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The Ogre Downstairs

3.85  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,636 Ratings  ·  82 Reviews
Chemical Warfare?Casper, Johnny, and Gwinny are sure they'll never be happy again when their mother marries Jack, who is as mean as an ogre. To make matters worse, two obnoxious stepbrothers, Malcolm and Douglas, move in as well. No one -- except the parents -- seems happy. But when Jack gives a chemistry set to each group of kids, bigger problems take over. These are, it ...more
Hardcover, 212 pages
Published January 22nd 2002 by Greenwillow Books (first published 1974)
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Jan 14, 2012 Wealhtheow rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of stories like Half-Magic
Shelves: fantasy, ya
The story of a gaggle of youngsters who can't stand their overbearing step-father and new step-brothers. They're given a chemistry set to bribe them into good behavior, but quickly discover that it can actually be used to make magic potions. The potions get them into ever more convoluted schemes and increasing amounts of trouble, until their dysfunctional household finally reaches a crisis point.

This is a really charming story, filled with little touches of 1970s Britain that I found quaint and
When The Ogre - Malcolm and Douglas' father and Caspar, Johnny and Gwinny's not-at-all-shiny new stepfather - buys Johnny and Malcolm identical chemistry sets, they're fairly sure it's a bribery attempt. The chemicals, though, prove to have rather more interesting effects than any of the children were expecting.

This was a reread. The first time I read it, I thought this book was rather charming. The second time, I thought it was rather awesome. The more time passes, the more I love it, until at
Feb 10, 2016 Skye rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am on a quest to read all of Diana Wynne Jones books. So far I have read eight,and they have all been memorable. The characters and worlds she crafts are relatable and real. There is always a touch of magic, that gives it whimsical fun.
The Ogre Downstairs was no exception, the cast was varied and dynamic. I loved the snappy dialogue, and British setting, I picked up quite a few colloquialisms.
I loved that this story dwelt with family, a rather disjointed and mushed together family. So there wa
Nov 16, 2015 Honya rated it really liked it
With her classic good sense and amazing writing, Diana Wynne Jones produces another magical (in all the best senses of the word) tale in The Ogre Downstairs. Although this is an older story (copyright 1974), it’s full of the excellent characterizations, beautifully accessible writing, incredible observation of people, and neverending sense of wonder and adventure that mark, well, all of her works that I’ve ever read. I found it intriguing that, in this story, rather than the usual buildup to a h ...more
Jessica Meats
I was a bit disappointed by the book. Another author mentioned this book on her blog as one of the funniest things she'd ever read and an old favourite - so I gave it a go. Unfortunately, I didn't find it that funny.

It's quite a sweet story about a group of children and a magical chemistry set. A mum of three has recently remarried to a man her children think of as the Ogre, who has two children of his own. The children hate each other and all hate the Ogre. The Ogre, in an attempt to be nice,
Melissa McShane
I just re-read this book for The Big DWJ Read hosted by the DWJ email list ( It's Diana Wynne Jones's third novel and second juvenile fantasy, but you'd think it was the work of a much more seasoned writer--complex characters, a spot-on portrayal of how kids interact with adults, and some hilarious and memorable mixups arising from a bunch of kids fumbling around with magical chemistry sets. A living pipe that enjoys being smoked; literal dustbunnies; giant animated feral toffee ...more
Julie Davis
Casper, Johnny, and Gwinny are quite unhappy when their mother marries Jack, whose dour nature and heavy handed approach to discipline lead them to dub him The Ogre. Adding to their unhappiness are their two new stepbrothers, Malcolm and Douglas, who are every bit as unappealing as The Ogre, albeit in different ways. When Jack gives each group of children a chemistry set, everyone is surprised, but no one expects magical results. However, they soon discover that some combinations of ingredients ...more
Lady Ozma
Oct 04, 2007 Lady Ozma rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: EVERYONE!!!!!!!!
I read this book so many times as a child that the library probably thought I purchased it from them. I have since gotten that same library book at a sale they had. Talk about a score! I've shared this book with my children. I plan to share it with my future grandchildren!

