The Secret World of Og by Pierre Berton

Yes. This was an ABC-TV Weekend Special when I was eight. But it was a book first.

This has got be one of the best children’s books of all time. I read it at least twenty times when I was a kid and I finally mustered up the memory and bought a really awful copy on Amazon. But it is not the cover that counts, but what lies within.

Pierre Berton knew how to write a children’s story. Using his own kids as fodder, he created The Secret World of Og.

When I first read it, I remember feeling that it was one of those classic stories that you always had somewhere hidden away inside your head. Like in Peter Pan, when Wendy’s mother goes through her children’s minds at night and marvels over the strange things she finds there; this story is something maybe you played at, or told yourself a story about, before you had actually come across the book.

I am sure that Pierre Berton must have talked to his children, listened to their games, and paid very close attention to come up with a perfectly amazing imaginary world. Or maybe he just never lost the knack of being a kid himself.

Of course, I was eight. So I’m sure I didn’t really analyze it that specifically, but I do remember thinking that this was a familiar story, and realizing it was because it is the kind of thing I had always hoped could happen for real.

Reading Og gives me an intense satisfaction. It is the same satisfaction I got when I first read Harry Potter or anything by Robin McKinley. It is because the author just gets it. I don’t even really know what it is they get, but they do. They don’t patronize children. They get down on their level and that means all levels. They live inside the worlds they make and really love every word they write. You can feel it in the language, in the descriptions, and in the dialogue. The author is simply enjoying the hell out of telling the story.

But I digress. Imagine that.

The first thing to love about The Secret World of Og is not only the title, but the first sentence:

“There were five children, counting the Pollywog, and their names all began with the letter P.”

Isn’t that awesome? (*she says excitedly) Doesn’t it just command you to want to know more?

So the five children from the Pollywog, who is a baby and always trying to escape his playpen or highchair using the family cat as a landing pad, to Penny, the eldest and the most sensible (the one on the verge of being ‘too old’) embark on this fantastic underground adventure and find the Ogs, little green creatures who steal the comic books, games, dress-up clothes and books that careless children leave outside overnight. Ogs use this stolen stuff to imitate the games they see the children playing (like Cowboys and Indians and Superheros and so forth) except for them, the game isn’t a game at all. It is real. Needless to say, the children find themselves in a big ol’ mess when they try and rescue their little brother and find that the game that day is Wild West and he’s scheduled to die by the noose.

After some scary moments, it all ends well, and the children convince the Ogs to have some real adventures in their own world, instead of just pretending all the time.

(True story: I wanted so badly for Ogs to be real, I left my doll out in the rain one night on purpose, hoping that she’d disappear. Sadly, she did not, and I bitterly concluded that it was only a story after all, despite Berton’s dedication to his seven kids and his note that the last two weren’t born when ‘it’ happened.)

On second thought, I don’t care. I’m thirty-four and I believe in ghosts and other strange phenomena. So why not Og? I think I’ll keep hoping.

Here’s the part when the kids first get underground and see the river. I like the description because I can see it so clearly. Indeed, in one of my books (unpublished and unfinished) I created a cavern that resembles this one – except mine’s more golden. But subconsciously I must have been remembering Berton’s.

Excerpt:
“The children stood for a moment in the silence, awed by what they saw. They seemed to be in an enormous cavern so huge that they could not see the far side, so high they could scarcely see the roof. Through the cavern wound a river, like a bright, shimmering serpent. It glowed and sparkled and this glow was reflected in hundreds of pinpoints of light from the crystal rocks all around. It was the river itself that seemed to supply the soft light – a sort of twilight to which the children quickly grew accustomed. After a few moments they were easily able to pick out the various objects in the cavern: the shapes of boulders on the far side of the river, the dark walls that rose above them, and the ‘icicles,’ as Patsy called them, which hung from the ceiling, flashing and glittering in the reflected glow of the river.”

Not only is the writing beautiful, but the Berton is super funny. I can’t end this without throwing in one more sample. My favorite has to be the description of the baby, and the way that the author gives him a plotting and devious personality. I can just see Mr. Berton, sitting at the breakfast table, gazing at his infant son, and imagining out this next part. Read on.

Excerpt:
“On the afternoon that It happened, the Pollywog was in jail as usual; and as usual he was trying to escape. For his entire life, which seemed to him to have been very long but was actually only twelve months, he had been staring out at the world from behind bars.
First, there had been the crib in the hospital, into which they had popped him after he was born, and then there was the crib at home. Sometimes they would take him out of the crib and pop him in a playpen; more bars. The Pollywog would grip the bars, like a convict, and stare out at the world. He would work out elaborate means of escape and sometimes he actually succeeded in escaping. Nobody ever knew how he did it, but the fact was that occasionally he would be discovered outside his playpen or his crib or down off the high chair, which was his third prison.”

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