Saturday, May 14, 2022

The Beast and the Bethany

The Beast and the Bethany
by Jack Meggitt-Phillips
illust. by Isabelle Follath
Recommended Ages: 10+

Ebenezer Tweezer is handsome, healthy and wealthy – not bad at 511 years old. Or maybe, yes bad. Because he got that way by making increasingly horrid sacrifices to the Beast that lives on the top floor of his 15-story mansion. Whatever the Beast asks for, Ebenezer feeds him; whatever Ebenezer asks for, the Beast pukes up – from beautiful knick-knacks to the elixir of life that keeps him looking 20 years old. The slavering, three-eyed, two-tongued blob of quivering greed and teeth has been calling the shots since Ebenezer was a boy, and together they've become heartless and selfish. Then comes the day the Beast demands something he's never eaten before: a human child.

At first appalled, Ebenezer is persuaded to go looking for a child to feed to the Beast when the Beast threatens to cut off his annual supply of elixir. So, he tries a variety of daft schemes to capture a child, before finally visiting the local orphanage and simply adopting one. The first sign that he might be starting to have qualms comes when he deliberately chooses the most beastly child at Miss Fizzlewick's Institute for Gentlemanly Boys and Ladylike Ladies, a bullying brat named Bethany. And then, despite Bethany's behavior driving him batty, Ebenezer starts to feel even worse about the deal. By the end of a week of fattening her up for the Beast's belly, Ebenezer and Bethany have become friends and he simply can't give her to him. But there's still the prospect of a death from old age before him, and a Beast upstairs who won't take "no" sitting down.

This is a heartwarming and hilarious book that will tickle readers in many of the same places as Roald Dahl's books for children. The growing bond between the villainous Ebenezer and the snotty Bethany is a pleasant surprise, and the Beast's evil cunning sends chills down the spine. Supporting characters, including a couple who go down the Beast's throat, add to the entertainment with their quirks or charms, leaving you more or less sorry they got eaten (more in one case, less in the other). And despite a climax that is well worth the buildup, the story ends in a way that leaves ample room for a sequel.

Jack Meggitt-Phillips is an English author, playright and podcaster whose only other book that I know of is the sequel to this, Revenge of the Beast. Isabelle Follath is a Swiss artist who has illustrated a number of children's books.

No comments: