Monday, October 31, 2005

Time in Fantasy Fiction

In part this is a review of Alan Garner's Thursbitch, but it's also a few thoughts about the manipulation of time in fantasy fiction. As he did in certain scenes in The Stone Book Quartet, Garner has mingled time periods throughout Thursbitch. There are two narratives running parallel, over-lapping and prefiguring each other: Jack Turner is an 18th century packman, he travels far and wide across the country, carrying both salt and other goods. But Jack is also the leader of a Bull-worshipping cult, a practice that is dying out thanks to the incursions of Christianity (much as the incursions of Christianity affected the older practices in Iceland and elsewhere, as recounted in the Sagas). His wife is Nan Sarah. In the 21st century their counterparts are Ian and Sal; Sal suffers from a degenerative disease which is rapidly killing her throughout this novel. At times Jack seems to see Ian and Sal, and they think they see or at least, hear, him. Their paths cross in Thursbitch, a Cheshire valley where Jack and Nan Sarah live, and which Ian and Sal visit repeatedly.

The valley of Thursbitch reminded of the fluidity of Time in Tolkien's Lothlorien. Just as the Hobbits are never entirely sure how long they have spent in the Golden Wood with Galadriel, so Jack passes Ian carrying Sal over his shoulder as he makes his way down the valley (and Ian and Sal make their way up it). At one point, Jack throws away his Blue John stone cup, which lands near Ian and Sal as they sit at night up on the hillside - they hear him rush past them and the stones dislodged by his passing tumble around them.

The other author who plays with Time in such a manner is Diane Wynne Jones (particularly in her book, The Time of the Ghost, where one of the characters moves backwards and forwards through her own lifetime, but also in Hexwood, where Time jumps from the characters' future to our present/their past in odd ways). To a certain extent, such usage is disconcerting, even irritating, as it makes the narrative much harder to follow, but it also makes the books challenging and worth re-reading; whilst Thursbitch is marketed as a book for adults, Diana Wynne Jones' books are not. Not only are such narratives worth re-reading, but close reading of them pays dividends.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Tagged !

I've been tagged by Kelly at Big A, little a, so although I'm sure this will be Too Much Information, here are 20 random facts about me !

1 - I'm an ISTJ personality type, making me Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, and Judging.
2 - I'm going to be 37 on November 8, but in my head, I'm still 21 !
3 - I love listening to classical music - my favourite radio station is Classic FM.
4 - My favourite book is The Lord of the Rings
5 - Before I became a scholar of fantasy fiction, I was a scholar of First World War literature and history.
6 - I'm single.
7 - I hate shopping, except for buying books.
8 - I'm a passionate supporter of my local library.
9 - I've lived in Hong Kong and Northern Ireland as a child.
10 - I have two younger siblings, both of whom write fanfiction, but writing fiction bores me.
11 - I learnt to play the guitar when I was in my late teens, but I had to give up after I had an operation for a dislocated shoulder when I was in my 20s - I could no longer comfortably hold the guitar.
12 - I have a cat called Shade who lives with my parents.
13 - I don't drive, although I did learn how to drive.
14 - I would love to go to the IAFA conference in 2007.
15 - I'm working on a book about female fantasy heroines.
16 - I published my first paper on Harry Potter just after I graduated (the paper was written whilst I was still an undergraduate).
17 - I can't eat meat or much in the way of dairy produce because of health issues.
18 - Juliet E McKenna is my favourite living fantasy author.
19 - I love frosty mornings with blue skies and sunshine.
20 - I started this Blog on July 3, the birthday of my late friend Margo McRice. I missed having daily email conversations with her about my writing and research, and this seemed like a good way to find others who share my interest.

I tag Camille at Book Moot, Suzi at Words, words, words and the Lady Rona.


I was pleased to find Witi Ihimaera's marvellous book, The Whale Rider in the library yesterday - the last time I looked for it, they didn't have a copy. I've seen the film of it some three or four times so far. If you've not read the book, I heartily recommend it, and if you've not seen the film, do get hold of it, because seeing the whales (instead of merely reading about them) is awesome. Keisha Castle-Hughes who plays the young girl in the film is quite incredible; I think I'll watch the movie again later today.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Strandloper - Alan Garner


Alan Garner's Strandloper tells the true story of William Buckley, an 18th century Cheshire man who was transported for blasphemy: he is arrested on Shick-Shack Day, when he has been chosen as the Shick-Shack, an ancient fertility figure. He survives the journey to New Holland, and sets out from the prison camp to walk home. He walks for more than a year in the appalling heat, with little food or water, convinced he can reach China and from there, walk home. However, he collapses on top of a hillock where he lies clutching a stick that is planted there. But the hillock is the grave mound of Murrangurk, a great hero of the Aborigines and the stick is Murrangurk's spear. The Aborigines believe that he is their warrior and has returned from the dead. During the next 32 years William becomes Murrangurk - law-giver, healer, warrior, and holy man.

