I was reading a lovely old Magaret Mahy book (it’s a children’s book) called ‘BLOOD AND THUNDER ADVENTURES ON HURRICANE PEAK’. It’s a delightful absurdity about the Unexpected School on Hurricane Peak above the great city of of Hookywalker. The villain of the piece is Sir Quincy Judd-Sprocket, a wicked industrialist (and former scholar of the Unexpected School) and the weighty and weasely hench-villains Amadeus and Voltaire Shoddy. The heroes include the famous inventress Belladona Doppler, and her cousin somewhat removed Heathcliff Warlock, not to mention the Headmistress, Mrs Thoroughgood.
Okay, so you want to read it already, just based on the names, and the tone they set. They tell the reader, immediately, quite a lot about the book (as does the title). It’s just fun, it’s clever, with Mahy popping in bits that the adult audience (who, after all, buy most children’s books) will pick up on and laugh about. This does not detract from the pace of the story or the delights of the various implausible inventions and scenes. Or the talking cats… It is a good story, if you’re 8 or 80 and quite a lot in between.
Of course, before you go looking, it’s out of print. The audio – which I had for my kids – and heard far too many times – was on cassette tape, it was that long ago. But the book remains evergreen (and unlike, it seems, the college, a good investment for parents).
As we are in the trade of writing books which we’d like people to say this about… well, maybe it is worth considering just what is so attractive about the book. Several things struck me (well thrown, chaps!) the first being that it is openly escapist, light-hearted, cheerful, and funny. It IS what it purports to be. There may be an under-layer but that’s is not thrust into the foreground.
The second is that the book was clearly intended to appeal… to adults AND to children. If you think that is easy, try it. Most of the recent efforts I’ve seen are targeted to very woke adults, assuming kids will read anything.
The third thing that stuck me about it all was the cheerful use of stereotypes – all with a twist. They were all recognizable caricatures. Ones we liked, even though even small children know they’re not real. Down to very names of the characters, they made it really quick and easy to identify just who the good, bad and intermediate were and allowed the author to inject her brand of humor into them. I’ve read the book aloud to my kids and had to suffer through Voltaire Shoddy’s turning all the words backwards or into spoonerisms A pink letter with gold ink becomes a Gink with pold ink, and rubbish bin becomes a bubbish rin… The kids loved me falling over my tongue as much as they laughed at the results of the letter swaps.
Anyway, it has left me desiring more blood-and-thunder adventures, as they’re very good at distancing me from ‘interesting times’. And sadly Margaret Mahy is dead. So I guess I’ll just have to write my best efforts that comply to what I found good.