Beware geeks bearing gifts

laboratory

Diana Wynne Jones The Ogre Downstairs
Harper Collins Children’s Books 2010 (1974)

Caspar, Johnny, and Gwinny’s mother Sally remarries, creating a state of affairs made especially fraught when their new stepfather Jack is both taciturn and strict. But the two stepbrothers – Malcolm and Douglas – help turn sibling rivalry into all-out conflict, compounded by Jack’s gift of two chemistry sets with some very unusual properties, one to one of Sally’s boys and the other to one of his own.

This riff on Jack and the Beanstalk is one of Diana Wynne Jones’ best standalone fantasy titles, dating from 1974. The twists come from the fact that the character of the giant (here nicknamed the Ogre) is “downstairs” and not up the sky as in the fairytale, and that it’s the Ogre whose name is Jack and not the hero of the tale. Continue reading “Beware geeks bearing gifts”