Flashback Fridays: I see dead people . . .

You’re a kid in Britain who has weird things happen to you.  There’s an old cemetery in town and you’re seeing dead people.  They look and act pretty much like living people, except they’re a whole lot more interesting.  And now someone wants to dig the cemetery up . . .

Do you remember:

Johnny and the Dead by Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins, c1993)

Okay, I’ll admit this is only twenty years old and Terry Pratchett is far from obscure.  But given this is All Souls Day, the day after Halloween, I wanted a suitable flashback book, and seeing as how I missed out on including this in my list of Ghostly Encounters, I figured it was a good way to round out the week.

Johnny Maxwell is just one more kid growing up in the gray town of Blackburry.  There are troubles at home he’s trying to avoid, friends he likes to hang out with and argue things with. But he also notices things others don’t.  And lately, one of those things is the dead folks hanging out in the old town cemetery.  The one that the town council wants to dig up and develop into office buildings.  But these aren’t the spine tingling brain eating dead of monster movies.  These ghostly dead mostly just want to talk and get Johnny’s help to stop the demolition.  But what can one boy do to convince the living to let the dead stay where they are?

Johnny ultimately helps the dead discover how to free themselves, and convinces his town about the importance of the past.  It’s a touching, whimsical and downright funny look at the passage of life and death and what it all means.  Now, when it comes to Sir Terry Pratchett, I’m a huge fan.  I love just about everything he’s ever written whether it’s adult, young adult  or children’s.  But I will admit this  book may not be what  a child first expects from the title.   It’s much more thoughtful and less action-packed than most stories about the undead.  But for a a reader who likes to think and turn those thoughts over a few times in their heads, Johnny and the Dead may just fit the bill.

I think this cover better illustrates the tone of the story.

This is the second book in Terry’s Johnny Maxwell series.  Each book of the three books features Johnny and the town of Blackburry.  In the first book Only You Can Save Mankind (1992), Johnny must deal with aliens from his video game being impossibly real.  He quickly discovers it’s not so much fun to shoot and kill aliens when they surrender and ask for your help in the game . . . less so when you encounter them in person.  The third book, Johnny and the Bomb (1996), tackles the question of time travel as Johnny and his friends must deal with the repercussions of the Trousers of Time and journey to the past of WWII to save a present-day friend.

This particular book was also made into a British TV Miniseries in 1995.  Though the production was done on a shoestring budget, it did stay faithful to much of Pratchett’s original story.

So, any other Pratchett fans out there?  What do you think of his Johnny trilogy?  Comments welcome!


About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on November 1, 2013, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I love Pratchett’s Johnny books. They’ve got a wonderful sense of whimsy to them, and a moral centre that’s clear but not over-powering. I also like the type of British youth that he portrays. There’s none of the privilege and conservatism that is the bedrock of Enid Blyton’s characters, but rather a modern view of Britain full of run down council estates that despite their drabness raise interesting, good-hearted people. Great book to pick out.

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