The thing that really got me interested in this whole sci-fi thing in the first place wasn’t Star Wars or Doctor Who, it was a story about a witch called Meg who takes her scraggly cat Mog on a birthday outing to the moon. But she wasn’t the first witch in space, and she wouldn’t be the last.
Meg on the Moon was published 40 years ago, shortly after the final Apollo moon landing, and author Helen Nicol and illustrator Jan Pieńkowski tapped into childrens’ continued fascination with space travel. There are no little green men to be found on the moon, just fun loving astronauts who love nothing more than a spot of zero gravity leapfrog.
What always intrigued me most about the whole scenario were the practicalities of eating in space. Despite having already filled up on birthday cake and flown off in a ship made out of magic cheese, Meg and Mog decide to cook up some egg and chips inside their flying saucer – with disastrous consequences.
Later on we see them dreaming of luscious earth food only to be served up with a couple of catheter like bags filled with liquidised strawberries for Meg and fish for Mog. How I longed to taste the contents of one of those strangely tempting brown bags.
But another hag had beaten not just Meg, but the Russians into orbit. In 1959 Tilly Ipswitch became the first Space Witch, creating a potion ‘as fantastic as plastic’ and pouring it into a mould ‘she had hollowed out of an old dinosaur’s tooth’. Tilly even left room in the cabin for the pointiest of pointy hats.
Fuelled by purest jet black magic and dressed like the Michelin man, she and her cat Tilly jet off in the Zoom Broom and go in search of milk from the milky way and aliens to scare on Mars.
The zoom broom passes the spearlike mountains of the moon and avoids Jupiter with its swirling mists before getting completely lost amongst the dairy free wonder of the milky way. They end up crash-landing on the inhospitable mountains of madness of a planet filled with ‘outlandish looking creatures with large heads and very small feet.’
The book ends with a lovely twist that I didn’t see coming, possibly because I was so caught up with Don Freeman’s beautifully detailed illustrations. The heavy crosshatched shadows and the genuinely witchy look of Tilly together with the spooky alien creatures give the book a pleasingly scary feel.
There’s nothing scary about Winnie the Witch, apart from her dedication to the colour purple. Winnie in Space is probably the most colourful depiction of our universe you’ll ever see. Iconic artist Korky Paul really goes to town on this vast canvas. His version of our galaxy is crowded with orange, green and pink polka dot planets, set against the deep blue backdrop of space.
Winnie follows in the footsteps of those other great lunar explorers Wallace and Gromit, who also used space travel as an excuse to find a good spot for a picnic. And like the Aardman duo Winnie finds out that there are far more annoying things to ruin a picnic in space than a few wasps. Ravenous space rabbits with a taste for metal set to work on Winnie’s underwear adorned rocket.
You can watch the lovely animated version of Meg on the Moon over on youtube. Next time I’ll be looking at two brilliant new sci-fi comic characters – Rocket Girl and Battling Boy.