Then the white men arrive to settle the land, and Murrangurk negotiates with them so that they will not destroy the Aborigines, but the white men kill the men and an elder of Murrangurk's People after trying to forcibly Westernise them, telling the that they must believe in God and Jesus for they are no better than animals. The People eventually move away and William returns to England again to find that Het, the girl who was his Teaser when he was chosen as the Shick-Shack, has not waited for him, and she is married and has a child now.

This is not an easy book to read, but it is a beautiful book and worth persevering through as the end gives the beginning a greater meaning. In another author's hands this story would have been twice or three times the length of Garner's 200 page novel. Garner's prose is spare and the narrative brief. His later work reminds me of John Clare's poetry and Thomas Hardy's prose, in his love of the county of his birth. Garner is owned by Cheshire as Cheshire owns him, not in the sense of possessing it, but in the sense of acknowledging its importance and his dependence on it to give him a sense of place. Like Murrangurk, Garner sings the land to itself, and the land sings him back to himself.

NB: The picture above is the cover design for the Harvill Press hardback edition. It is from the church that is mentioned in the story, where William was taking part in the Shick-Shack Day ceremony - you'll find photos of the windows that are described in the story on Robert Mapson's website.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Stone Book Quartet - Alan Garner

Alan Garner's The Stone Book Quartet is a collection of four short fictionalised biographical stories. The four stories are The Stone Book, Granny Reardun, The Aimer Gate and Tom Fobble's Day, and they feature the turning point moments in the lives of four members of Alan Garner's family, spread over several generations with the first set in 1864 and the last set in 1941 (the middle two books are set in 1886 and 1914 respectively).

In The Stone Book Mary climbs the steeple of Saint Philip's church which her father Robert is hurrying to complete in time for the Sunday service. Once atop the steeple, Mary's father lifts her up onto the golden weathercock and she "rides" it so that her father can check that it moves properly. Both take an exuberant child-like joy in the experience, which Garner narrates with affection. Later that day Robert takes her into the mine and directs her into a cavern that he himself cannot enter because the entrance is too small for any but a child to use. Inside the cavern Mary finds an ancient cave painting of a bull with her father's arrow mason's mark, and a painted hand outlined that is the same size as her own hand, and on the floor footprints of sizes and types (shoes, boots and clogs), and they all look as fresh as her own footprints. They have been there under the hill for many, many years, longer perhaps than the parson says that the earth has been around. When they get back home, Robert makes Mary the stone book of the title, from a pebble; it looks like a prayer book, and only the weight of it reveals that it's not made of leather.

In Granny Reardun (a Granny Reardun is a child raised by their grandparents rather than their mother), Joseph is an illegitimate child who has been raised by his grandfather Robert (Mary's father). Joseph is trying to help his grandfather with his work in building a wall, but he knows he doesn't have the skill to be a mason. Instead he goes off and asks the local blacksmith to apprentice him - Joseph knows he can never be as good a mason as his grandfather and wants to make his own place in the community; by becoming a blacksmith he can get "aback" of his grandfather by making the tools that Robert needs to do his work. He recognises that the smith's work tops the church steeple in the shape of the weathercock that his mother had rode on when she was a child; the smith had made the hands for the clock on the chapel, and the bells for the school, and he realises that the smith is "aback" of the mason.

In The Aimer Gate, Joseph's son, another Robert, spends much of the day with his father, Joseph's half-brother Charlie (who is a soldier home on leave from the First World War) and their neighbor Faddock Allman, who lost his legs in the Boer War. Charlie is working with some other neighbours in harvesting two cornfields which have too steep a slope for them to be done by machine. One of Robert's jobs is to ferry Faddock to and fro in 'Wicked Winnie', his wagon, and bring him rocks from the fields to break up for road surfacing. Garner describes the harvesting in poetic prose:

The men stood in a line, at the field edge, facing the hill, Ozzie on the outside, and began their swing. It was a slow swing, scythes and men like a big clock, back and to, back and to, against the hill they walked. They walked and swung, hips forward letting the weighting cut. It was as if they were walking in a yellow water before them. Each blade came up in time with each blade, at Ozzie's march, for if they ever got out of time the blades would cut flesh and bone.

