Monday, 19 March 2007

The Magic Kitten

I've had to read The Magic Kitten. I had to read it to the very end, even though by Chapter 6 the children were puzzled and wondering where the nasty lions had gone, and even though by Chapter 3 I couldn't stop putting on ever-more ridiculous reading voices. No, we had to finish it. I insisted.

Our verdict? It is rubbish. Penguin, you should be ashamed of yourselves. You've produced the reading equivalent of a bag of E-numbers.

Now I'm going to have a bit of a rant, so if you don't care for rants, please don't read on. But I've got to say these things. I've been set going by this utter drivel.

First E-number, inducing confusion, is the plot. It starts with the Prologue. Here we're introduced to a battle of good and evil between Prince Flame (good) and Uncle Ebony (evil).

'Oh good', all us innocent readers think. Apart from Uncle Ebony's appalling name, presumably given to try and side-step accusations of stereotyping or to disguide a lack of imagination (it fails to do either), we might, in the coming book, witness this battle of good and evil. We might be stunned by an intense tustle of wills; fatigued by a combat between magic forces we can barely sense; perhaps even see a few furry cat claw scratches between Flame and Ebony as they battle to the bloody death.

Well, do we? No. By Chapter 4, we all realise the author has tricked us and betrayed us. There's a bit of jumping about on country lanes in the dark (dramatic tension), seeing a van (spooky, obviously), turning into a cat (surreal), and taking a picture of some criminals poaching deer (the UK's top criminal minds are now shaking in their boots). What a disappointment.

The second E-number is the character of the hero, Prince Flame. In the dramatic start, Cirrus, the advisor to Prince Flame tells him, 'Go far away. Grow strong and wise. Return then, to claim the Lion Throne and rid the land from this terrible evil'.

Well, does Prince Flame fulfil this command and go to gain this strength and wisdom through his experiences in the plot? No. First up, he turns into a fluffy kitten and goes to live on a farm. Second, he does the washing up (because he is a magic cat, of course). Third, he cures the wonky leg of a horse. Fourth, he turns his keeper, Lisa, invisible. Fifth, he nicks a chocolate cake from the local shop. Sixth, he seems to turn Lisa into a cat. Seventh, he can make her finger glow. Then he pushes off back home to his kingdom (location unspecified).

Now how do any of these fulfil that promise in the Prologue? Did we follow his emotional and physical growth into a Lion leader, and see his qualities of wisdom and strength being tested? No. Actually these experiences are there merely to help get his keeper out of a spot of bother with the deer poaching.

The third E-number, inducing drowsiness and dulling of the brain, is the routine, predictable, stereotypical characterisation. We've already met Uncle Black. Sorry, Uncle Ebony. That was a warning. But when we got the Romany grandmother, Violet Wood, (Romany, note, not any common-all-garden gypsy), guess what? She lives in a proper Romany wagon, all decorated with 'fancy carving', 'red and yellow wheels' and 'shiny pots and pans' inside (seen one of those on the country lanes recently?). Granny wears a shawl and she wears hooped gold earings. Well I never would have guessed.

The fourth E-number, inducing hysteria, and a possible side-effect of fitting with laughter, is the policeman, Mike Sanders. He's an E-number all on his own. Now I've lived in a rural area. We visit family who live in a hamlet. And nowhere, not ever, have I ever seen a jolly policeman walk along a country road. Well he does in this book. He walks. Through the countryside. Now which planet does this author live on? Does she share any reality with any of us? Here comes Mike Sanders again. He's popped down to the stream now. Look, he has a twinkle in his eye when he's ticking off the local scallywag.

Fifth E-number. Language. Inducing mind-breaking tedium. If we get another twinkling eye we'll all go mad. How many times can any author use such expressions as 'with a twinkle in her eye' or 'her eyes sparkled'? My goodness, I wish my eyes could twinkle and sparkle. We all sat round practising. After five minutes we all looked like we had eye infections.

I could go on. Penguin, put up a good justification why this drivel should waste paper. Will it be economic? Or will it be that you believe this is in some way improving the reading ability of my children? How much of this stuff do parents have to put up with? I'm almost inclined to start a campaign, Adult Readers Shout Out Against Literary Crap for Children.

But the last word goes to Squirrel. 'It wasn't too good. It had a nice name and it had a nice subject but the writing was rubbish.' That's for the agent who took on Magic Kitten. Squirrel's aged seven. May she be your critic for years to come.

1 comment:

Em said...

strange, have you been editing old posts? Started getting them on my rss again....

anyway, it's funny because I also had to endure Magic Kitten (of the little black variety - I understand there are actually many!!)

I used the tactic of read one chapter, decide it is really really terrible, defer all further reading of it to my mum that comes around to do bedtime stories twice a week.

My children obviously don't have the discerning tastes of yours though, requesting another magic kitten from the library. What a shame we couldn't find any anywhere no matter how hard we looked. (did that sound sincere?)