Ickabog. Rowling’s first children’s book in 13 years
You know what? I don’t like Fantastic Beasts movies, how they were filmed and what they did to the world of Harry Potter. Everyone constantly puts pressure on J.K. Rowling, she gets into all sorts of scandals, and she was made an enemy of all mankind. Because of this, she makes many controversial decisions regarding the lives of characters from the world of the boy who lived. Considering that the next Fantastic Beasts film will be almost without the participation of the writer, and the role of Grindelwald will go to someone else, not Johnny Depp, I’m not at all sure that I will watch this mockery of my beloved universe. Joan realized that Harry Potter was over, and in the spring she announced her new book, which for the first time in 13 years is intended for children and does not belong to the magical world.
On November 10, J.K. publishing presented a new novel “The Ickabog” ‒ her first fairy tale, which takes place outside the Harry Potter universe. Unlike the famous saga, “Ickabog” is addressed primarily to children, but it is fraught with many features and questions that are more understandable to an adult reader. Here’s what makes the new book interesting.
According to Rowling herself, she wrote “Ickabog” between the sequels of the Harry Potter saga and read the chapters that appear to her children (by the way, this is how some outstanding works of children’s literature were born). However, at some point, the writer decided to put aside what she had written and returned to the manuscript only during the recent quarantine.
We can say that the new-old novel became for J.K. Rowling a release from the “boy who lived.” There is neither magic nor miracles in it, and if it were not for the hero in the title, this story could generally be called realistic. It tells about the amazing country of Cornucopia, whose inhabitants are famous throughout the world for their amazing sweets, cheeses, wines, and sausages, and they fear only one thing ‒ an unknown monster named Ickabog, about whom terrible tales are told. Once the king of Cornucopia, Fred the Courageous, decides to meet with Ickabog face to face, but the expedition equipped by him becomes only the first link in the chain of adventures and misadventures awaiting Cornucopia.
As in “Harry Potter”, the fairy tale plot in many ways becomes an occasion for Rowling to reflect on the world and the people inhabiting it. Life outside Cornucopia is not so sweet and fun, and the splendor of the royal court turns into a dark side almost after the first pages of the novel. The legend of a terrible beast, which no one has ever seen, becomes a reason for “screwing the nuts”, the king turns out to be a toy in the hands of the cunning lords of Slyunmore and Flapun, and the inhabitants of the kingdom, including honest and kind ones, willingly believe in the most incredible lies. And if it were not for the “fairytale” tone of the narrative, the story could be called something like a dystopia for children ‒ especially since, unlike Harry Potter, here the children-heroes have to rely solely on their intelligence, cunning, and courage. Like Harry Potter, Ickabog has features of other genres, including a growing-up novel and a detective story: the 400-page novel contains the events of several decades, and some unexpected details of what happened at the very beginning are revealed only closer to the final.
Ickabog is also a novel about the nature of fear and the fight against it. Rumors about an unknown monster are more dangerous than the monster itself precisely because they allow society to be manipulated in any way. And this is seen as a clear parallel with the past or present of mankind when under the guise of “fighting the enemy” you can do anything you want, just know to support the created legend. And yet, endlessly lying is “like sailing on a boat with holes: you endlessly have to bail out water in order not to drown.”
But is it possible to call “Ickabog” a children’s book, which will be read with pleasure, also by adults, as it was, for example, with “Alice in Wonderland”? Unfortunately, her style looks a little too childish for that. But the new book is great for the whole family to read. And, like Harry Potter, she can make a child think about what is good and evil, and that one sometimes spills over into the other. For example, the king of Cornucopia himself, Fred, is not an evil or cruel person, but, as the tale teaches, excessive naivety, vanity, and carelessness can be much more dangerous.
And for well-read adults, “Ickabog” can be a good literary game. For example, what makes this story related to the famous science fiction novel “My Enemy” by Barry Longyear? The writer deduces the name of the hero on behalf of Ickabog ‒ is this a reference to the equally classic short story by Washington Irving “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”? Is there anything in Ickabog from British literary tales? We suggest looking for answers on your own.
Much attention should be paid to the pictures invented by the readers. “I thought: why not put “Ickabog” on the Internet ‒ and so that the children themselves make illustrations for it?” explains Rowling in the foreword. The competition for young artists was announced in all countries where the book was to be published, and some of them turned out to be no less interesting than the story itself. Some of them allow you to look from an unexpected perspective both at the events of the novel and at some of the characters (pay attention to the collectors of the “tax on Ickabog”!). Others resemble shots for a cartoon that has not yet been staged, and still, others do not seem to go beyond ordinary drawings, “reviews” of which are regularly held in children’s libraries … However, they all make you smile, and sometimes even wonder if this book will become a start in life for some of the young artists (you can see the winning illustrations on the competition website).
Will the new book be successful? The question is rhetorical: many readers will certainly be interested in it at least because of the name on the cover, and illustrations will certainly contribute to the purchase, whether in paper form or an electronic one. Also, as we have already said, “Ickabog” is great for reading aloud and carries the same charge of goodness and humanism as the books about Harry Potter. And in our time it is more relevant than ever.