A terrifying book depicting the human effects of nuclear holocaust on an elderly couple. Written in a comic strip form by Raymond Briggs, using sophisticated drawing techniques that make this easily the most macabre book I've ever read. It's scary, and showing it to young children scars them for life. It caused much anxiety and fear in both myself and some of my friends.

Raymond Briggs set this book in that period of time in the early 80's when Mrs. Thatcher and Ronald Regan were at the helms of Britain and the USA, respectively. This was a time when increased tension between the West and Warsaw Pact countries heightened awareness and caused great anxiety within the British population about the threat of nuclear war. In an attempt to allay peoples fears of nuclear bombs, radiation poisoning and the "nuclear winter", the British government published some 'helpful' leaflets advising on how to improve your chance of survival in the case of a nuclear attack. These "top tips" included such pearls of wisdom as whitewashing your window panes, putting a paper bag over your head and sitting under the stairs.

Briggs' tale of an ordinary, middle-aged couple, (Jim and Hilda Bloggs), was quite shocking because it depicted the slow decay of a couple who had complete faith in the idea that they would survive the ravages of the bomb as long as they followed the government's farcical survival tips.

This book gives me the chills everytime I read it. It has also been made into an excellent, even creepier animated film, the mood of the story being greatly enhanced by the soundtrack.

Throughout the book Jim Bloggs, the husband, answers his wife's doubts about the efficacy of their precautions with the line "Ours is not to reason why, dear. ... Now what was the next line?" He is quoting the Charge of the Light Brigade (a poem about soldiers sent to their deaths by incompetent commanders) by Alfred Lord Tennyson. The full quote, which he never does remember before he dies, goes:

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:

Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

The book is even creepier if you've read the other comics that Jim and Hilda Bloggs appear in, like Gentleman Jim, which is just a sweet little comic with nice illustrations about how Jim is frustrated with his job and imagines all the other things he could have done with his life.

It is an appallingly scary book: it gave me horrendous sleepless nights for weeks. I agree with eldritch that the 'Ours is not to reason why' reference is unsettling. His constant assertion that 'the powers that be will get through', though, is much more upsetting. Jim's faith in the idea that society, politics and democracy will always make sure that everyone's okay is made to seem so naive in the face of what is so obviously the contrary. Gentleman Jim, though, is far from being a comfortable read either. Jim, a lavatory attendent, doesn't understand why he can't get a glamorous or well paid job like the ones he reads about in books from the library. Every job he sees in the paper needs 'the levels'. He finally decides to be a highwayman, acquires a donkey, and positions himself on a motorway to hold up the cars.

His desperation for glamour and excitement - and his inability to understand why the world isn't like it is in books is touching and pathetic. The faces of authority, though, are petrifying: the traffic warden who has a blank face except for a small, Hitler-like moustache is particularly scary. The judge at the end - who snaps and sentences Jim to be 'hung from the neck until he be dead' is as powerful a depiction of the brutality of society to the common man as any I have seen. Raymond Briggs has not, I don't think, written anything exactly 'nice'. Even Father Christmas is fairly unstereotypical in his general churlishness.

Briggs certainly seems to have some unsettling things to say about the world, but all of it is pretty firmly backed up by a belief that the people are more important than institutions. I bet he's a great guy.

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