As long time readers of this site will recall, I am a sucker for imaginative young adult or children’s books
My most recent exploration of this genre was the Edie Dickens Trilogy. The books, that began as letters written
by Ardagh to his nephew at boarding school, are over-the-top farcical romps that mix Charles Dickens and Monty Python to create a sort of British Lemony Snicket.
The series starts with A House Called Awful End . Here is how Amazon attempts to describe the ridiculous plot:
“When Eddie Dickens was eleven years old, both his parents caught some awful disease that made them turn yellow, go a bit crinkly around the edges, and smell of old hot water bottles.” So begins author Philip Ardagh’s silly story of an ill-fated boy who, due to his parents’ jaundiced condition, is forced to take part in a quest so preposterous that it could only conclude at A House Called Awful End. Set in England, back in the days when “postage stamps were a pretty new idea,” Eddie finds himself put in the dubious care of his Mad Uncle Jack and Mad Aunt Maud, who not only assault him with a stuffed stoat and make him sleep in his trunk, but carelessly turn him over to the St. Horrid’s Home for Grateful Orphans. There, he stages a breakout, smuggles himself and the other orphans out in the belly of a cow parade float, and is miraculously reunited with his newly recovered parents.
Next up is Dreadful Acts. School Library Journal:
It all begins when an accidental explosion at Eddie’s house leads to the appearance of a renowned escapologist named The Great Zucchini. Due to this encounter, Eddie meets and is enchanted by the “camel-faced” Daniella, kidnapped by escaped convicts with names like Bonecrusher, spends a night in jail, digs up part of a graveyard, and helps to solve a mystery.
And last but not least, is Terrible Times:
In the third installment of the Eddie Dickens saga, Eddie, our steadfast hero, finds himself en route to North America aboard the sailing ship Pompous Pig along with a cargo hold full of left shoes, the world-famous Dog’s Bone Diamond, and some of the most disreputable traveling companions anyone might have the misfortune to share a berth with. A mysterious stowaway and some familiar faces from Eddie’s past only complicate matters, as does being tied up and set adrift in a leaky rowboat. Will Eddie ever reach America?
So what to make of the series? I have never felt I was a good judge of grade school kids will or will not like. If you like silly oddball humor I would think you would enjoy this series. They are clearly in the mold of Lemony Snicket as the Amazon reviewer noted:
Snicket-ites will find it impossible to ignore the similarities to their beloved series about three orphans who undergo much hardship with little hope of relief. For one thing, Ardagh, like Snicket, enjoys spinning an over-the-top Gothic tale. Also, he assumes the voice of a personable, mostly omniscient, sometimes pedantic narrator who is eager to explain the origins of the terms he uses, such as “pitch-black,” “unbridled joy,” and “nailing” as well as offering a running commentary on the development of his story as he is telling it. One big difference is that this trilogy is set “in England sometime during the reign of Queen Victoria (who sat on the throne for more than sixty-three years so let’s hope she had a cushion…).” And of course, Ardagh has a sense of humor all his own and an overriding cheerfulness that Snicket likes to snuff the moment it might surface.
For my part, while I enjoyed them and got a chuckle out of the silliness, they didn’t grab me to the point that I wanted to go out and start the next series (Unlikely Exploits). Also worth noting are the illustrations done by David Roberts which PW describes as “hilarious pen-and-ink drawings of wide-eyed Eddie and his insane family resemble a cross between Charles Addams and Edward Gorey.”
So all in all, if you like Lemony Snicket and are looking something along the same lines but with a different sense of humor and a different setting, Phillip Ardagh might fit the bill.