Behind each man the corn swarf lay like silk in the light of poppies. And the women gathered the swarf by armfuls, spun bants of straw and tied in armfuls into sheaves, stacked sheaves into kivvers. Six sheaves stood to a kivver, and the kivvers must stand till the church bells had rung over them three times. Three weeks to harvest: but first was the getting.

(Alan Garner, The Aimer Gate (Collins, 1983), pp. 106-7)

Robert takes his father's lunch to him, at the chapel where he will arrive shortly to wind the clock. Whilst he's there, Robert climbs up inside the spire (in an action reminiscent of Mary climbing the church steeple) and fits himself inside the spire as if it was a stone dunce's hat that he was wearing. Then he finds a mark cut into the stone, shaped like an arrow and his own name carved into the stone. It gives him a great shock but his father explains that the name is that of Robert's great-grandfather who had built both the church and the chapel. Although this is a significant moment for Robert, it is unclear just what significance it has - as if to echo the waste of the First World War, Robert does not seem to have any special talent for craft as his forebears do.

In the final story, Tom Fobble's Day, Joseph's grandson William has his sledge, which has taken a day and a morning to build, smashed up by Stewart Allman, a bullying boy who seems to delight in tormenting William. The book's title refers to a custom by which children can "Tom Fobble", or take, another child's marbles on Tom Fobble's Day, which follows Easter. And Stewart Allman has Tom Fobbled William's sledge, although it isn't Easter yet, nor is the sledge equivalent to marbles. However, Joseph makes him a new sledge using the handles from his forge bellows (which he will no longer be needing because today is his retirement day), and the iron and some wood from the old, broken-down loom which Mary's uncle, Old William (young William's great-great-great-uncle), had used in The Stone Book. William takes the sledge out to the field where his great-uncle Charlie had harvested during the First World War (in The Aimer Gate) and discovers that

The sledge found its own course; a touch corrected it. As he went faster, William used his clogs for balance. The steering moved into his hands and arms, then his shoulders, and he was going so fast and true that he could steer with a turn of his head. [He goes back up the hill again and starts down again on the sledge.] He set off. It had not been imagined. He was not alone on the sledge. There was a line and he could feel it. It was a line through hand and eye, block, forge and loom to the hill. He owned them all: and they owned him.

These last two lines are beautiful and convey Garner's own belief in his craftsmanship as a writer, a belief that is clearly proven in this quartet of books.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Philip Pullman on Blake's 'Dark Materials'

The following was posted on the UK Children's Literature email discussion list and is offered here with the permission of Tim Regan (whose notes they are). [Edit. NB: These notes are Tim's; I was not fortunate enought to get to Philip Pullman's lecture.]

Last night I went to see Philip Pullman speak on "Blake's Dark Materials" for the annual Blake Society lecture at St James's, Piccadilly. It was a wonderful lecture with a large (several hundred) and engaged audience. First up Tim Heath, the chair of The Blake Society, spoke to introduce the Society and its president, Philip Pullman. Tim "reminded" us that St James's was the church in which Blake was christened on Sunday 11 December 1757 at a beautiful marble baptismal font carved by Grinling Gibbons. (St James's also boasts a stunningly beautiful limewood reredos by Gibbons.)

"I am not a scholar, I am a moth"

Pullman started off with an analogy that he returned to later in the lecture: he likened himself to a moth, a moth that flutters around lights but that returns to some lights repeatedly. He also likened himself to a butterfly, and to a bee, but told us he'd return to sort out those analogies later.

We then turned to a lovely story about writers block, and Blake's rescue of Pullman. During the writing of The Amber Spyglass Pullman came across a book in a bookshop in Oxford on a subject that had intrigued him for a long time: Gnosticism. The book was A. D. Nutall's The Alternative Trinity: Gnostic Heresy in Marlowe, Milton and Blake. Far from confirming Pullman's understanding of Gnosticism and the themes of The Amber Spyglass he felt challenged: which plotlines needed more weight, which parts needed rewriting, which planned elements needed rethinking, had he studied this area enough, etc. He felt like he was in an exam without having adequately prepared and stopped writing (he didn't say how long this lasted). Blake came to the rescue when Pullman reread Blake's words in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

"I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create."

