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I would never have chosen this book on my own, but I took the liberty of asking another dooyoo member to recommend some comic books or graphic novels for very young children, as my son was not quite 7 at the time. Jakespeed was kind enough to suggest this and Superman. I like many of the same books as Jake, and he seems to have similar if more grown up tastes to my son - so I was happy enough to take his recommendation, especially as I was able to pick up a copy at a bargain price of £1.60, including postage. Before buying this book though, I did read several reviews, and there was one thing that really stood about this book. Most of the books were by adults who remember this as their favourite book from childhood. There must be something about a book for so many people to remember it so fondly decades later. That said the book is not for everyone - and a few people despised it as well.
I think the most important thing to consider if you are interested in this book is that it is not a story per say. If you choose this looking for a story, you may be terribly disappointed. This is instead just a account of the daily life of Fungus, who lives in underground caverns coming up at night to spread the gloom of bogeyland with the occupants of the world above. This book tells all about how Fungus lives, bogey likes and dislikes and just a bit about his family. My own boys especially liked the fact that Fungus has a Mohican - as my oldest currently has a Mohican hair style, but their favourite is the bogey's sleeping arrangements. It seems bogeys like their beds wet and slimy - and squashed slugs and snails add to the slime. Another favourite section covers bogey breakaway teens called "drop ins" who engage in shocking and perverted behaviours such as bathing and listening to loud music. This section always gets my children up jumping and shouting - and is likely my neighbours least favourite part of the story - just kidding we do have very thick walls thankfully.
This book is really difficult to place an age level on. The writing is small, and over coloured backgrounds which would make it more difficult for new readers, and the vocabulary is also more suited for much older readers. Some of the words I would expect many young readers to be unfamiliar with are "conjectural" and " regurgitated" as well as made up words like "Sterocorareus Crepidatus". There is really a very a large amount of text in this book as well. For this reason I would have to say for ages 8+ for most children to read this independently. Amazon has listed it 9 -12, but I think by this age it will have lost some of the magic. I would prefer to buy it for a younger child and read it for them.
As long as a parent will be reading this, I feel this book would be enjoyable for children as young as age 2. Other reviewers have commented that the text is too long for very young children - and so it is - but you just condense it a bit if using this as a very young child's storybook. My youngest is 3, and he did really enjoy this book, but it is not your average colourful child's book. That's ok by us, we have so many books, it's nice to get something really different. The overall tone of this book is very grey and gloomy, and the pictures tend to be dull ( in colouring not in content), mostly greens browns and greys and give a feeling of dampness and darkness.
Of course there is the issue of frightening small children with tales of bogeymen. I grew up on vivid stories of battlefeilds and dead bodies, as well as the odd ghost story from a very young age, so perhaps I am very cavalier about this, but I don't feel slightly scary stories harm children at all. My boys are used to scary tales and love them, but this isn't scary. True Fungus does scare some "drycleaners" or humans above ground - but that is just his job - he doesn't mean harm or do anything to hurt people. My sons of course know bogeymen are not real anyway, but for a child frightened of bogeymen - this book could go either way. It could make them look much less scary - or it could further convince children there really is something under the bed. Parents will have to make this call for themselves. Personally, If my children were afraid of bogeyman, I would read this and then make a story up of how a human and a bogey could become friends - but it all depends on the child.
I like this book because it just seems to be one of those books that is food for the imagination. I do plan to have my son write a sequel to this. As a home educator, we often make up our own books or write sequels to books we read as means of encouraging creative writing. the possibilities for educational or classroom use of this book are really endless. You could have a bogey day - dress up as bogeymen and make horrible looking dishes to eat - like green spaghetti with sausage worms, chocolate cake dug up like dirt with gummy worms and so on. It would be very easy to make a box into an underground bogey home and clay bogey families. Children could easily act out bogey stories and there is play for school use online.
This is a book rich in imagery, and full of conversation starters. It took us well over an hour to get through it the first time. There are plenty of lessons in here - such as looking at things from another viewpoint. But if you ask my sons what they like this, all deeper philosophical questions will be forgotten. They like the gross bits. That's OK too - children do like gross things and this book certainly fills a niche there.
I am giving this book 5 stars. The main reason for my rating is my feeling that this book is unique. You certainly will not have a half dozen others just like it on your bookshelf.
I picked my copy up on ebay, which currently has copies from £2.50 with free postage. A new copy would cost £5.68 from Amazon, which is the least expensive of all the online retailers I have found, and includes free delivery. A 35th anniversary edition will be available soon, at £7.19, but in all honesty, I would just go with the original.
