I’ve yet to meet anyone (family excluded) who remembers this book.
It is a simple story. Egrin is a kindly wizard, slightly bumbling, living in the woods with his animal chums. He paints a picture of himself and when magic dust is accidentally spilt over it, the picture comes to life.
His doppelgänger then turns Egrin into a toad, locks him in a cage, and then takes over – sleeping in Egrin’s bed and playing nasty tricks on his friends. Of course, being a kid’s book, he gets his comeuppance when it rains and he melts into a colourful, wizard shaped puddle.
There are relatively few words, and the story is told very matter of factly. Probably the strongest descriptive word is ‘mean’. But nevertheless it is a creepy tale. The idea that someone who looks exactly like you could come into your life and take over really gave me the willies as a kid. And when you add the illustrations… I mean, don’t tell me he doesn’t creep you out, just a little bit.
It was one of those books which I really didn’t want to look at, because it felt scary and dangerous. It played on my mind and got under my skin. But I kept on looking at it, with that unexplainable morbid fascination people have for the sinister.
You might well wonder whether this compulsion to look at something that frightened me made me into a horror movie fan. Well, nope. I really don’t like them. And interestingly enough, one of the things that still really scares me in film and TV is when people’s reflections don’t behave as they should. Coming out of mirrors, being in mirrors but not in real life. It freaks me out. If ever I watch anything remotely scary, I can’t wash my face for a week for fear there will be someone behind me in the mirror when I look up.
I put it all down to this book. Or maybe it was that episode of Dramarama where a boy got trapped in a mirror whilst his reflection took over his life. Clearly the makers of that show were familiar with this little treasure.
Anyone out there remember it?
Title: Egrin and the Painted Wizard
Author: Amanda Walsh
Illustrator: Amanda Walsh
First published: 1972