Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Monster Maker by Nicholas Fisk

Matt finds himself working his dream job - assistant to a special effects artist - but after being injured during a fight, he finds himself wondering if the creatures from the workshop have come to life.

One of the shelves in my bedroom is devoted to the books I loved as a kid. Last month I talked about one such "classic," and my May entry is devoted to another.

Back in 1979, I was ::cough, cough:: years old. I would go to my local library on the weekends like a devoted soul attends church or synagogue. Imagine my delight when I found a brand new book, protected by that crinkly cellophane jacket. Monster Maker (back then I never looked at author names, but the fellow who wrote the book was Nicholas Fisk). It had an exciting cover, featuring all sorts of monsters. And that brings me to another childhood love: monster movies, especially the Japanese men-in-rubber-suits sort of flicks. Godzilla was my muse.

I devoured the book in the car with as much relish as a dragon chomps on hapless princesses.

British 14 year-old Matt lands a job with his idol, a famous monster maker, Chancey Balogh, who builds mechanical creatures for Hollywood. Balogh is working on his magnum opus, a fire-breathing beast named Ultragorgon. This monstrosity is so life-like that Matt finds Ultragorgon haunting his dreams.

Life for Matt grows worse when the school bullies begin harassing him. The bullies (who come from impoverished households) discover Matt carrying several pound notes, money given to him by Chancy, and start nicknaming him "Moneybags Matt." Soon, Matt finds himself fighting the bullies and, without knowing it, suffers from a concussion.

Here the book takes a surreal turn. He starts seeing out of the corner of his eye the creatures from the workshop. Had Chancey's genius brought the monsters to life? But when he tells the girl he likes, even Chancey, no one believes him.

Matt's fascination with Ultragorgon becomes an obsession. And when the bullies plan to rob and vandalize the workshop, things take a frightening turn.

What I found so endearing about this book was that, as a kid, I found imagination so powerful that it could make the distinction between reality and fantasy blur. I wondered, while turning the pages, did the monsters come alive because of Matt's concussion or his yearning for them to be more than metal and plastic creations.

Fisk's work seems to have faded from too many shelves, a tragedy. The world needs more makers of monsters. And stories.


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