Books in the Blood # 6 The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

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Is it me, or has the world gone Superhero crazy? 

They’ve been around a long time, of course. Marvel and D.C Comics – the two publications most famous for their superheroic activities – have both been publishing since the thirties. In fact, pretty much all of the Superheroes you can think of – Batman, Superman, the X Men, all of the Avengers – have been around for fifty, sixty, seventy years plus.

I’m going to meander now, but bear with me and I’ll wander back to my point in a mo.

Do you think it might just be possible those early illustrators had deals with DuPont, the manufacturers of elastane, the rubbery stuff known as Lycra. Think of all of those all-in-one, figure-hugging, yes-the-caped-crusader-is-definitely-a-boy body suits ‒ all of the tights.

Forgive me if I’m wrong, but this sort of thing was NOT every day wear for the dapper gent around town in the thirties, was it? Was Bogart wearing a pair of budgy smugglers under his Zoot suit? Did Cagney exclaim ‘Top of the world, Ma,’ clad in a rubbery onesy? If they did, I’ve – thankfully ‒ erased it from my memory.

There was clearly something about a chap wearing his underwear outside his brightly-coloured leotard in the thirties that spoke of manliness, mystery identities and a can-do attitude to an emergency situation that it perhaps wouldn’t if the characters were invented today.

Anyhow, I digress (and lord knows any regular followers out there will know that my posts are pretty much all digression).

The point I was trying to make before I was so rudely distracted by Spandex, is that although Superheroes have been popular all of our lives, they seem to have grown and grown, until you can’t go near a multiplex  cinema during the summer months without being bombarded by crashy, bashy, smashy big-men-and-busty-women-hitting-each-other movies.

It used to be that boys wanted to be train drivers or pilots or rock stars. My son wants to be Tony Stark (Iron Man to the uninitiated).

I guess I don’t blame the film companies. If the budget for one film is big enough to fund a small war, then to stay afloat they need to make a profit big enough to end the same war by buying off the enemy with Ferraris and holiday homes in the Hamptons.

It was different when I was a girl.

Yes, we had the animated Spider-Man (who can forget that theme tune? Even my son knows it and he’s never seen the programme!) and we had Adam West and Burt Ward as the deliciously camp crusader and his feathery sidekick in Batman and Robin (now those boys really knew how to wear Lycra). But none of them made it huge at the cinema.

And even though they had a delightful array of gorgeous girls playing Catwoman, I had no aspiration to be her. The reasons for this were threefold. One, I got out of breath trying to high kick. Two, I could never have been that flirty and seductive – I would’ve turned beetroot red and hidden in the Batcave if asked to be alluring. And three, PVC is unforgiving over dubious curves, a pot belly and knock knees.

What I wanted when I was a girl was to be Laura Chant from The Changeover by Margaret Mahy.

Laura starts the book as a normal girl whose younger brother Jacko is possessed by the brilliantly named Carmody Braque, an ancient, parasitical being who preys on humans, sucking out their life force until they die and he moves on to his next victim.

Now, Laura is, of course not normal at all. She’s a witch-in-waiting, a fact recognised by a boy at her school, the gorgeously dreamy, and if I remember slightly brooding, Sorenson ‘Sorry’ Carlisle – also a witch.

There follow trials, danger, lots of sinister witchy behaviour and a race to save Jacko. In the end, Laura has to sacrifice her normal life and ‘changeover’ to being that of a fully-fledged, pointy-hat wearing, dancing-naked-in-the-moonlight-for-Satan witch to save the wee one (except not the last bit).

I cannot tell you how much I loved this book. I wanted to be Laura so much it was physically painful.

There’s a scene near the end where she creates a miniature zoo on her rug – elephants, giraffes, the lot – just with the wave of her hand.

I wanted to be a witch – I wanted ‘Sorry’ Carlisle – I wanted a miniature elephant.

Hmm. Replace incantations with superpowers, pointy hats and cloaks with Lycra, killer boots and capes…

Maybe I can see why my son is so besotted with Tony after all.