So Pullman realized that he could forge on, as a creator. He then addressed two questions and promised a third for later.

Question 1: What is a system?

The first question was answered by exploring several systems in use, e.g. "I'm a Christian". Systems give one an account of how the universe began and our role in it. A system might be religious, or it might be mythological, or it might be psychoanalytical, or it might be political etc. One example Pullman sketched out was Jung replacing Freud's system with his own. Pullman mentioned a "web of crystalline light" that seems to link and explain all the problems that one was previously perplexed by before one builds or discovers a system that works for you. But he made the point that the experience was the same, though the systems themselves differed dramatically. One thing that distinguishes Blake's system for Pullman is its detail and completeness. Pullman said that reading of many writer's systems was like looking at a landscape painting through a small window. One gets the impression that if one moves to the side one will see the edge of the picture, the frame, and the blank wall beyond. Reading of Blake's system is like looking through a small window at a landscape itself. One feels that no matter how one peers around the scene it extends on in every direction.

Pullman pulled out the system "science" for special consideration. He did feel that science (or the scientific method) could offer one a system: it is narrative. He used words like "austere", "noble", and "demanding" but in the end felt that science makes us become so insignificant in our own story that you'd need to be very brave to adopt it. Pullman also talked about the dangers of adopting systems unquestioningly, and asked whether a system had to console, but my notes and memory are thin on those points. I did try to tape the lecture using the voice-note facility of my mobile phone but it hasn't worked well enough to discern out what's being said.

Then we went onto...

Question 2: Should we create a system or be enslaved by one?

Pullman said this often boiled down to the choice between what you do well and what you feel is the right thing to do. One of the examples he gave was Sullivan, who felt that the work with Gilbert got in the way of his writing proper operas, but who performs his one proper opera now? Pullman used Ruskin's quote "slaves work - unredeemed" to further illustrate this point. Pullman also pointed out that having a system may help one's writing without the system itself being of interest. His example was Yates, apparently another big Blake fan, who wrote amazing poetry based within his system which itself was bunkum: "we wouldn't give tuppence for it if sold separately".

That lead Pullman to reveal his third question...

Question 3: Can a writer have no system?

The answer seemed to be "no". We bring with us so much context and experience of the world which forms an implicit system whether we accept it or not. Pullman did say that this approach, rejecting all systems, was the one he felt most intuitively drawn to, but that it was not possible. I also have the word "palimpsest" in my notes for this section but I cannot remember why!

Pullman noted that much of this implicit system is based on prejudices and preconceptions. He talked about how "as the sun moves around, the shadows change", meaning that we have prejudices written into our work that can only be seen by later generations. His example was the blatant anti-semitism of works in the first half of the twentieth century, which most authors were unaware of, but which on reading now casts a long shadow. We returned to this in the Q&A session where one questioner asked for Pullman's views on Shakespeare. Pullman replied that he knew more about Milton but that he was looking forward to learning more. But he did say that "Shakespeare's the closest we come to a writer with no system".

Lastly (ish) Pullman took us back to Gnosticism and whether it gave a system which Blake adhered to and which Pullman could too. Pullman gave a nice introduction to one key Gnostic heresy (whose name I forget): the real God is infinitely distant and our souls belong with him. A false god made the world we live in now. Here Pullman referenced another book, William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience. He talked about James' notion of "once born" people who have never had to forsake a system and find another; and "twice born" people who appreciate the world as more of a "double storied mystery". In passing Pullman noted that born-again Christians were really "once born" in James' taxonomy, and "shrill and enthusiastic". Pullman explained that Gnosticism is the natural refuge of the "twice born" and so it occurs frequently in modern culture: he gave The X-Files, The Matrix, and The Truman Show as examples. Pullman noted that Blake's genius was protean, and that he was not a Gnostic. He, like Pullman, could never be happy with a system which mistrusted and hated the physical world.