Growing up, I had three favourite books that I loved and read all the time. These were; The War of the Worlds by HG Wells, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend, and Fungus the Bogeyman - which was first published in 1977 and written and illustrated by the wonderfully morose and British Raymond Briggs. The book concerns the Bogeymen, a race of bulky green people who have their own society in an underworld of tunnels deep beneath the surface. Bogeymen are sort of like us with families and houses and jobs but in an inverse fashion. They worship dirt and slime and abhor dryness or cleanliness. They hate warmth and sunlight or noise or music or anything new. The standard occupation of a Bogeyman is to go to the surface at night and scare people (they call us 'Drycleaners') by kicking slates off roofs, clanging dustbin lids together and creaking about on stairs. The central protagonist of the book, Fungus, lives with his wife Mildew and son Mould and cycles dutifully to the surface each night to sneak around terrifying us - but an existential crisis grips him when he begins to wonder what the point of it all is. 'The sun sinks below the hills,' begins the opening blurb. 'NIGHT is coming. BUT...far, far below...in THE TUNNELS, in the wet dripping tunnels of Bogeydom (a land where light is as DARKNESS) the Bogeymen are stirring in their beds. The roofs of the houses are wet, the walls are slimy and dank. A damp chill hangs in the air. Now as the last light fades from THE TUNNELS, it is the black dawn of a new bogey day.'
One of the things I love about the book is the incredible detail in both the art and text in creating this strange subterranean world with its upside-down conventions and rules. You find yourself immersed in each page as Briggs laces the enjoyably gloomy art with peripheral notes about the culture and traditions of the Bogeymen's society. The Bogey landscape, for example, is littered with 'dream holes', a shallow damp depression in the ground where they go to sleep and dream to escape from their problems. An 'Interest' is a place rather like a graveyard where Bogeys can also go to sleep for as long as up to one year. 'Many painful problems are avoided in this manner,' writes Briggs. 'And it may account for Bogey longevity. When the sleeper awakes the problem has receded so far into the past it might never have existed at all.' Bogey television is almost completely silent as Bogeys hate noise and the programmes are all about natural Bogey interests like 'Filth, Muck or Gloom'. Late at night, when Bogey children are safely asleep and tucked away, horror films are shown depicting sunlight, flowers, cornfields and 'Drycleaners' laughing gaily and playing loud music.
Bogeymen, despite their foul habits and all-round grubbiness, are actually likeable and sensitive souls on the whole and you do become deeply interested in this shadow world. Briggs, who has always had a very downbeat and dark edge to his work, brings some of his own personality and grumpiness to the Bogeymen and the existential crisis of Fungus allows him to ruminate on the possible pointlessness of our own existence too as Fungus starts to feel that there must be more to life than the day in day out drudgery of his job. Briggs obviously feels a lot of sympathy for Fungus and a certain fondness for the Bogeymen's sedate and thoughtful way of life which rejects the obsession with all things new or modern. It's great fun when Fungus cycles to the surface to start work, beginning by scaring the living daylights out of a gentle vicar (in an amusing illustration) walking in a foggy church graveyard at night. We see streams of Bogeymen cycling up through the tunnels with the houses and dim lights of their world far below them - 'The muddy streets are filled with dim lamps as the Bogeymen silently pedal their bogeybikes along the dripping tunnels. They are on their way to the surface to where we live. TO WHERE YOU LIVE!'
Fungus the Bogeyman is always a highly imaginative and philosophical book that children will love, especially when (an increasingly reluctant) Fungus goes to the surface to lurk around scaring people. In the book we learn that boils actually derive from Bogeymen who sneak into our bedrooms at night and touch us - this being a much admired and almost mystical skill in the Bogey world, like a Vulcan mind meld or something. Briggs produces extracts and illustrations from 'Elementary Bogeyology' where this great art is explained. 'This, the supreme achievement of the Bogeyman's art, borders on the magical. It is not a charm vouchsafed to every Bogeyman. It is an art that demands an inborn gift, great concentration and long practice. Then, by merely pressing a finger on the neck of a sleeping Drycleaner, a boil can be engendered.'
Briggs has great fun with this upside-down world and the book is very amusing at times. Fungus has 'Flaked Corns' breakfast cereal when he wakes up and his out of date newspaper (Bogeys really hate anything new) has the headline 'Slime Shortage'. Young and rebellious Bogeys are known as 'Drop-Ins' and some have brazenly taken to disregarding Bogey laws and customs by sneaking ancient gramophone records down from surface dumps and playing them loudly ('You've fill'd the air with barbarous dissonance,' says a Bogey policeman) in secret gatherings. 'Worse still,' writes Briggs. 'Some of the more extreme members of the cult began keeping themselves clean, scraping off their protective layers of dirt and slime and taking baths in warm, clean water.' This topsy turvy world always serves to thoughtfully illuminate ourselves and life on the surface.
On the whole, Fungus the Bogeyman is, to quote Quentin Crisp on the back cover of my copy, exquisitely perverse and great fun for both adults and children alike. I love most of Briggs' work but Fungus the Bogeyman probably remains his finest hour to date.