Here Be Monsters!: 02/12/16
Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow is the omnibus edition of Pants Ahoy!, The Man in the Iron Socks, and Cheese Galore!. It was vaguely, loosely, sort of, the inspiration for the film Boxtrolls.
But let's set aside the Laika movie for a moment.
Here Be Monsters! is written and illustrated in a way that is reminiscent of the old Penny Dreadfuls. Set in Ratbridge (not Cheesebridge) in a post apocalyptic time after the EVENT at the cheese factory throughly changed things. Put another way, it could be a single city's experience post Mushroom War if Ratbridge were in the same universe as Adventure Time!
The how and why of what happened to Ratbridge isn't important but is eventually explained. It's presumably also the explanation to why there are boxtrolls, cabbage people, rabbit women, laundry rats, living cheeses.
Here Be Monsters! is also a deconstructed urban fantasy. In a typical urban fantasy, our hero lives in the city and somehow travels back and forth to the fantasy realm. Here, though, the book starts with a visitor from another world (a subterranean one), come to hunt for food and supplies for himself and his grandfather. Like a fairy, he has wings (though his are mechanical). Unfortunately his raid comes during an illegal cheese hunt and his flight catches their attention.
So yes, Arthur Trubshaw does live underground. But he's not been abandoned by his family, nor has he been kidnapped by boxtrolls. He has not been renamed Eggs. In fact, he stays in contact with his grandfather throughout the entire book, even at times when he can't return to their underground home.
This book is at times a ponderous one full of all sorts of things that just have be taken as is because the story's pacing doesn't give you time to come to terms with things before moving on. Cheese have legs, trolls wear boxes like hermit crabs, rats drive people so that they can run their laundry, women live like Amazons but underground and dressed like rabbits, and there are fresh water seacows who are literally cows who have learned how to swim.
Except for the boxtrolls, none of these fantasy elements made it into the Boxtrolls film. Rather than give Arthur his chance to explore a new-to-him world like Dorothy or Alice, and like them, help the locals take down a great evil, he is yanked from his family, his identity stolen, and his childhood re-written so that he now thinks he's a funny looking boxtroll named Eggs.
As in the film adaptation of Coraline, this film has a new companion character for Eggs né Arthur. Ratbridge, renamed Cheesebridge (a town with normal cheese but a cheese-based parliament) has a town leader (mayor?) and he has a daughter. She like Whybie is put into the film to explain how the world works to "Eggs" and to the audience.
In Coraline this change was necessary because so much of the action was within the realm of Coraline's thoughts. Here, though, Alan Snow goes for the show don't tell method of story telling (with lots and lots ink drawings too). There's no need for a new character to explain everything!
To say the film was a disappointment, would be an understatement. Normally I firmly believe in letting the film and book be different things. But (and how I hate buts) this film feels like it was written by someone who had only looked at the illustrations and then made up a story from whole-cloth.