Words cannot begin to describe the fun of step-siblings with dueling chemistry sets that contain some items not normally found on the periodic table. From things being brought to life to flying to the disco, this book looks at
The Ogre Downstairs is probably not one of Diana Wynne Jones's best-known books, but it's always been one of my favorites. Caspar, Johnny, and Gwinny resent their new stepfather (known to them as "the Ogre") and his sons, Douglas and Malcolm, but when the Ogre gives Johnny and Malcolm new chemistry sets, all of the children get mixed up in the magical results. I've read this book multiple times, and it's always laugh-out-loud funny; Jones is really at the top of her comic form here. At the same ...more
Emily Collins
Oct 31, 2012 Emily Collins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very nice story about the coming together of a mixed family. Also an ogre.

It actually seems about like how a child whose mom (or dad) gets married may view their family. Except, of course, Diana likes to add some magic in, in this case in the form of a chemistry set. It's one of those smooth stories that reads quite nicely and you always cringe a little when they get mad at each other but you're also like, I probably would have done that too (except for trying to kill the ogre - I don't think
Fun read, as usual, but not as good as many of her later books. Also, I was rather disconcerted by the kids and the stepfather all realizing that they weren't trying to understand each other, really, and yay we'll all be a happy family now, when to my mind the stepfather's behavior often rose to abusive levels. Mild abuse, I suppose, but abuse is abuse.
Mar 14, 2009 Charity rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't wait to read this with my kids when they are old enough. It was imaginative and fresh. I enjoyed the story and felt the characters stayed true to themselves throughout. The story centers around a family that is adjusting to being family and their exploits with a chemistry set. I wish I had thought of it.
Oct 30, 2014 Nick rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: juvenile-fantasy
This was not one of her better books. I think that much of my objection to it was the stepdad, who really did come across as an ogre in some of the scenes, including the one in which he hit his own teenage son. The stepkids just saw him as being annoying and mindlessly strict, but the actual abuse part turned me against him.
The magical McGuffin of getting an alchemy set along with the chemistry set was very cute, and there were some really good bits with that. As someone who had a big chemistry
A good story which I don't remember reading as a child. I think maybe my parents wisely kept it from me because they knew that if I read it I would probably end up tasting all the substances in my chemistry set. Or hitting people -- the characters in this story seem to hit each other a lot.
Sep 14, 2007 CLM rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: childrensbooks
This was the first DWJ I ever read - I brought it home from the library and the whole family was hooked. It's about two boys who receive a chemistry set from their despised stepfather, the Ogre, and the unexpected results of their experiments to their sister and themselves.
May 16, 2015 Derek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is Diana Wynne Jones's second juvenile fantasy. It's quite an improvement over her previous book, WILKIN'S TOOTH, which showed some promise, but was ultimately a bit forgettable.

In this one, magical hijinks ensue when a blended family (three kids on the wive's side, two on the husband's) discover that the chemistry set they've been given is magical. The "Ogre" of the title is the stepfather, and the unpredictable results of the chemistry set's reactions leads to all kind of problems for eve
Dec 25, 2012 Weiss rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I liked it the first time I read it when I was a teenager. Rereading it in my 20s left me wondering why I liked it. But it's fun and easy to read, really light fiction, unlike most magic-fantasy books.
Feb 06, 2016 Stephanie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ya-mg
Not my favorite Diana Wynne Jones book, but it was still a solid tale about families and magic. I guess it was just...sort of small? And everything was a little random?
May 27, 2014 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-aloud
4 stars for the parts with the toffee bars and the pipe, which read like a greatly expanded version of the funny bits of Harry Potter (who of course this book predates by a couple decades).

2 stars because the level of anger the ogre displays, and the fear he inspires in not just his step-sons, but also his real sons, is in fact disturbing (view spoiler), and not just a little quirk of his personality (view spoiler)
G. Cribbs
Apr 30, 2010 G. Cribbs rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the BEST books I've read of all time. I love her writing way better than the money-maker Harry Potter series. Very, very good!!

