Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Eagle has Crash-landed

Book Review: AQUILA
Written by: Andrew Norriss
138 pages
Published by: Puffin Modern Classics
Originally released: 1997


I can fondly remember looking forward to the weekly instalments of CBBC’s serialised adaptation of Andrew Norriss’s Aquila as an imaginative 13 year old. A flying spaceship which can turn invisible and freeze time with a laser really appealed to me then - and still does today as I approach my 27th birthday! 14 years may have passed, but I can still recall the thunderous spoken Latin message which accompanied the opening titles. Ahhh, good times!

Even back then I was aware the series – also penned by Norriss, who co-created 90's sitcom The Brittas Empire – was based on a novel, and immediately sort to buy said book, but I can remember being curious as to how they could possibly make a second series (which followed on BBC1 in December 1998) given how there wasn’t a follow-up novel...?

Well now there is! Author Andrew Norriss belatedly released Aquila 2 just last year, and the excited child inside me couldn’t pass up the opportunity to revisit the original story before continuing the adventures of school boys Geoff and Tom and their 6000 year old alien spacecraft.

The underachieving best mates discover Aquila - which means "Eagle" in Latin, in case you were confused by this blog's title - while bunking off a school geography trip and falling into a cave where the skeleton of a Roman soldier is still guarding his prized possession. But rather than using the extraordinary craft to take them on all manner of wild and exotic misadventures, the paper-thin plot instead details their attempts to get the thing home and hidden from their parents and the authorities.

What I found fascinating about the story was how the narrative was just as much about the teacher’s reservations regarding the work-shy pair’s sudden interest in all things bilingual, mathematical and aerodynamic as it was about the unearthed flying pod. Norriss derives a lot of humour from the adult characters – the suspicious school staff, Geoff’s inattentive dad, Tom’s agoraphobic mother, Mrs Murphy the senile, pill-popping next door neighbour – while making Tom and Geoff as “normal” and relatable as possible.

Aquila is essentially a high concept MacGuffin. The extraterrestrial machine isn’t the adventure itself, but merely serves as the catalyst which inspires Tom and Geoff’s personal adventure: it fuels their determination and unlocks their dormant capabilities to achieve whatever they set their minds to. Yes, granted, it’s a twee morality tale, but let’s not forget this is a children’s book, and Norriss disguises his message stealthily beneath the humour and wonder of the lad’s enquiring attempts at discovering what their awe-inspiring treasure is capable of.

In a CR@B Shell: A light, witty and inspirational parable on setting your mind to a goal and reaching for the sky, Aquila impressed me all over again as an adult rediscovering this modern children’s classic and I can’t wait to see where Norriss takes the inquisitive schoolboys in the sequel.

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