Is Dennis the Menace* an irritating and unfunny comic about a mildly mischievous yellow-haired kid with stupid parents and a perpetually grumpy neighbour...
...or is it an accurate record of the life and times of the boy who will one day grow up to become Geoffrey Chaucer's Pardoner?
I think we all know the answer to that question.
Regard Dennis in the panel below. This small child, who has been established in at least one previous comic as too young to read, is here sharply quizzing his father on the meaning of the word "purse." Asks Dennis: is "purse" just a word? Does it have only a symbolic meaning? Or is this gentleman, in fact, in the process of winning a purse full of cold, hard cash?
Dennis can certainly be seen here as hot in pursuit of the American Dream,** but the comic becomes much more poignant when one realises that he is actually a portrait of the infant Pardoner, learning for the first time that money is really at the centre of everything. The sly look on his face belies the seeming innocence of the question. "Oh, yes," Dennis is thinking, "there had better be money in that thing. Otherwise, it is all a lie. A lie! Hmm...perhaps I can use that." As his chubby hand grasps the golf club, a plan begins to form in his mind. He knows that greed is essential to human wellbeing...but what will happen if he goes around telling people that it is the root of all evil? Why...all the money in all the purses in all the world may just be up for grabs! Dennis smirks and bides his time. Someday...somehow...all your purse are belong to him.***
The comic thus serves as a telling episode from the Pardoner's childhood. It gives us insight into the man's character while also highlighting the fact of his certain encroaching damnation. Its complexity should take your breath away.****
*Good lord...I misspelled "Dennis" as "Denace"...and I just now (about nine hours later) noticed and fixed it. I must have been awfully tired this morning.
**"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Sob.
***Sorry. Sorry. It is not grammatical because it is a stupid Internet reference. Resistance, unfortunately, was futile.
****Plus possibly much of your sanity.