Book Review: “The Boggart” by Susan Cooper

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The Boggart
by Susan Cooper

The author intrigued me because her book The Grey King is on the Newbery Medal shelf at Barnes and Noble. The title intrigued me because there are boggarts in the Harry Potter universe, and I wondered if they were the same. Not quite. In the Harry Potter books, a boggart is a shape-changing, mind-reading creature that feeds off fear, so it always assumes the form of whatever you fear the most; and it lives in wardrobes and cupboards and things like that. But in Susan Cooper’s vision, a boggart is sort of the national spirit of Scotland, an “Old Thing” in capital letters, a wild magical creature that is like a tiny, invisible man who can sometimes assume some visible form or other (like a hockey puck or a black cat). It lives to tease people and play lighthearted pranks on them, its very reason for existence is to become part of a family and amuse them with its annoying little tricks.

This particular boggart comes from a castle in the Western Scottish Highlands, where he has merrily pulled the noses of countless generations of a particular clan–and fallen tragically in love with two clan chiefs whose eventual, inevitable death caused him intense grief. The latest one leaves the castle to his only living relatives, who happen to be a Canadian family living in Toronto. They decide to sell the castle after visiting it once, but they bring home some furniture including a roll-top desk in which the Boggart is inadvertently trapped and transported to Toronto.

Naturally, all haggis breaks loose, as a creature from old world magic mixes explosively with new-world technology. And though he takes a liking to his new family and certain modern conveniences (like peanut butter and electricity), the Boggart desperately wants to go home to Scotland. But how can he communicate this desire to his human family, and what can they do about it?

That’s what the story is about, and a pretty good story it is. I like it a lot, and not just because the song quoted from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline is one that I sang in college. In fact, I have to admit, I love this story, as I am obliged to love anything that makes me laugh and cry, and I was particularly impressed with the fact that the story made me cry in the first chapter. That’s an achievement!

The boggart is a character you can really love, and I mean the word “love” in a profound way. I hope I can find a copy of the sequel, The Boggart and the Monster.