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Fungus the Bogeyman - Raymond Briggs
Member Name: Jake Speed
Fungus the Bogeyman - Raymond Briggs
Advantages: A classic
Disadvantages: Nothing major
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.
Summary: Raymond Briggs at his best