Day 83: The Terrible Magician

The facts

“I think,” said Joan importantly, “that I ought to have a circle of chalk drawn round me.” Then she shut her eyes, stirred up the mixture in the crucible and chanted:
“Turn into a donkey,
Turn into a donkey,
Turn into a donkey,
Mr Magician.”

  • Number: 7.1
  • Published: 1927 (1926 in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Outlaw
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws and Joan tackle a suspected wizard who has just moved to the village.


The Outlaws (including honorary Outlaw Joan) have varying reactions when they first catch sight of the village’s new resident, a scientist named Galileo Simpkins, at work in his laboratory equipped with test tubes, preserved animals in jars and, most sinister of all, a skeleton.

Douglas suspects him of being “a sort of Bolsh’vist goin’ to blow up all the world”. Ginger is simply overawed by the presence of “a dead body”. Henry mildly suggests that “he might be jus’ an ornery sort of man doin’ ornery chemistry”, but is pooh-poohed by William’s unanswerable comeback: “What’d he be doin’ ordin’ry chemistry for? He’s too old to be goin’ in for exams.”

Joan pointed across the lawn to Maria the donkey who was now placidly nibbling the Vicar’s hedge and said: “That’s Mr Simpkins.”
There was an innocence in Joan’s face that convinced even the Vicar’s wife. “Perhaps,” she said more kindly, “you are shortsighted, little girl. That,” pointing to Maria, “is a donkey.”

But Joan’s theory that he is a wizard wins out, especially when Ginger comes down with a stomach bug shortly after crossing Mr Simpkins. The Outlaws take the only course open to them: break into his laboratory and use his magical artifacts to turn him into a donkey.

Now comes a great irony in the plot. Back in William the Match-Maker, 5.8, William manages to convince the ridiculously credulous Hubert Lane that he (Hubert) has been rendered invisible by a witch.

But now, William becomes totally convinced that he and his friends have successfully turned Mr Simpkins into a donkey, because on examining the field in which Mr Simpkins had been sitting, they discovered an absence of Mr Simpkins and the presence of a donkey.

Then the local Anti-vivisection Society arrive on the scene and things begin to spiral out of control…