The "Pure Dead" Series
In Brief: Fun; Close family; Some earthy humour
Series: Pure Dead
Age Range: Pre Teens+
Setting: Castle Stregaschloss, Scotland
- Titus is the 12-year-old son of the Strega-Borgia family. He's a wizz on the computer and is in constant battle with his sister Pandora.
- 10-year-old Pandora squabbles with her brother over many things, especially his obsession with computers, but couldn't do without him.
- Damp is their 14-month-old sister who has a mind of her own.
- Luciano & Baci Strega-Borgia are temperamentally very different, and do have the occasional tiff, but are united in their love for each other and for their children.
- Mrs MacLachlan is the children's Nanny, a clandestine witch.
- Sab, Ffup and Knot are the family pets and low-tech security system, a gryphon, a dragon and a yeti respectively. They have good intentions, but can sometimes get quite hungry.
The general plot lines involve various or all of the family members finding themselves in self-imposed scrapes and trying to get out: Titus creates too many mini clones, Damp sends the family's pet rats off by email, the house roof falls in, Luciano is kidnapped by the mafia when he walks out after a row, Ffup finds herself giving birth to the Loch Ness Monster's baby, etc.
Literary Quality: Imagine The Simpsons crossed with The Addams Family. Now translate that into the Scottish Highlands. That will give you some idea of the atmosphere of the Strega-Borgia “Pure Dead” books. The writing combines lightweight humour in a faintly magical context and real relationships and human feelings. The vocabulary and style are easy without being trivial.
Magic: Such magic as there is is whimsical, such as Nanny Maclachlan's magic computer or Pandora's misbehaving Disposawand, and this is combined with the modern “magic” of computers, to give high-speed travel by email, and virus infestation by rats. The mythical pets — a gryphon, a dragon and a yeti are all treated matter-of-factly.
Humour: There is an amount of fairly earthy humour, including a dragon with an upset stomach, a hitman dressed in a bunny suit who can't make it to the toilet in time, and numerous references to Damp's nappies. Pure Dead Wicked has various miniature creatures who go about with no clothes on or wearing kilts with nothing underneath. It's all the kind of thing which children like to giggle about without anything which is really offensive.
Religion: No reference to any kind of religion. In Pure Dead Brilliant, one of Baci's fellow student witches turns out to be a demon from the Hadean Executive who's after a particular artefact.
Violence: There is a certain amount of cartoon-style violence, including manifest baddies getting killed: various baddies are eaten by one or other of the beasts, and an unscrupulous builder and his girlfriend fall to their deaths having been startled by the sight of Sab.
Life & Death: As well as the matter of the baddies eaten by the beasts, mentioned in Violence above, you have Strega-Nonna, the children's cryogenically preserved ancestor, who lives in the deep freeze and occasionally emerges to see if a cure has been found for old age. In the second book, Titus creates some clones, who only live for a week. As they start to die, he begs Pandora to help him put them in the deep freeze: “I have to try, don't I? I made them. I can't just write them off as a failed experiment. They're like children. My children. D'you think Mum and Dad would have binned us if we'd been a bit faulty?” To which Pandora's natural sibling response is that he is a bit faulty. But she helps him.
Modesty & Decency: In Pure Dead Wicked Titus' mini-clones go unclothed until Titus & Pandora make clothes for them out of socks and handkerchiefs. When they discover some miniature soldiers dressed in kilts, Pan peers underneath to see if they're wearing anything. In the same story the Strega-Borgias are staying in the local hotel whose owner's wife tries to chat up Luciano, a fact which the whole family resents. She is also carrying on an affair with an estate agent. In the same book, an unscrupulous builder has a girlfriend who is at his house during the evening. None of this is shown in a good light.
Family: In one sense, all the events and scrapes the characters get into, all the magic and technology employed to produce far-fetched plotlines, are no more than the background to the relationships between the members of the Strega-Schloss household, and the Strega-Borgia family in particular. In Pure Dead Magic Luciano has walked out after a row, and hasn't come back. His family are desolate and are unaware that he's been kidnapped by the mafia. When he returns, courtesy of Damp & Titus unwittingly conspiring to send the family rats to him by email, there's no question of any lasting rift.
In the same vein, Titus & Pandora are constantly squabbling: she doesn't like the amount of time he spends on the computer, and he's teasing her about one thing or another. But when it comes to it, he's ready to dive into their crocodile-infested moat to save her (although she ends up saving him) and she does everything she can to return him to his senses when he's obsessed by the thought of a fortune he'll inherit. Damp just loves the rest of her family
Sunday 17th August 2003