In Memoriam: Lockwood & Company
There is a game that literature lovers play amongst themselves at parties, at ice-breakers, at speed dating events, etc. The question is this: If you could live in any book’s world, what would it be? Now children’s literature fans, of the adult variety in particular, are fairly predictable. Harry Potter’s world probably remains the top answer, and for good reason. In his books the likelihood of annihilation is there, but Hogwarts, man, Hogwarts!! They don’t make amusement parks of places people don’t want to visit.
I probably would have said Harry Potter for a long time, but a few years ago my thoughts on the matter began to change. Don’t get me wrong. Hogwarts sounds amazing and there’s even a library there where I might be able to get a job (you can see I’ve thought this through). But the place where I probably would feel the most at home is 35 Portland Row. It’s cool, but not too cool. Relatively messy, so I’d fit right in. Lots of cookies. Lots of cake. A nice little garden in the back with an apple tree that isn’t well tended. Yes sir, the world of Lockwood & Company is far more my speed.
If you are unfamiliar with Jonathan Stroud’s series, allow me to catch you up. Long ago Stroud cut his teeth on magical worlds by creating a fantasy series about an antihero, much like Artemis Fowl, only with enough footnotes to remind you of Pale Fire/Dr. Strange and Mr. Norrell (probably more the latter than the former). The series involved a boy up to no good who continually came into contact with a snarky, powerful spirit who, after long exposure to the boy, came to have gruff affection for him. Cut to the Lockwood and Company series a couple years later. It involves four teens (and one 20-something) up to quite a lot of good (they snuff out ghosts) accompanied by a snarky, powerful spirit who, after long exposure to one of the girls, comes to have gruff affection for her. The difference? I liked the Bartimaeus books but I LOVE the Lockwood and Company ones.
The reasons for this are many. First off, I’m a dialogue fan. Quick patter between characters makes me happy and the Lockwood books have this in abundance. The narrator of the series, unlike in Bartimaeus, is likable and flawed. The setting (the aforementioned 35 Portland Row) is cozy and familiar. The characters are marvelous too. You look forward to hanging out with them. It’s like Buffy the Vampire Slayer in its heyday, if Spike were trapped in a jar. Yes, the highlight in many ways for me is the skull trapped in a jar, carrying the spirit of a ghost caught in a kind of perpetually snide late-adolescence. Skull (as Lucy calls him since he doesn’t ever tell her his name) is applied to these books judiciously. Too much of him and he’d get old. Too little and the books would need more truth-telling humor. And yes. I am certain that there are shippers out there who identify as Team Skull or Team Lockwood for Lucy. He may be trapped in a jar, but Lucy’s his girl at this point and Lockwood be damned. I was Team George for a while, but I may have been alone in this.
Actually, that brings up an interesting point about the series. Lucy’s a strong female character who takes charge, has agency, and rescues Lockwood as often as he rescues her. That said, when you break it all down, this series could be interpreted as akin to those YA books where a girl has to decide between two boys. It isn’t really, but there’s an element to that at work. Lockwood is dashing but emotionally unavailable. The skull is nothing but emotion, even if it’s dark ones, but he’s one of those teenage bad boy characters. And, y’know, dead. I won’t give anything away but at the end of the series I think Stroud has done the impossible. He’s made all the shippers happy. Except us George/Lucy folks (Juicy? Lorge?). Shoulda kept a closer eye on Flo Bones.
Now I rarely follow a series to its conclusion anymore. Back in the day, when I had some nice subway riding time to myself, I could polish off a middle grade novel or two in a week. These days, it’s a like trickier, so I tend to eschew sequels. That said, I made time for the Lockwood books. They are, in many ways, my comfort food. I’ve watched the characters grow and change and now, with the release of Book #5, I have to bid them adieu. This is very sad for me. For the past few days I’ve scoured the internet for adequate Stroud interviews, and found surprisingly little. What I have found is a parcel of good news, though. Apparently it’s slated to come to the telly. According to Deadline Hollywood:
Rachael Prior, Big Talk Head of Film, and Kenton Allen, Big Talk CEO, say they “feel a great affinity” with the Lockwood books’ “distinct Britishness, innovative world building, vibrantly drawn characters and joyful command of genre.” The TV series will be “a highly original, distinctively authored, ghost-detective show to enthrall audiences of all ages.”
It’s anyone’s guess whether or not it’ll hit the finish line and actually be produced, but for now I can be content that something else is coming, and I can put aside my plans to pepper Stroud with requests for a book about Lucy’s time solving crimes with just the skull (for now).
We all need some comfort reading these days. If you are looking then for something scary and funny and heartfelt and nonsensical with the friendship of Buffy, the goofiness of Scooby-Doo, the tone of Ghostbusters, and book titles straight out of The Three Investigators, this is it. Thank you, Jonathan Stroud. You’ve made the last four years of reading these books very fun indeed.
Now about that Lucy & the Skull book . . .
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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