Diana Wynne Jones John Fuller - Essay

John Fuller

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Folk-magic] is tricky to set up. In The Ogre Downstairs … Diana Wynne Jones goes to town on something far more practical: a magic chemistry set. Caspar, Johnny and Gwinny feel oppressed by their new stepbrothers and irritable stepfather: the magic experiments at once liberate them and bring them further into opposition (the stepbrothers have a magic set, too). This may not sound like anything very much, but the adventures are beautifully propelled and sustained by Mrs Wynne Jones's imagination, working much on the level of [H. G.] Wells's Magic Shop. Who could resist animated toffee bars that seek the warmth of a radiator and melt, eat sweaters and can't easily be drowned? The children fly, shrink and change colour, but none of this seems overdone: the physical consequences of each experiment are described in ingenious detail, and the last episode involving Dragon's Teeth warriors in the shape of crash-helmeted toughs who mushroom up from the ground talking joke-Greek ('Λετμι αττεμ') is a fine stroke. Having found the fantasy in her first book [Wilkin's Tooth] a little breathless and uncontrolled, I am happy to report that The Ogre Downstairs is an unqualified success. (p. 738)

John Fuller, "Schemers," in New Statesman (© 1974 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 87, No. 2253, May 24, 1974, pp. 738-39.∗