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Back in the third Measle adventure, Measle and the Mallockee, we caught a glimpse of something shapeless, slimy, and very, very dangerous. Now that something is on the move.
Its name is the Slitherghoul. For centuries it has been locked up in an underground cell, guarded and studied by wizards, but mostly left alone. No one knows what evil spell created it, but only that it absorbed its creator, a young apprentice wizard named Sheepshank. Then, one day the Slitherghoul escapes from its cell and absorbs the guard and all the prisoners in the holding cells – including the evil warlock Toby Jugg and a bunch of demented wrathmonks, all of whom hate Measle Stubbs and his family.
Absorbed, but not killed, these nasties become the Slitherghoul’s eyes, ears, and brain. Together they steer a slimy course toward Merlin Manor, where Measle, Iggy, and Nurse Flannel have been left alone (not counting a feeble security presence) while Measle’s parents and baby sister are attending a meeting in Antarctica. The boy’s plans to dig a swimming pool are cut short by the arrival of a monstrous blob with the combined consciousness of all his worst enemies. The next thing he knows, he is alone, being chased around and through and over his house by a creature that has already devoured his nanny, his dog, and his best friend.
But don’t you worry about old Measle. He has some tricks up his sleeve. Even in a world full of magical beings like warlocks and wrathmonks, leave it to one ordinary boy with no magical powers at all to take charge of a situation. Or is he so ordinary, after all? In fact, isn’t Measle an unusually clever, resourceful, and daring kid? He’s a real fighter, too. And as he fights to get his friends back, he proves to be more than his slimy wrathmonk foes bargained for. As always.
This fourth Measle book continues the amazingly entertaining verbal dance by an actor, author, and playwright who has never missed a step yet. Ogilvy is sure to please young readers, and listeners younger still, in this tale and the others that go with it. He has fastened upon one of the secrets that have made Harry Potter so successful: a truly admirable boy hero who, for all his grubbiness and smelliness and vulnerability, has the maturity to hold his tongue rather than argue, the courage to face his worst fears, and the wisdom to value and befriend people whom others might call worthless. Harry didn’t reach that point until Book 6; Measle is already there.
Sure, this is lighter fare, aimed at tickling the ribs of a younger circle of readers than, say, the last three Harry Potter books. The enemies are much sillier, and Measle’s sidekick Iggy is downright childlike. Yet there is serious spookiness and danger in this story, and several characters come to a gruesome end. Nevertheless, with no magic of his own, our Measle survives many magical menaces, and does so mainly on the strength of his wits. There is something awfully grown-up about that. It’s as if Ian Ogilvy wants every child who reads his books to believe that, even in a world full of mysteries and powers beyond their comprehension, they have it in themselves to triumph and succeed. If young readers can imagine themselves in Measle’s place, they might find ways to emulate him. And that would be a happy ending indeed!