cover image Muddle Earth

Muddle Earth

Paul Stewart, Chris Riddell, , illus. by Chris Riddell. . Delacorte, $16.99 (450pp) ISBN 978-0-385-73316-8

The fertile partnership of Stewart and Riddell (The Edge Chronicles ) has produced a fine canon of Monty Python -esque fantasy nonsense, but the silliness is taken to new heights in this charming comedy. Randalf the Wise, the only wizard in Muddle Earth, casts a spell to conjure a warrior hero and, not being a particularly gifted wizard, ends up summoning young Joe Jefferson and his dog. Along with his sarcastic budgie, Veronica, and cowardly troll, Norbert the Not-Very-Big, Randolph brings Joe to Muddle Earth’s ruler, the Horned Baron, who hires the boy to defeat the ogre Engelbert the Enormous. Engelbert is upset, because his beloved “snuggly-wuggly” has gone missing, and Joe’s gentle touch and quick thinking save the day. Unfortunately, the spell that Randalf needs to send Joe back home is in the hands of the evil Dr. Cuddles, a criminal mastermind who lives in an adorable little cottage in Giggle Glade. From there things become even sillier, with sentient silverware, a kidnapped queen no one wants to rescue and a vicious-looking dragon who turns out to be perfectly nice. Stewart’s plotting and dialogue are squarely in the anything-can-happen realm of Douglas Adams; Riddell’s pen-and-ink illustrations are perfectly suited to the tone of the book. This is a big, goofy, laugh-out-loud delight. Ages 10-up. (Aug.)