5.11.2009

Clemency Pogue: The Hobgoblin Proxy by JT Petty, illustrations by Will Davis, 154 pp, RL 4


With the tales of Clemency Pogue, JT Petty does for fairy lore what Micheal Buckley and his Sisters Grimm series do for the province of fairy tales. Both authors bring innovative, absurdly creative, wickedly funny plots and characters to the genre while infusing their stories with contemporary twists and moments of humanity and compassion. The metaphor laden language of the Hobgoblin, Chaphesmeeso and the hilarious situations he and Clemency end up with will make you laugh out loud and stick in your mind like the cold molasses Inky eats by the fingerful during his long, lonely nights. And, among other word play and double entendres, there is a great bit about Clem stubbing her toe on an Ottoman as well as an ottoman...

In Clemency Pogue: Fairy Killer, Petty began weaving his fairy mythology. According to Petty, it turns out that JM Barrie knew what he was talking about. If a child says, out loud, that s/he does not believe in fairies, then a fairy dies every time the child utters this (mis)belief. Mercilessly tormented by the Fairy of Frequent and Painful Pointless Antagonism, Clem saves herself the only way she knows how and unwittingly knocks off six other fairies in the doing. This leads to her encounter with a hobgoblin who, when she unknowingly speaks his name (Chaphesmeeso) is henceforth obligated be come at her beck and call. Fortunately, Chaphe has a grudging fondness for Clem, while she openly adores and respects him. Which is good. In Clemency Pogue: The Hobgoblin Proxy, beset by boredom, she gets to know a bit more about hobgoblins and goblins than she may have bargained for. Clem's boredom is alleviated by the arrival of a litter of Boxer puppies belonging to her parents' employer. The puppies need sitting and docking until they can be sent home with their new owners. This plot thread makes for some truly uncomfortable moments as Mr Pogue sharpens his scissors and goes about his task. However, it all happens off the page and it turns out that he only has the heart to take care of the tails. When he is unable to complete the task he loses his job. But, he does return home with Clem's favorite puppy in the litter, the one she named Henry. Unfortunately, Henry is at death's door. As Chaphe says, he is one sick puppy.

In another odd twist, Clem decides to give the six puppy dog tails a proper burial. As she is tossing the first shovelful of dirt into the grave, she notices one of the tails wiggling. She takes them home and, keeping them a secret, feeds them droppersful of her unbearably sweet, bubbly tea of sassafras root, dubbed "root beer" by her father. When it seems like Henry truly will die, despite Clem's best efforts, she breaks down and calls upon Chaphesmeeso, whom she has been trying to leave to his hobgoblin business. Chaphe arrives with a friend, of sorts. Kennethurchin is not a boy or a goblin. As Chaphe says, he is, "Half of each but less than both combined. And until he chooses, he's my bird's armpit." Kennethurchin, gentle and loving creature that he is whispers to Clem, "He mean's he's taken me under his wing. It's really rather clever." Clemency and Chaphe leave Kennethurchin behind to tend to Henry and the tails so that they can obtain the services of the Fairy of Sick Puppies, a task which requires they free her from the sick puppy in New York City that she is currently occupied with. The scene that follows is a very funny play on words in more ways than one but, alas, they do not reach Henry in time. The puppy and his tail have expired.

This sad turn of events leaves Clem free to help Chaphesmeeso find Kennethurchin's "clay-baby changeling before he makes mincemeat of the Make-Believe and mutton of this mutt." It seems that goblins, who are "pure wickedness and chaos," spend their days making clay-baby changelings to leave behind as decoys in the cribs and cradles of the human babies they snatch and take underground. The stolen human babies are then stolen from the goblins by Hobgoblins, who raise the humans to become hobgoblins and carry on the work of rescuing human babies from becoming goblins. The clay-baby changeling, indistinguishable from the real baby to most mothers, is cared for as usual and, when given a bath, melts "like a pat of butter on a hot griddle" and the "baby-stuff milkshake" washes down the drain along with its pinky-sized pot of Leviathan ink. This Leviathan ink allows the human baby/hobgoblin in training to write his/her name in the Forgetting Book, in which all of Make-Believe has been recorded. The Forgetting Book also happens to consist of an infinite number of blank pages. As Tallygob, the hobgoblin guardian of the book says, "There's more written there than in every human library combined. But, a book of infinite length can never be opened to the same page twice. Anything written on one of those pages, once the page is turned, is lost forever." And, while it is only humans who can read and write, the book is written by humans, for every child under goblin tutelage "writes his farewell to humanity by signing his goblin name in Leviathan ink." Kenn can't sign his name in the book becuase his Leviathan Ink is still in the belly of the rogue changeling who has managed to evade a proper bathing for all seven years of his life with humans.

The hunting down of this changeling, who goes by the name of Inky Mess, mercilessly teased younger brother of Gilbert Mess, both of the Mess Brand Pickle dynasty that supplies pickles to stores throughout the Carolinas, takes up the rest of the book. Inky, so named because he had a difficult time with words when he was learning to speak and could not say Kenneth, among other things, has led a sad and lonely life in the absence of his mother, who went mad and was institutionalized when she realized that her real baby was gone and a changeling had taken his place. Because of his hardships and his burning desire to overcome his complete inability to learn how to read, Clem feels sympathy for him and has a hard time accepting that, once they find him and take his bottle of ink, he will cease to exist. She sneaks away from Chaphe, with the help of Kenn, and sets in motion a disastrous chain of events that will not reach resolution until the end of book three in the trilogy, Clemency Pogue and the Scrivener of Bees...



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