Helen Cresswell Week – Why the Bagthorpe Saga matters

It is my intention, as I already stated, to evangelize on behalf of the Bagthorpes. But I don’t know that I have the skills to do it. In another post, I’ll talk about plots and such. But here I’ll just try to explain why it’s wonderful when these books fall into the right hands.

It’s a tragedy that these books are getting discarded by libraries.

These are special books and if they sit on a library shelf for 10 years and only reach one kid then it’s worth it. They do not appear to hold any sort of valuable moral. Nor do they raise one’s conciousness. They very well might make one smarter, but that’s not the reason to read them.

They are hilarious, but even that might not be the reason to read them.

These books create another world as surely as Rowling or Tolkien did. Yet, it’s just a story of a 1970s English family living in suburban England. There’s no magic and the only mythological creature is a cat that died long before the series begins, but whose memory lives on. (Beloved by grandmother, feared by rest of family.)

In the Bagthorpe’s world, cleverness is king. Winning a slogan contest or convincing people that you’re a psychic are not only important ways to spend your time, they are worth any effort and any risk. The ravings of some anonymous ham radio nut are to be taken seriously and seeking to make one’s own name immortal is a given. Reading Voltaire and raising maggots are equally worthwhile endeavours.

Brilliance is a given. You must be brilliant — and ever-vigilant and, at times, dastardly. But that’s not enough, because whatever happens, it will all end in a row and you must be prepared to shout and hyperbolize your way to the top. And where you fail to hyperbolize, the omniscient narrator will gladly lend a hand. Madness! Chaos! Doom! Yes, all this is everyday life in the Bagthorpe household.

 It’s probably best that the real world isn’t like this, because the Bagthorpes are, after all, insufferable. But what a great thing for a kid to read about.



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