Volume 21 Number 6
Renowned children's author Susan Cooper returns to the fantasy genre with her latest novel, The Boggart. Set partly in Scotland and partly in Toronto, it reveals how an otherwise ordinary Canadian family comes to possess an ancient and mischievous spirit.
When they unexpectedly inherit a Scottish castle, Emily's family decides to visit Castle Keep and view their legacy in person. While her parents arrange for the sale of the castle, Emily and her computer-wiz brother befriend Tommy, a local boy who happily avails himself of Jess's computer expertise. But as they are leaving, Emily inadvertently locks the castle's resident boggart into the charming rolltop desk she is allowed to keep, and thereby transports him from his old, familiar haunts to a modern, urban environment.
Not being well versed in Scottish mythology, Emily's family does not recognize the antics of an "old thing" and blame each other for all the odd occurrences that ensue. Gleeful at having a new family to play tricks on, the displaced boggart begins to investigate the possibilities presented by the strange surroundings.
The result is both humorous and alarming, as his little tricks escalate from minor nuisances to major problems for his adoptive family. As any parent knows, curiosity and electricity don't mix; the boggart's irresponsible integration of childish pranks and electronic technology proves to be a dangerous combination.
The children eventually catch on to the boggart, and realize that it is up to them to rectify the situation. In a satisfying resolution, they enlist Tommy's help in Scotland and employ the boggart's fascination with computer technology as an innovative means of returning him to his rightful place.
The interplay of the wild magic of Scottish origin and the "new magic" of electronic technology underlines the balance between contemporary and fantastic fiction achieved in this novel. As in Janet Lunn's Shadow in Hawthorn Bay, elements of Scottish mythology are transposed to a Canadian landscape, and, while the boggart is slightly more appropriate to the everyday magic of our times, the ground is again too barren to allow the germination of a tradition deeply rooted in Scotland's cultural history.
Incidentally, the attractive dust jacket by Trina Schart Hyman accurately reflects the content of the novel and invites readers to pick it up — they won't be disappointed.
Alison Mews is Coordinator of the Centre for Instructional Services in the Faculty of Education at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's, Newfoundland
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