Monday, September 25, 2006

The Boggart; The Boggart and the Monster - Susan Cooper

To Harry Potter fans unfamiliar with Celtic mythology, a Boggart is a shape-shifter that takes on the form of its intended victim's worst fear. Generally it likes to hide in dark, enclosed places, such as in cupboards, under beds, or in hollow trees. Those who are familiar with Celtic mythology will be aware that a boggart (or bogart, bogan, bogle or boggle - the name and spelling varies depending where you are) is a household spirit that's generally mischievous, but never malicious. In Susan Cooper's The Boggart and its sequel, The Boggart and the Monster, the eponymous Boggart has lived in a Scottish castle for centuries, harmlessly making mischief (stealing apples or ice cream) and shape-shifting into different forms (such as a seal). However, when old Devon MacDevon dies at the age of 102, the castle is inherited by the Volnik family, modern Canadians who know nothing about boggarts and their ways. They travel to Scotland to inspect their rather decrepit property and whilst they're there, the Boggart decides to take a nap inside a roll-top desk, which young Emily Volnik has fallen in love with, right before the desk is shipped back to Toronto.

When the desk arrives at the Volnik family home, the Boggart begins his usual tricks and games, stealing slices of pizza, finishing glasses of milk, moving objects around the house, until each member of the family (Emily has a 10 year old brother named Jessup) is blaming the others for what is going on. The children eventually discover who the culprit is, thanks to Willie Walker, a Scottish actor who performs at the children's father's Toronto theatre. Willie knows all about boggarts and he tells Emily about theirs. Unfortunately, the Boggart's mischievous tricks soon spin out of control and become dangerous when he throws some of the furniture around in Emily's mother's antique shop (in front of a psychiatrist) and then plays with the electricity controlling the traffic lights and Emily gets knocked down by a car. The psychiatrist is convinced that Emily's is causing furniture to fly around as a result of telekinesis, caused by her teenage anger (even though Emily is a cheerful girl) and wants to take her to his psychiatric unit to observe her. Fortunately her parents reject this suggestion, at least temporarily and Emily goes back home. Jessup rings Tommy Cameron, the Scottish lad who was friendly with Devon MacDevon (and whose mother runs the only shop near the MacDevon Castle) to ask if it's possible to get rid of the Boggart, which Tommy says is impossible, but fortunately the Boggart himself decides that he wants to go home, communicating this to Emily and Jessup through Jessup's computer. However, it's not easy to send a Boggart back to Scotland, but they manage to hit on a solution.

My only problem with this book is that Jessup is supposedly a computer whizzkid, but Cooper clearly knew little about computers when she wrote the book and although she acknowledges the help of her son Jonathan and one Michael Wishan with the "computalk", the computer-related elements of the story are shaky, at best !

In the sequel, The Boggart and the Monster, which is set back in the Highlands of Scotland, the Boggart of MacDevon Castle, has been spending his days happily playing tricks on the new owner of the castle, old Devon MacDevon's lawyer, Mr Maconochie, who bought Castle Keep from Emily and Jessup's father. Emily's father decides to spend some of the money he got from Mr Maconochie on a trip to Scotland so that he can visit the Edinburgh Festival. His wife goes with him, but Emily and Jessup go off to stay at Castle Keep, and reacquaint themselves with the Boggart. On the flight over from Toronto, Jessup makes friends with Professor Harold Pindle who has written a book about the Loch Ness Monster. Harold is flying over to head up a scientific exploration of Loch Ness using Remotely Operated Vehicles equipped with all sorts of technology that will allow him and his team to see just what is in the Loch.

Mr Maconochie offers to take Emily and Jessup, and Tommy Cameron, on a camping trip, and Jessup begs him to take them to Loch Ness. Unbeknownst to them all, the Boggart gets packed in with the camping gear and goes on the trip too. He discovers his cousin, Nessie, whom he hasn't seen for centuries, sleeping miles down in the murky waters of Loch Ness. The Boggart wants Nessie to move to Castle Keep with him, since the Urquhart (pronounced Erkut) family no longer live at Castle Urquhart (and haven't done since the English blew it up in a dispute with the Scots). He finds he must enlist the help of a few human friends to get Nessie back to his beloved Castle Keep. Unfortunately Harold Pindle and his team of scientists are hot on their trail, after Nessie reveals himself in his gigantic Monster form, and getting Nessie back to Castle Keep is not an easy task.

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