I think this was one of the most fun 'kid gets his hands on magic toys' tale I have read. It reminded me of E. Nesbit's 'Five Children and It' but far less preachy feeling. This book was more like kids dealing with each other, (and being genuinely mean in their rivalry at first). It was interlining to watch their ways of cleaning up the chaos caused by the magic (imagine trying to pull your flying sister down from the ceiling with a mop!) and it was charming to see how they grew through the book
Feb 21, 2016 Vendela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rereading some excellent YA books. I stand by my original rating. DWJ is very excellent at writing from the kids' point of view.
Jan 04, 2015 Lc rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recently re-read this, a very well-done and (in my opinion) under-appreciated Diana Wynne Jones book. This is what pure fun looks like when executed by a master. Caspar, Gwinny, and Johnny are not fans of their new stepfather or their new stepbrothers, and the feeling is mutual. But when their stepfather, "the Ogre," he accidentally buys them a magical chemistry set, hysterical hi-jinks ensue that include invisibility, flying, living toffee bars, mistaken identities... and in the end, people c ...more
Book Elf
Jun 27, 2011 Book Elf rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gave-away
I thought that this story was something like Shrek because of the ogre title~ haha, I was mistaken. He just seemed to be called ogre because of his character. I read this book because it was from Diana Wynne Jones, who was one of my favorite authors.

It was an okay story. Two families were merged after remarrying and created a complete household chaos especially when the ogre brought them the magical chemistry set (unknown to him that it is indeed magical!). It was like some of the movies I have
Just when I thought I knew exactly what to expect from Diana Wynne Jones, I pick up The Ogre Downstairs, and realize that I can't predict anything about her books.

That's a good thing, even if I'm not the intended audience.

The Ogre Downstairs is written for a middle grade audience, for kids 8 and up. I rarely felt self-conscious reading it, though, because Diana Wynne Jones never wrote down to her audience. She doesn't dumb down the plots or simplify the writing; she simply has realistic people,
Aug 16, 2013 Magali rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 24, 2013 Me rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was fun.

I know for a fact that my chemistry teacher or any of my science teachers would be horrified by the use of chemicals in this book. The rules "Make sure the instructions are clear before doing anything, Never taste anything, Make sure you wash all spills, and follow the instructions" are completely disregarded. Apparently the rules are there for a reason, as this book's fun points out.

I'm sure that this book will have more meaning to people who've been in a situations where they'v
Apr 08, 2011 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, dwj
This riff on "Jack and the Beanstalk" is one of Diana Wynne Jones' best standalone fantasy titles. The twists come from the fact that the character of the giant (here nicknamed the Ogre) is "downstairs" and not up the sky as in the fairytale, and that it's the Ogre whose name is Jack and not the hero of the tale. All the DWJ features are there: the fun with words (the compounds in the magic chemistry sets have abbreviations similar to homeopathic rememdies), the sly Arthurian allusions (the most ...more
Harold Ogle
One of the earliest Wynne-Jones books I've read so far, this one is still brilliant. Like all of her works, it involves a different take on magic than all the others. This one details a sort of accidental alchemy. The story is a bit of a cross between "The Brady Bunch" (by way of the UK) and a madcap Disney live action movie from the twentieth century ("Flubber," "Herbie," or "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," for example). The set-up is that two single parents have married (one is a divorcee, the othe ...more
Feb 21, 2016 Attila rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, family, childhood
Kids get a chemistry playset from their stepfather. It turns out that some of the reagents have magic properties. Lots of mayhem ensues.

I genuinely loved this gem of a book. It is full of laugh-out-loud moments and cozy scenes, it has great character development, and a good ending. One of the best books of DWJ.

If there was a single DWJ book that inspired Harry Potter, this one must have been it.
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Diana Wynne Jones was the author of more than thirty critically acclaimed fantasy stories, including the Chrestomanci series and the novels Howl's Moving Castle and Dark Lord of Derkholm.

For Diana Wynne Jones's official autobiography, please see
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