Author: Chian Kee | Date: 5 January 2014 | Please Comment!

Spot Stays Overnight Cover

Title: Spot Stays Overnight: The original lift-the-flap book
Author: Eric Hill
Publisher: Penguin Books 1992 (First published William Heinemann Ltd 1990)
ISBN: 978-0-140-54289-9
Dinosaur: For no particular reason.

Part of an epic series penned by the literary genius Eric Hill, Spot Stays Overnight is an important, some might go so far as to say seminal, contribution to the ever evolving lift-the-flap genre.  Hill’s multi-faceted tale once again takes place in the fantastical world of the anthropomorphised protagonist, Spot.

Spot is evidently a tragic figure, even at his current tender age, he is cruelly labelled for a prominent discolouration on his torso and has apparently been conditioned to walk and stand almost exclusively on his hind legs, which, due to his physiology, would undoubtedly cause incredible amounts of strain and long term debilitating deformation to his pelvic skeletal structure. Hill plays Spot’s name as a clever double entendre, first in the sense of his accursed physical blemish, the indelible permanence of which, not to mention its apparent maternal heritage, echoes the suicidal ramblings of Lady Macbeth’s guilt-addled mind when she uttered those maddened words:

Out, damned spot! out, I say! One; two: why, then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky! Fie, my lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? (Macbeth, Act V, Scene I)

It is perhaps no surprise then that virtually all of Spot’s reported stories involve him being sent out from his childhood home to places such as “the Farm”, symbolic of the servitude and domestication of his kind by man, who he now so desperately attempts to emulate in his gait and mannerisms.

The second, perhaps deeper symbolism evoked by Spot’s name carries, paradoxically, the opposite meaning. The moniker “Spot” connotes insignificance and brevity – ultimately an irreducible, fleeting smallness in the vastness of cosmic space and time.  This juxtaposition of binary opposites – both vapid mortality and soul-rending persistence is borne out in Hill’s choice of title.  “Spot Stays Overnight” gives both the hint of permanence in the word “stays” before at once qualifying and polarising it with the temporal limitation “overnight”.

Cleverly disguised as a classic “rite of passage” story in which Spot spends a rotation of the Earth next door at his simian friend Steve’s house, Hill weaves a darker narrative through this modern day fable, which explores the tension created by these two fundamental facets of Spot’s character.  Early on, Spot’s own mother asks him a question that has tantalized philosophers since time immemorial: “Spot, what are you taking with you?”.  Indeed, the immediate response by the reflective reader may well be that Spot can not truly take anything of value “with him” where he is going.

Spot Stays Overnight

Upon “lifting the flap”, the reader is struck by Spot’s response – “Not much”.  A tacit acknowledgement of the deceptive hollowness of material pursuits and yet ironically uttered while Spot grasps hold of his treasured red and yellow ball.  Even such grasp is an exercise in futility due to Spot’s short malformed limbs and lack of opposable thumbs – a deficiency that is highlighted in later chapters by his more dexterous “friend” Steve, who is often depicted as grasping firmly onto objects, including Spot’s very own red and yellow ball on Page 7.  As he does so, Steve utters a short but penetrating soliloquy, no doubt intended as a challenge to his genetically inferior playmate to avert his eyes in the presence of his primate master even as his meager possessions are appropriated for undisclosed ends.

Spot Stays Overnight - Steve

For those of you who can stomach the dystopian fantasy that unfolds between Spot and Steve, I won’t spoil the ending for you, suffice to say that it involves unwitting ecological destruction followed by the inevitable detection and confrontation of maternal oversight.

Spot Stays Overnight is a heart-wrenching parable, masterfully crafted to thinly veil its murky undercurrents with the saccharine smiles of innocent youth.  It also functions as a telling portrayal of the desperation with which the denizens of the modern world find themselves untimely ripped from the sheltered womb of infancy into the ravenous maw of consumerism – bitterly discovering that it was in fact their own disfigured grip on the trappings of life that rended them from the comforts and safety of familial bonds.

The Verdict: A fun and educational story for the whole family.

4.5 stars out of 5

2 Comments in the fine print. Add yours!

  • Margaret 11:47 am on January 6th, 2014

    Great review! Looking forward to more profound insights into children’s literature.

  • Jolene 11:46 am on January 9th, 2014

    I am in awe!!! This is fantastic! Absolutely hilarious!!!!! I never knew Spot was such a tragic figure, thank you for pointing it out! Maybe I can talk to Noel Fitzpatrick (Vet surgeon/engineer/prosthetis) about getting his arms extended….