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The Ogre Downstairs

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  2,076 ratings  ·  120 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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Average rating 3.88  · 
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 ·  2,076 ratings  ·  120 reviews

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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
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
Jan 14, 2012 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
Oct 04, 2007 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
Feb 10, 2016 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
Apr 08, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Oscar’s review: “it was quite good daddy, but a bit old fashioned and had too much child abuse.”
Emily Collins
Oct 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk-authors
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
This was a decent read. It is an early Diana Wynne Jones and it shows. The ending is a bit lame. So is the way one person turned up at the end with no real explanation. However, the five kids are interesting and very individual. It isn't incredibly creative. Certainly I could see roughly how it was going to end, happily ever after. Basically another version of magic goes haywire until finished off. Still, I read it pretty much straight through. The various antics of the magic events were pretty ...more
G. Cribbs
Apr 30, 2010 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!! ...more
R.J. Rodda
Aug 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: childrens
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 14, 2009 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. ...more
I found this book and thought it sounded like a nice fun read so I picked it up. Needless to say that it was a nice fun read. I read through it in two days and had fun. I think it would have been even more awesome or interesting if there was more about the magic powders and figuring out their magic etc but it was still enjoyable.
Nicole Loreno
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
The events in this book is well-described. It also gives a moral lesson which is good for the children today.
Mar 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dwj
Another precious story. I'm probably the only person who feels this way, but I just adore everything this woman writes. Wrote, rather... :( ...more
Oct 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a lovely book! Very imaginative and creative, very sweet. And with a nice message - don't take people by face value, literally. ...more
Fredrik deBoer
Written by my single favorite author as a child, the Ogre Downstairs is minor Diana Wynne Jones, but that's still high praise. Set in a very low-magic universe, even for Jones, the book is a story about a set of kids (or, at first, a couple sets of kids) discovering the power of a magical chemistry set. It's also a tale of blended families and how hard they are to blend. It features the usual Diana Wynne Jones inventiveness and her unique talent for portraying realistic childhood - that is, her ...more
Mar 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting piece of nonsense that goes a breakneck pace. Curiously, in spite of all the magic it doesn't seem as 'real' as some of her books in which far more extraordinary things happen.
This early story by Wynne Jones remains at a fairly domestic level, with what we'd now call a blended family trying to learn how to live together, and their personalities affected by experimenting with two chemistry sets that are more than they seem.
Nov 16, 2015 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
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
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
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,
May 15, 2014 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)
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. ...more
Sep 14, 2007 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. ...more
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. ...more
Dec 25, 2012 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. ...more
Feb 24, 2010 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. ...more
Mar 27, 2011 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?
Sep 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle-generic
The way Mrs. Jones weaves the stories together to get such a satisfactory ending to all of them at the end is just the best. I wish I had known about her when I was a teenager, I would have read every one of her books so many times.

Now to convince my own teenager to read them.
Alex Ankarr
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Diana was born in London, the daughter of Marjorie (née Jackson) and Richard Aneurin Jones, both of whom were teachers. When war was announced, shortly after her fifth birthday, she was evacuated to Wales, and thereafter moved several times, including periods in Coniston Water, in York, and back in London. In 1943 her family finally settled in Thaxted, Essex, where her parents worked running an ed ...more

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