Reviewed by Rich Follett for Readers' Favorite
Spring-Heel’d Jack, a shadowy, daemon-like figure with red eyes, metallic claws and breath like blue fire, terrorized Londoners and was immortalized in the penny dreadfuls of the Victorian era. In Spring-Heel’d Jack by E.J. Hagadorn and wickedly gifted Gorey-esque illustrator Sophie Lees, ol’ Spring-Heel is revivified in a sinister and seemingly gleeful incarnation as the dark hero of a cautionary tale for children. In a series of clever and macabre quatrains, Hagadorn relates the probable fate of a wide-eyed young Victorian lass who scorns her governess’s admonitions to tuck in for a good night’s sleep. Spring-Heel’d Jack is on the prowl, she is warned, and children who do not go to bed when they are told are just begging for him to pay a call. The text is equal parts charming and terrifying; accompanied by Lees' playful, gothic black and white illustrations, the overall effect is the stuff of the most delicious nightmares that ever compelled a child to behave.
In our politically correct, modern world where virtually every shred of content for children is sanitized, watered down or compromised by maudlin platitudes, it may well be time for an unvarnished, unabashedly evil ne'er-do-well like Spring-Heel’d Jack to make a re-entry into the collective consciousness of our children. If childhood education does not include a frame of reference for real dangers, the world becomes an even more dangerous place. There could hardly be a more delightful or eloquent way to encourage a healthy respect for villains than E.J. Hagadorn’s Spring-Heel’d Jack. Like the Victorian era from which this classic character has been so masterfully resurrected, Hagadorn and Lees’ work bespeaks an elegant but unforgiving code of rules for survival that modern children would do well to revisit.