The Silver Door

by Terry Griggs
ISBN: 1551926857

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A Review of: The Silver Door
by Heather Kirk

While reading The Silver Door I was reminded of the famous statement by C.S. Lewis about how he wrote his books for children: "I put in what I would have liked to read when I was a child and what I still like reading now that I am in my fifties." I am in my fifties, and I did not like reading The Silver Door. There was plenty of adventure, and I can enjoy that now just as much as I did when I was a child. Instead I remained bored from beginning to end because Griggs did not make me care what happened.
The book sounds interesting in outline. Olivier is staying with his grandfather and step-step-stepgramma at Cat's Eye Corner. Gramma, the owner of the house, is a witch-like woman who cooks things like "deep-fried bubble gum, bark, stew, hand cream on a cracker." Cat's Eye Corner is a magical house whose rooms shift around. Once, for example, the kitchen and dining room went missing and they had to eat in the games room. Olivier's companions are a fountain pen named Murray Sheaffer that writes automatically and a puff of smoke that has escaped from the entry on Mount Vesuvius in an amazing book from Gramma called Enquire Within Upon Everything.
Enter Peely, the ghost of a boy about Olivier's age, and Linnet, a girl who has "all kinds of air currents . . . at her beck and call." When Murray is stolen by an ink monkey that disappears through a silver door, Olivier, the smoke, Peely, and Linnet chase the thief into another world that exists somewhere below and beyond Cat's Eye Corner. This world, ruled by the nasty Emperor and Empress of Ice Cream, is somewhat stranger than the strange house from which they have come, but vaguely and fitfully related.
Ms. Oscarella Vivid, screaming CEO of exceedingly dull "Adventures Unlimited"; Mrs. Kidd, kid-hating flower killer; and the Empress of Ice Cream, greedy dessert-eater and child enslaver-are all as unpleasant as the bad-mannered, destructive Lady Muck who is visiting Gramma at Cat's Eye Corner. Uncle Truckbuncles, owner of the Odditorium and dispenser of lunch; Ig, the stone man and rescuer from frozen oblivion; hip Jack, the messenger-are all as pleasant as Olivier's beloved Grandpa. But there is no consistent connection between the familiar, bizarre world of home and the unfamiliar, bizarre world of the adventure. All is confusing muddle.
Griggs is inventive but she has not crafted the novel carefully. For example, Peely wears socks that change weather, but there is insufficient reason for Peely's cowardice and treachery, and ultimately these serious flaws don't much matter. Linnet encounters some Spelling Bees that communicate by buzzing, zigging, and zagging until they create letters in the air that form words. The long, wonderful word they teach Linnet comes in handy when Mrs. Kidd is trying to trick the children with riddles. But the word, honorificabilitudinitatibus, an archaic word for "honourableness", does not, say, or capture a theme in the novel. It is just a big word.
Really there is no theme. The bad adults think children are horrible or exploitable. Olivier and his friends, with some help from good adults, run about willy nilly, see fantastic sights like a man whose head is that of a moose, zap things with the jewelled remote, help capture the nasty Emperor and Empress, and free the enslaved children in the ice cream factory. But, although Olivier feels sympathy for the undernourished children when he sees them, he had not intended to save them. He was just looking for his pen, Murray. But why was he looking for Murray? Murray is a dull, conceited pen who only writes cliches or makes himself the hero of the story. Olivier has no compelling motive for recovering Murray.
As C.S. Lewis said in "On Three Ways of Writing for Children", the bad way of writing for children is cynically "giving the public what it wants." He went on: "Children are, of course, a special public" and such writers think "you find out what they want and give them that, however little you like it yourself." To this adult, it seemed that the talented Griggs (recipient of the 2003 Marian Engel Award) was feeling pressured to dash off a bestselling children's book that could compete with arcade games for frenzied activity. Her word play is at times brilliant, but her main characters and her plot are not fully developed. Neither Olivier nor his friends grow inwardly, and their experiences lack meaning.

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