Bogbrush the Barbarian (2010), by Howard Whitehouse

Illustrated by Bill Slavin.

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults. It appears in volume 16.2.

Bogbrush the Barbarian

The best thing about Bogbrush the Barbarian is the illustration.  Slavin’s hilarious renditions of Bogbrush and his associates—Bogbrush being lectured by the rather maternal high priestess, who is standing on a chair (71); Bogbrush astride his donkey steed, feet flat on the ground as they walk (21); Bogbrush carrying the tired donkey at the end of the journey (149)—bring forth a chuckle that the story itself cannot produce.  The premise of the tale, like the narrative elements, is derivative.  Cressida Cowell has already covered the theme of “humourous retelling of barbarian history” successfully in the How to Tame Your Dragon series; Bogbrush’s quest is to remove the “Axe from the Stone” (although the author is explicit about this derivation); and the narrative interjections to explain words and concepts to the reader are more condescending (and less thorough and correct) than Lemony Snicket’s clever interruptions in the Series of Unfortunate Events.  Part of what makes authors like Roald Dahl and Robert Munsch so popular with children—and not always with adults—is their collusion with the child-reader against the adult world.  Whitehouse, on the other hand, sets himself in opposition to his reader, with comments such as “Don’t ask so many questions, kid” (6) and “Don’t ask why. Shut up or I’ll stop typing right now, I mean it—” (159).  Confusion arises, too, in the narrative explanations that present “the Fabled City of Birmingham [and] the fabled heroes of legend, Duran Duran” (154) or “distant Tzing [fictional], legendary Kalash [a real place], unpleasant Yeccchh [fictional] and mythical Saskatoon [real, which the reader might know…]” (127).  And I must admit I was slightly offended at the explanation of the term pluck: “used in ancient, moldy British novels where spirited youths of a century ago take on bullies” (169). Surely Mr. Whitehouse is aware that in most of the novels he is describing, the “bullies” are the indigenous peoples?  The “Fun with Ethics” on page 141, though, is rather funny, as are a few other shining moments of humour. Over all, however, I would not recommend this text to readers: go read the others I have listed, instead.

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