UPDATED: Read the Latest Chapters of J.K. Rowling’s “The Ickabog” with Us
by Brienne Green · Published · Updated
As previously reported, J.K. Rowling has announced that her new children’s story, The Ickabog, will be published in installments over the next seven weeks. What’s more, young readers ages 7–12 are strongly encouraged to submit their illustrations because the best ones will make it into the official hard copy, which will be available to purchase in November. True to Rowling’s words, the official website of The Ickabog has already begun to publish the chapters, completely free of charge. Here’s our summary of the story so far.
We begin the story in the prosperous country of Cornucopia, which is ruled by the celebrated but rather spoiled and vain king, Fred the Fearless. He can do no wrong, or so his toady best friends, tall, thin, and cunning Lord Spittleworth and stocky and ruddy-faced Lord Flapoon, have him believe. Cornucopia is famous for its food: Chouxville for its pastries, Kurdsburg for its cheeses, Baronstown for its meats, and Jeroboam for its wines. The only lacking parts are the northernmost Marshlands, whose dwellers are said to be surly, dirty, and ill-tempered. Here is where the legend of the Ickabog originates.
The Ickabog is said to be a monstrous creature from the Marshlands. Across the kingdom, children are frightened into behaving, or else the Ickabog will come for them. After hearing tall tales about it from their neighbor, Mr. Dovetail, young Bert Beamish of Chouxville has a nightmare about it. His mother tells him not to be afraid because the Ickabog doesn't exist and it can't bring troubles to Cornucopia, the happiest kingdom in the world.
The Beamish and the Dovetail families are neighbors in the City-Within-The-City, where the king's workers reside protected by tall, white walls and the Royal Guard. Bert's father, Major Beamish, is head of the Royal Guard, and his mother, Bertha, is the head pastry chef, and thus both are favorites of King Fred. Bert's best friend is Daisy Dovetail, who is like a sister to him. Mr. Dan Dovetail is her dad, and the king's carpenter, while Mrs. Dora Dovetail is his Head Seamstress. In preparation for the visit of the King of Pluritania, who once hoped to exchange one of his daughter's hands in marriage for a lifetime supply of Chouxville's famously sumptuous Hopes-of-Heaven pastries, King Fred has Mrs. Dovetail sew him a new, lavish costume. She sews for three days despite feeling ill, and on the fourth morning, she is found dead with an amethyst button in her hand. While Spittleworth and Flapoon flatter Fred, he begins to wonder whether his subjects are happy. His Chief Advisor, Herringbone, advises him to send a wreath, which the king does, but when he suggests Fred pay a visit to the Dovetails, the king is reluctant.
Mrs. Dovetail is buried and her husband and daughter's house remains in mourning. Bothered by the fact that the remaining Dovetails have stopped celebrating him on his way out of the castle to hunt, King Fred orders them to trade houses with the Roaches to a much smaller, darker one right next to the graveyard in City-Within-The-City.
Mrs. Beamish agrees with those who think the king couldn't have known about the late Mrs. Dovetail's illness, while Major Beamish isn't convinced the king has been much affected by the loss. Grieving, Mr. Dovetail carries on working. Daisy honors her mother by wearing out the dresses she made for her while alive, and she prefers overalls and often helps her father in the workshop. She falls asleep with the view of her mother's gravestone outside the window every night. A year passes and people move on from the tragedy.
One day, while the children are playing in the palace, Daisy shocks her friends and the new Head Seamstress's daughter by loudly declaring that she doesn't want the king to wave at them from his balcony because he is selfish, vain, and cruel, and if he hadn't overworked her sick mother, she would still be alive. When Bert calls her silly, she slaps him, and a fight ensues until Major Beamish breaks it up. Spittleworth, who, like Flapoon, doesn't like children in the courtyard, may have found his excuse to banish them.
After a feast, Spittleworth and Flapoon tell the king about the skirmish in the courtyard. Since the king is amused at the children, they also tell him that a child spoke disrespectfully about him. The king sends for Major Beamish. Though he doesn't want to get Daisy into any trouble, and he reminds the king that the girl had gone through the loss of her mother, he has no choice but to tell the truth.
Hurt by the fact that he was called selfish, vain, and cruel, King Fred decides to do something kind. He rewards Bert Beamish with a gold medal necklace for defending the king's honor, though Bert feels ashamed to wear it in front of Daisy. The Day of Petition arrives: On this day, ordinary people are allowed a private audience with King Fred, who can use this day to show off a new costume and his generosity. However, this year, uncharacteristically, he decides to wear a simple black attire and no jewelry so as not to feel vain. He hurries to meet his petitioning subjects so as not to feel selfish. Despite granting several simple favors, Daisy's words still echo in his ears, so he determines to do something more gracious than any other king. Just before they can call it a day, the door flies open.
UPDATE (May 30):
A shepherd from the grimy Marshlands has come to petition the king. Though Spittleworth and Flapoon mock the poor, old, shabby man, King Fred lets him talk to show his kindness and generosity. The shepherd tells Fred that he traveled for five arduous days because his dog, Patch, ran into the foggy marshes, where it was eaten by the Ickabog, so he wants the monster punished. To everyone's surprise, though this sounds like a laughable tale, King Fred rounds up his lords to go north to the Marshlands to hunt down the Ickabog.
