CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 16 . . . . April 13, 2001
"Master Flood." Mr. Mirific had now turned his attention to Fathom. "I'm so glad you could drip drop in. Still wet behind the ears, I see."The adventure begins when Olivier goes to spend his summer vacation at Cat's Eye Corner, the very strange home of his grandfather and his grandfather's even stranger third wife, Sylvia de Whosit of Whatsit. Cat's Eye Corner is a maze of hallways opening onto curious rooms of various sizes and shapes, which not only seem to relocate themselves, but change their contents and appearance as well. Olivier's initial plan is to do some exploring and spying on his mysterious new step-step-stepgramma, but he ends up chasing through the Drak Woulds (formerly the Dark Woods before the Inklings tinkered with them), on a somewhat scary, and even more confusing, scavenger hunt for such items as a hagoday, skipjack, doit, and brain coral. Aided by his trusty sidekick, Murray Shaeffer - a feisty free-spirited fountain pen, Olivier searches for the Inklings who have been tampering with words, much to the chagrin of the cats who have changed from pets to poets, as a result. In the process, Olivier gathers the strange items on his scavenger hunt list and encounters a menagerie of bizarre characters, including the woodwose, Mr. Mirific, Sylvan Blink, and Ashley, the firedog.
Though Terry Griggs is a native of Ontario, her latest novel has a definite British flavour, reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter. Cat's Eye Corner is very cleverly written. However, since much of the fun is derived from word play, witty nomenclature, and allusions to classical literature, it is doubtful that the audience for whom the novel is intended will understand much of the humour. Most ten and eleven year olds aren't familiar with fountain pens, and even if they know what they are, they certainly won't understand the references to Shaeffer, Waterman, and Parker. The Inklings are in the centre of the action yet, without explanation, a young reader will probably not pick up on Griggs' glib use of them. Having been changed to poets, the cats have names such as Edgar, Allan, Poe, and Bliss, but will youngsters recognize the allusion to the famous poets? Olivier argues the merits of Treasure Island and Kidnapped, but most children his age will be unfamiliar with those novels, primarily because the language and manner in which they are written make reading too difficult.
In writing Cat's Eye Corner, Griggs seems to have two messages to impart. The first is an admonition to value and pass on the wonder of words, language, and literature to the next generation. Excellent idea. The second is less universal, and is achieved through some heavy-handed symbolism. The villain of the story, Mr. Mirific, is motivated by a need to be the 'best' at everything, achieving those ends through less than honorable means. He is eventually brought down by a troupe of bunglers called the So-So Gang, who are symbolic of the average child. Griggs' is probably trying to make the point that a person doesn't have to be the 'greatest' to have value but, unfortunately, the message comes across as "Strive for Mediocrity".
Cat's Eye Corner is like an electric toy train. It is intended for children, but it is the adults who derive the greatest pleasure from it. Nevertheless, its inclusion a school library will provide a change of pace for more advanced readers.
Recommended with Reservations.
Kristin Butcher, a former teacher who has endured the disheartening experience of teaching Treasure Island to thirteen-year-olds, lives in Victoria and writes for children.
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