“All that was left for Fred to do was beam at his subjects whenever he went out in his carriage and go hunting five times a week with his two best friends, Lord Spittleworth and Lord Flapoon.”
From his description in the first chapter, King Fred seems to absolve himself of all the work that it takes to run a kingdom, and instead spends his days relaxing with his friends and eating the finest delicacies. It is clear that he has no concept of running a kingdom, but he still enjoys reaping the benefits that come with it. With this, JK Rowling begins her social critique of the attitudes of the elite and aristocracy in the modern day.
“They lived in the happiest kingdom in the world. What harm could the Ickabog do?”
This quote foreshadows later events in the story in a way that creates suspense and curiosity for readers. Indeed, the creature has already been described in a menacing way and is the source of nightmares for young people. JK Rowling uses foreshadowing and cliff hangers at the ends of her chapters to ensure readers will come back and keep reading when new chapters have been published on her website.
"Bert wanted to say something to his best friend, but what had happened was too enormous and dreadful for words. Bert could hardly bear to imagine how he’d feel if his mother had disappeared forever into the cold, hard earth."
Though The Ickabog is, according to Rowling, a story for children ages 7-9, it contains many serious themes. One such theme is death, particularly the death of parents. In this quote, Rowling speaks to the universal difficulty of talking to another person about the death of their loved one. This can be particularly difficult for children who are just learning to grapple with the concept of death. It is important to note that Rowling released The Ickabog in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, when death was an extremely present theme. Many children lost their parents or relatives, making this quote relatable for children who are learning to work through grief and confusion.
"Nobody would ever again say that he was selfish, vain, and cruel! For the sake of a smelly, simple old shepherd and his worthless old mongrel, he, King Fred the Fearless, was going to hunt the Ickabog!"
This quote is important because it shows King Fred's internal conflict in The Ickabog. As King Fred states, he doesn't want to be seen as selfish, vain, and cruel, and he seeks to take actions that will show people that those qualities do not define him. However, in truth he is often motivated by selfishness and vanity, which leads him to say and do things that are cruel. In this quote, no sooner has he said that he doesn't want to be seen negatively than he insults the person he is supposed to be helping, calling him "smelly" and "simple" and his beloved dog "worthless." To truly cause people to not see him as selfish, vain, and cruel, King Fred will have to dig deep into his perceptions of worth.
"Now the whole Royal Guard understood the choice facing them. They weighed in their minds the huge influence Spittleworth was known to have over the king, and the fact that Major Roach was now caressing the barrel of his rifle in a menacing manner, and they remembered the sudden death of their former leader, Major Beamish. They also considered the promise of more gold, and speedy promotion, if they agreed to believe in the Ickabog, and in Private Nobby Buttons."
In this quote, Rowling shows how power and fear are able to spread corruption and lies. Only Captain Goodfellow and two other soldiers resist Lord Spittleworth's threats and bribes, and because it is only three against many, they are thrown in the dungeons and nearly killed. This parallels many historical circumstances in which authoritarian leaders force those in positions of moderate power to spread misinformation and fear throughout a country or community. In particular, when this story was released in 2020, there was much discussion of the spread of misinformation about COVID-19 for political gain.
"Meanwhile, most of their fellow citizens competed with each other to demonstrate their passionate belief in the Ickabog. They propped up cheap copies of the painting of King Fred fighting the Ickabog in their windows, and hung wooden signs on their doors, which bore messages like PROUD TO PAY THE ICKABOG TAX and DOWN WITH THE ICKABOG, UP WITH THE KING! Some parents even taught their children to bow and curtsy to the tax collectors."
Chapter 22, "The House with No Flags," demonstrates how patriotism is often due to fear of one's government rather than pride in one's country. The people of Chouxville have become so scared of being punished by Lord Spittleworth that they celebrate a high tax that they do not even benefit from, since Lord Spittleworth steals most of the money. This quote also sets up a contrast that will be drawn in later chapters between Chouxville and the other cities of Cornucopia, where the tax has less popular support and makes more of a negative impact.
"However, as he drove through the countryside, passing woods and forests where he might easily strangle Daisy and bury her body, it slowly dawned on Private Prodd that he wasn’t going to be able to do it. He happened to have a little niece around Daisy’s age, of whom he was very fond. In fact, every time he imagined himself strangling Daisy, he seemed to see his niece Rosie in his mind’s eye, pleading for her life. So instead of turning off the dirt track into the woods, Prodd drove the wagon onwards, racking his brains as to what to do with Daisy."
Private Prodd's brief plot line in The Ickabog is quite similar to the character of the Huntsman in Snow White, who is instructed by a ruler to kill a young girl but realizes he cannot. It is unclear if this is a purposeful allusion or merely a parallel to the famous fairy tale.
Private Prodd not killing Daisy in this quote demonstrates that even though there is a lot of wickedness and death in The Ickabog, people can be good at their core and resist the orders of their superiors. What changes Prodd's mind is empathy; he knows someone similar to Daisy, so he cannot hurt her.
"As for poor Mrs Tenderloin, Spittleworth barely considered her at all, but I’d like you to know that she was a very kind person, who babysat her friends’ children and sang in the local choir."
Many minor characters die in the Ickabog; in this quote specifically, a man who spoke out about the Ickabog tax and his wife are killed by the Dark Footers. By describing the wife, who didn't do anything wrong herself, Rowling shows how innocent people can become casualties when governments are led by oppressive, violent leaders. Furthermore, by describing Mrs. Tenderloin's kindness and hobbies, Rowling creates a concrete and relatable character, so that this death is not merely a number but a real tragedy.
"Why did he need orphanages, you ask? Well, in the first place, quite a number of parents were being killed or imprisoned. As everyone was now finding it difficult to feed their own families, they weren’t able to take in the abandoned children.In the second place, poor people were dying of hunger. As parents usually fed their children rather than themselves, children were often the last of the family left alive.And in the third place, some heartbroken, homeless families were giving up their children to orphanages, because it was the only way they could make sure their children would have food and shelter."
Rowling includes characters who are orphans in many of her works. Notably, the titular character of her famous Harry Potter series is an orphan. In this quote, Rowling speaks about the societal conditions that increase the number of orphans in certain eras. Importantly, Rowling shows that children do not become orphans only by their parents dying through violence or illness; rather, many parents bring their children to orphanages due to poverty, to give their children a chance to live. This makes it even more tragic to read about Ma Grunter's mistreatment and near-starvation of the children in her orphanage.
"Huddled together beside the wagon, all four were soon unconscious, and the snow crept up their bodies as the moon began to rise. And then a vast shadow rippled over them. Two enormous arms covered in long green hair, like marsh weed, descended upon the four friends. As easily as if they were babies, the Ickabog scooped them up and bore them away across the marsh."
After 50 chapters, Rowling finally reveals the plot twist of The Ickabog: the titular Ickabog does actually exist, and it may not be as fearsome as the citizens of Cornucopia think. By writing that the Ickabog picked up the children "as easily as if they were babies," she both shows the Ickabog's size and strength clear and demonstrates that it is a careful, delicate creature.
Ickabog Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Ickabog is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.