Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Earwig and the Witch

Earwig is used to getting her own way. An orphan left on the doorstep of St. Morwald's Home for Children, Earwig knows how to make others do her bidding. At her request the cook prepares her favorite lunch of shepherd's pie, the matron hurries to keep her supplied in  red sweaters, and her fellow orphans indulge her in dimly-lit games of hide-and-seek, even the kids who are scared of the dark. Earwig is not among them. "Earwig was never frightened. She had a very strong personality."

This strong personality seems to meet her match when a strange couple visit the orphanage looking to foster a child. Till now Earwig has managed to fend off potential parents. For Earwig has no interest in leaving the orphanage. Why would she? She's got everyone in the joint under her thumb.

The couple choose Earwig, despite her best efforts to look unlovable, and take her home to their bungalow at Thirteen Lime Avenue. From the start, Earwig suspects the couple of being not what they seem. She's right. The "raggety, ribbly" woman in the big red hat is a bona fide witch and the man who has fiery eyes and what appear to be horns growing from his head is you-guessed-it. Earwig is put to work as the witch's assistant and spends her days pounding rat bones into powder and picking nettles from the garden. Her days of getting her own way are apparently over.

Or not. Earwig is a plucky child and she doesn't give in to despair. Refreshingly, she finds the odd situation she's in a challenge and one to be overcome not endured. Determined to learn magic, she pairs up with the witch's familiar, a talking black cat named Thomas, and together the two manage to turn the tables on the couple. By book's end Earwig is once again firmly in the driver's seat. How she gets there makes for a fast, entertaining read.

Knowing this is Diana Wynne Jones' last book made reading the story bittersweet. Although I can't know for sure, many signs pointed to this book being the first in a series. The question of Earwig's lineage (she was left at St. Morwald's with a tantalizing note pinned to her shawl) is left dangling, as is her friendship with Custard, a timid boy at the orphanage.

Earwig and the Witch
by Diana Wynne Jones
illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky
Greenwillow, 128 pages
Published: January 2012

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Sounds like a great read. With plots like these, would she have ever had a career if she were an American writer?