Book Review: Don’t Fear This Boggart

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I have been a fan of Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence for a long time.  The Boggart is the first of her other books that I’ve had the opportunity to read.  The Boggart, like The Dark Is Rising Sequence, blends ancient legends—frequently lesser-known legends—with a modern world.

The world of The Boggart is a smaller world of smaller problems and lesser fates than that of The Dark of Rising, however.  The modern world of The Boggart is also more modern than that of The Dark Is Rising, in fact having been written 15 years after The Silver on the Tree.  Technology and specifically computers evolved rapidly between the late 70s and the early 90s, and this evolution is reflected in the worlds and plots created by Cooper.

The emphasis on technology in The Boggart does date the book, as I have read other reviews complain, but I do not think that this is a fault of the book, however much I giggled at the Gang of Five’s excitement over the new font Garamond that they had pirated, and told them, perhaps aloud, “Just wait till you see Papyrus;” a dated book is not an irrelevant book.  As we grow more and more dependent on rapidly changing technology our books are going to be more and more rapidly dated, but we can still cheer Odysseus’ triumph over the suitors as much as we can Salander’s revenge on Bjurman (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson, 2005).

The Boggart was a little slow to start.  I really wasn’t grabbed by the book till the Boggart started wrecking havoc in Toronto; then the Old began to mix with new technology and modern explanations and philosophy, and I was hooked.  A psychology student and fantasy-lover, I was especially interested by Dr. Stigmore’s misinterpretation of the Boggart as a “poltergeist manifestation,” a troubled child who develops telekinesis, an explosion of pent-up energy.  I’ve never heard this theory before but was glad to hear someone mention poltergeists as Cooper’s depiction of a boggart really read more to me like a poltergeist from all I know—but all I’ve known of boggarts previously is from Harry Potter, and that may not be the most reliable source (a quick bit of research makes me think that neither Cooper’s nor Rowling’s depictions are entirely true to legend, though Cooper’s, as I would expect, seems closer).

I was a little upset by the inclusion—however minor—of a romantic subplot.  It seemed unnecessary, there simply because a boy and girl can’t meet and be friends in fiction without feeling or wishing for something more.  However my own work might conform to this same idea, I wish it was a stereotype that we could overcome, and I think Cooper had a great opportunity to do so here.  However, romance and romantic feelings are a fact of life and young people are curious.  I will let the romantic subplot slide.  While Emily and Tommy might be interested in one another, at least no one accuses them of sexual practice, which is a whole other depth to this same stereotype.

As ever, Cooper’s command of language is wonderful with stunning imagery and well-chosen details that add to the story’s depth.

****

Cooper, Susan.  The Boggart.  New York: Scholastic, 1993.

This review is not endorsed by Susan Cooper, Scholastic, or Margaret K McElderry Books, or Macmillan Publishing Company (the latter two of these own the original copyrights).  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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