainted green shoes to his red beard to his two eyes which look off in opposite directions,” Williams is amused by the seriousness that has come to surround his creation. With tongue in bearded cheek, he quotes the last two lines from Masquerade: “The best of men is only a man at best, and a hare, as everyone knows, is only a hare.”

-SHONA MCKAY