Muddle Earth is a charming fantasy story for children by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, the dream team responsible for The Edge Chronicles which was (and actually still is) one of my favourite children’s series. Muddle Earth is aimed at a slightly younger audience and so the fantasy world is not as well developed and the story isn’t as complex, but there’s still a lot there for all ages to enjoy.
The fun thing about Muddle Earth which younger readers might not appreciate is that it’s a bit of a piss-take of Middle Earth. There are stale smelling Musty Mountains and of course the noisy Mount Boom, but the story also ventures into bonafide world building of its own. There are all kinds of weird and wonderful creatures from stiltmice and pink stinky hogs to lazybirds, who sit beneath the enchanted floating lake with their mouths open, waiting for stray fish to fall through. There are elves, but they are more of the ‘Elves and the Shoemaker’ variety than anything Tolkien dreamt up. They tend to do all of the manual work, deliver post, and live inside clocks where they serve as the elf version of the cuckoo and stick their heads out of a little door to tell the time. There are also dragons, three-eyed ogres, and a horde of animate cutlery.
The story is divided into three separate ‘books’, again like The Lord of the Rings. It revolves around Joe, who was just a normal boy taking his dog Henry for a walk, when they are both transported to Muddle Earth by the wizard Randalf and his motley crew (ha!), a budgerigar named Veronica and Norbert-The-Not-Very-Big ogre. (The amount of time it took me to twig that Randalf is a joke on Gandalf was really quite embarrassing, I’d nearly finished the whole book when I realised!). Randalf had attempted to summon a warrior hero to solve the problems of Muddle Earth, but unfortunately that is the only spell he possesses and all of the other wizards are missing so he is unable to send Joe and Henry back home again. The book of spells was stolen by Dr Cuddles of Giggle Glade, who is a constantly laughing and rather sinister ‘something’ (he always wears a cloak with a hood so no one really knows who or what he is). Joe, in his persona as ‘Joe the Barbarian’, needs to try and retrieve the spell book, after first defeating an ogre and a dragon called Margot.
This is a really fun book, although the writing is more childish than The Edge Chronicles, but then it’s meant to be more comic and is aimed at a younger audience. As Chris Riddell was involved, it also has a lot of great illustrations, and there are cute pictures of elves and teaspoons acting as scene breaks. It did feel a bit that the book was longer than the story could sustain though. It did drag a little in places and the plot seemed a bit longwinded at times. I think it could have benefitted from being tightened up, as it felt like there were a few aspects (such as the cutlery) which were included purely as a nod to The Lord of the Rings, but which didn’t necessarily add much to the plot except for dragging it out a bit longer. I really enjoyed the fun reveal at the end of the book and how everything came together though. I couldn’t remember the story at all, so I’m now doubting whether I actually read it as a child even though I’ve owned it for years and years. It was all good fun, and I know a sequel has since been released (Muddle Earth Too), although I’m not sure whether I’ll get around to reading it or not. I did enjoy Muddle Earth, but now I think I’d rather spend my time rereading The Edge Chronicles (which I loved SO much) instead of dipping back into the world of Muddle Earth. It was fine, especially for the age of audience it was tailored for, but I know that Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell can, and have, done better. I was a little disappointed that they seemed to have limited their imaginations in this book in the sense that there weren’t as many unique, fantastical creatures. The world building also fell a little short for me, but I’m perhaps expecting too much from a book for younger children.