Although he doesn't believe the Ickabog exists, King Fred leads all his lords out of the palace, dressed in their finest battledresses, including Major Beamish, and his friend Captain Goodfellow, who has no idea that the beautiful and kind-hearted Lady Eslanda is in love with him. Despite Herringbone's efforts, word gets out to Chouxville that the king was going to fight the Ickabog. They cheer him but wonder what he's really up to. Mr. Dovetail reassures Daisy that the Ickabog doesn't exist, but "even sensible men may fail to see a terrible, looming danger."
UPDATE (June 3):
The king enjoys leading his lords and the Royal Guard into the countryside and "roughing it." They take a long way north so that Kurdsburg, Baronstown, and Jeroboam can celebrate and cheer on the king and his procession. While Fred sleeps in luxurious rooms, Spittleworth and Flapoon bemoan their own uncomfortable circumstances and the hardship of riding all day every day. The king sets foot in the grim Marshlands for the first time. There are few people here to witness the procession, but those who do stare in awe at the fine soldiers and well-fed horses. The king and his men reach the bogs, but before they can set up camp, a swift and thick fog engulfs them.
Major Beamish keeps calm and advises everyone not to move. King Fred disregards this and tries to flee, but his boots get stuck in the thick marsh. Aside from Spittleworth and Flapoon, everyone tries to find the king blindly in the fog. When the fog shifts, King Fred, frightened and covered in slime, finds Spittleworth and Flapoon and claims he had seen the Ickabog: a monster as tall as two horses and with eyes like lamps. Because the lords don't believe him, Fred orders them to find his boots and his jeweled sword, which he lost, while he remains safe with Captain Roach, the burliest man in the Royal Guard and second-in-command to Major Beamish.
Spittleworth and Flapoon venture into the bogs, where leaves rattle like snakes and large boulders emerge from the fog ominously. A low growl sounds, and the frightened lords cry for Major Beamish, who is nearby. When the fog lifts, they spot a monstrous black silhouette with glowing eyes, and Flapoon fires his blunderbuss blindly. In the moonlight, they spot the shepherd's dog tangled up in branches at the foot of a boulder and Major Beamish shot dead. When Captain Roach arrives, Spittleworth cunningly convinces him to pretend the major was not killed by Flapoon but died trying to retrieve the king's sword from the Ickabog's hide. Roach agrees and pockets the sword as a bribe.
UPDATE (June 7):
The privates, especially Captain Goodfellow, are suspicious about the events as told by Spittleworth, but nobody dares question the king. They spend an awful night camping in the marshes before returning home. Spittleworth cunningly plots so as to keep the king in fear of the Ickabog and to spread the news of the dangerous monster across the kingdom. When they stop in Jeroboam and Kurdsburg, people begin to panic. Fred is frightened, though he doesn't correct his advisor when he says his sword was seen in the Ickabog's hide since it makes him sound braver.
Through Baronstown, the horrific tale of the king's run-in with the Ickabog reaches Chouxville. Some residents here are still skeptical, but others are just as frightened as the rest of the kingdom by now. Mrs. Beamish reassures Bert that his father must be safe; otherwise, the king would have surely sent word ahead. When the procession reaches the town, a body can be seen carried on a silver steed, so it becomes clear that the tales were true: A soldier indeed fell. Daisy, forgetting their fight the week before, tries to run to Bert through the crowd, but she doesn't make it in time. When Mrs. Beamish realizes that it is her husband (Major Beamish) who died, she faints.
Spittleworth worries that Mrs. Beamish will spoil his plans, so he calls her and Bert to the Throne Room after King Fred has gone to sleep. He tells them the official version of the story, making up a messenger named "Nobby Buttons" to cover the fact that no word was sent to Major Beamish's widow in advance of the king's return. She asks to see the body, which lies under the Cornucopian flag in the Blue Parlor, and she kisses her late husband's hand to say goodbye, the only part of his body unmarked by claws and fangs if Spittleworth's tales are true.
Spittleworth allows the soldiers to ask questions about the Ickabog, to make sure they are all on the same page about the story they will tell the townsfolk. Captain Goodfellow and two other guards question parts of the story, including the Ickabog's existence and that of Nobby Buttons. The Royal Guards are given the choice between becoming the influential and cunning lord's enemies or supporting the lie and pocketing pay raises and promotions. Only Goodfellow and the two other guards refuse to support the lie. Spittleworth has them captured as traitors, to be executed by firing squad.
Herringbone, the Chief Advisor, arrives at the scene, outraged at this misconduct. He sees through Spittleworth's story, and he says that Goodfellow and his fellow guards should be given a fair trial and that the invented Nobby Buttons's family must be found and told about his death. He also tells Spittleworth he is no longer needed, knowing the lord has manipulated the king for years. Major Roach takes a sword off the wall and stabs Herringbone in the back, killing him. The Royal Guards, and Flapoon, who witnessed this agree not to tell anyone, fearing Spittleworth, who also declares himself the new Chief Advisor.
Spittleworth goes down to the dungeons to shoot Goodfellow and the other two soldiers himself immediately. However, Lady Eslanda surprises him there. She heard about Spittleworth's foul actions and the dangers facing the guards from Hetty, the maid who served Spittleworth wine earlier that evening and stayed to eavesdrop. Lady Eslanda reinforces the importance of a fair trial for the soldiers under the guise of protecting the king's good reputation and then flees the scene. Though Spittleworth wants to get rid of the men who know too much, he returns to his bed. However, shy Lady Eslanda's risky nightwandering has made him realize she must be in love with Goodfellow, the guard who is merely a son of cheesemakers. Still offended she once refused Spittleworth's offer of marriage, he vows to make her pay for this.