Book review

The Demon Headmaster by Gillian Cross (1982)

Do you think you could be hypnotized, without your knowing it? How can you tell whether you have been hypnotized? If you think you've been hypnotized, can you overcome the effect, just by concentrating very hard?

Dinah Glass starts at a new school, and finds it a very strange place. For a start, none of the children play rowdy games in the playground. They just stand around in circles, memorizing facts - multiplication tables and dates of kings and queens of England. And her two new foster brothers who she has come to live with seem very nervous of the Headmaster. She soon finds out why when she meets the head for herself. Tall and thin in his black gown, with white hair and black glasses, he isn't a very comfortable character to spend any time with. So Dinah is quite surprised that she should fall asleep in his office during her first interview with him:

She opened her eyes again and gave a nervous laugh.
'I'm sorry. What did you say?'
'You fell asleep,' the Headmaster said coldly. 'You have been asleep for a long time.' He put his glasses on again.
'Asleep?' Dinah stared.
'For the whole morning.'
She looked at him in bewilderment and then glanced round at the clock on the wall. To her amazement, the hands pointed to twelve o'clock. 'But I don't understand.'
'Perhaps you should go to bed earlier,' he said, with a strange smile. 'Now go and have some dinner. The dining hall is at the end of this corridor. After dinner, you will go into the Hall with Class One.'

Well, it is pretty strange, isn't it? What did the Headmaster do all that time? Did he just sit and stare at her without trying to wake her up?

Even stranger when she goes into the hall after dinner. It's quite clear to her that the Headmaster is hypnotizing the entire school, but why should he do that? And what can she do about it if he's hypnotizing her as well?

'You are so sleepy,' murmured the Headmaster. 'You feel you have to go to sleep ...'
I'll forget it all, Dinah thought frantically. I'll forget everything I've discovered. What a waste.
As her eyelids began to droop, she gathered all her energies together, to try and fix something in her mind.
Remember it, remember it, hypnotism, hypnotism, HYPNOTISM. Grimly, she struggled to concentrate. Remember it, remember it, hypnotism, hypno-, hyp- ...
But the words in her head drifted off into silence and floated away on a great tide of sleep as she slumped slowly forwards in her chair.

There's a lot to do if Dinah is to get to the bottom of all this. She needs to team up with her two new foster brothers, but they won't even believe she's really on their side.

Read on to discover the Headmaster's devilish plans ... and how six children and a clown in a purple wig can foil them completely!

I think you'll enjoy this book. The mood changes a lot between the strange calm and orderliness which surrounds the Headmaster, and the desperate rush to thwart his plans as the TV gameshow comes to school!

I'll tell you a thought that struck me, though, while I was reading this book. We think the Headmaster is really sinister the way he brainwashes the children into automatic responses:

'He is a marvellous man and this is the best school I've ever been to.'

But isn't Lloyd brainwashed by television in just the same way?:

With an irritating grin, Lloyd wagged his finger at her.
'Got you guessing? That's how I like it!'
The television screen flickered and then a picture swam into focus. A man with long purple hair and a purple-painted face was standing on his head, waggling his feet at the camera. 'Got you guessing?' he said chirpily. 'That's how I like it.'

So I can end this review asking the same questions that I started with: Do you think you could be hypnotized, without your knowing it? How can you tell whether you have been hypnotized? If you think you've been hypnotized, can you overcome the effect, just by concentrating very hard?

What can I read next?

Gillian Cross has written a sequence of Demon Headmaster books. This is the order:

  • The Demon Headmaster
  • The Prime Minister's Brain
  • The Revenge of the Demon Headmaster
  • The Demon Headmaster Strikes Again
  • The Demon Headmaster Takes Over
  • Facing the Demon Headmaster

Actually, she has written a lot of books, some for older readers and some for slightly younger readers. You might also enjoy:

  • The Great Elephant Chase

Or you might like to look at this one by Diana Wynne Jones:

Or this trilogy by William Nicholson:

Louis Sachar has written something which you might like:

Or you could try something by Stephen Elboz. He's written a lot of books but you could start with:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

The Demon Headmaster features in these lists: