In the beginning, the monster in Mark Ronson’s novel is far from overwhelming. Initially it’s described vaguely as a sheet of silver reflecting in the sun. A little like Reynolds Wrap Aluminum Foil, I suppose.
It takes a while for the author to get warmed up, but he slowly finds his groove. “Down the tunnel came a sound indistinct and liquid,” he wrote. “The pallid organism pulsed and glistened with mucosity.”
Eventually the monster blossoms into an unholy abomination with a history reaching all the way back to pre-Roman English antiquity (and beyond). But oddly, in no way did the gelatinous titular blob resemble an ogre. There was nothing Shrek-like about it. What’s up with that?
The explanation comes from Patricia Derbyshire, a character who conveniently has a university degree in Celtic history and mythology. Her lesson in etymology helps clarify the monster’s linguistic origins. According to her, ancient English religious cults worshipped a deity they called Ooga. Later, French author James Perrault borrowed the word and used it in a new literary genre, the fairy tale. And that, dear reader, is how the word ogre transitioned into popular culture.
And that’s also why Ronson chose Ogre, and not vampire or hobgoblin, for the title of his book. “We’ve been face-to-face with a genuine man-eating beast all this time,” said Richard Finlay, the man at the center of the story. “At least we now have a name for it.”
No matter what it was called—ooga, booga, slug, vampire, cockatrice, griffin, hobgoblin or wyrm—the ogre had to be destroyed. Or as one character put it: “I want to see that damn thing poisoned, burned up, killed—kaput!”
But killing an ancient pagan idol was harder to do than you might think. Gas, bombs, napalm, flame-throwers, acid, lasers, nuclear artillery—there was nothing in mankind’s arsenal that could stop the ogre. Or was there?
Finding clues in weathered scriptures and faded church etchings, Richard and Patricia eventually discovered how the old Celts controlled the ooga. Translating Latin and interpreting ancient iconography was the easy part. More difficult was finding a modern solution that was compatible with hoary sacred rites.
Before the final showdown, Ronson throws a few curveballs to keep readers on their toes. There are competing subplots featuring a village idiot, a serial rapist (infamously known as the Leopard Man) and a clergyman with secrets. In addition, there’s a love story brewing between Richard and Patricia, which, to be honest, is a bit contrived.
By the end of the novel, the ogre is as big as a frikkin’ house with tentacles as thick as telephone poles. When it destroys buildings the effect is like an adult’s fingers smashing through the windows of a dollhouse. It is a vision of hell as only Pieter Bruegel could have imagined it. “Here Satan was no gentlemanly Mephistopheles,” concludes Ronson with an endgame flourish. “It was the very essence of evil—an ever-changing shape with the stench of a plague pit.”
[Ogre / By Mark Ronson / First Printing: June 1980 / ISBN: 9780600200390]