To wrap up Pullman distilled the continent within Blake's work that he had wandered around into seven axioms, seven axioms which he called "The Republic of Heaven". At this point Pullman was really in his flow and my note taking was falling way behind. (My dad used to teach shorthand at secondary school, why oh why didn't I get him to teach me?) Anyway here are the seven axioms of the Republic of Heaven:

Axiom number one: The physical world, this matter of which we are made, is amorous by nature. Matter rejoices in matter, and each atom of it falls in love with other atoms and delights to join up with them to form complex and even more delightful structures. "..and shew you all alive/This world, where every particle of dust breathes forth its joy." (Blake, Europe)

Axiom number two: things arise from matter-in-love-with-matter that are not themselves matter. Thoughts emerge from the unimaginable, the non-disentangle-able complexity of the brain, thoughts that are not material, though they have analogues in material processes, and you can't say where one ends and the other begins, because they are one thing and not two, and each is an aspect of the other. "Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call'd Body is a portion of Soul discern'd by the five senses." (Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)

Axiom number three: the consciousness that emerges from matter demonstrates that consciousness is a normal property of the physical world and much more widely diffused than human beings think. "How do you know but ev'ry Bird that cuts the airy way, Is an immense World of delight, clos'd by your senses five?" (Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)

Axiom number four: bodily experience underlies, sustains, feeds, inspires, and cherishes mental experience. "Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy. Energy is Eternal Delight." (Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)

Axiom number five: we should use what works. And if invoking ghosts, demons, spirits, gods, demigods, nymphs or hobgoblins helps us to write, then we should banish the superstition of not being superstitious and invoke them without embarrassment or hesitation. "All deities reside in the human breast." (Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)

Axiom number six: the true object of our study and our work is human nature and its relationship to the universe. "God Appears & God is Light To those poor Souls who dwell in Night, But does a Human Form Display To those who Dwell in Realms of day." (Blake, Auguries of Innocence)

Axiom number seven: the work we do is infinitely worth doing. "Eternity is in love with the productions of time." (Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)

Pullman touched back on the insect analogy saying that he read like a butterfly but wrote like a bee, a phrase that's picked up again in the acknowledgements section of the 10th anniversary re-release of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy (which have some fun extras in like new chapter heading pictures and collected letters from Mary Malone, etc.)

Philip himself noted that "The lecture will be printed in full by the Blake Society in due course, I hope, and it will also appear in a book of my lectures and essays and other non-fiction, which David Fickling Books will publish."

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Voice that Thunders - Alan Garner

This is a collection of essays and lectures that illuminate Alan Garner's writing in fascinating ways. The title essay, which is the last in the book, explains how Garner came to write Strandloper, his fictionalised biography of William Buckley who became Murrangurk, the reincarnation of an Australian Aboriginal hero who was a wise man, warrior, healer and law-giver. This lecture alone inspired me to ask the library for Strandloper and I picked it up today. Other essays which I found particularly interesting and moving were 'The Beauty Things', in which a trained Classicist (Garner) falls in love with Welsh and is accepted by the Welsh people where other Saxons are not; 'Philately and the Postman' and 'Hard Cases' on teaching literature to children (some of the letters that Garner has received from children and teachers about his books are included in the latter - and some of them were astonishingly rude !); 'The Voice in the Shadows' is a discussion of the dangers attendant on recording in written form the oral myths of a region; 'Fierce Fires & Shramming Cold' is an honest and open account of Garner's experiences of manic-depression - it's a beautiful and moving piece of writing that brought tears to my eyes. I'm going to quote a small part of 'Philately and the Postman' which, despite being written more than 30 years ago, is still relevant with regard to teaching literature:

Do not ask a child to be primarily someone who goes to a text to examine it and to explore it as a mechanism or a piece of language. Let the child get the more important aspect first: the emotion.

You know yourselves how that which is most necessary is beyond words. It is my job to use words to express that which is most necessary, to speak the ineffable, and I cannot do it directly. It can only be hinted at: it can be only hinted at elliptically, by using the words as a lift-off; that slow lift-off of the rocket, the first stage of which takes the energy, but is quickly abandoned, and the important part goes into orbit, and then into space, and so discoveries are made. Left alone, the child, in my experience, will climb into the astronaut's seat; but the teacher too often is yelling at him to come down and concentrate on the scrap iron.

I agree that a child's mind needs to be taught an analytic discipline. But are books to be destroyed on that altar along with the potential love of future reading ?

[Alan Garner, 'Philately and the Postman', The Voice that Thunders (Harvill, 1997), pp. 137-8]

I feel we should send copies of this to every person responsible for teaching literature to children, be they teachers or government officials !

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Moon of Gomrath - Alan Garner

Alan Garner's The Moon of Gomrath is the sequel to The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, but women are in the ascendant in this book: Susan is captured and possessed by the Brollachan, an entity with no body of its own, that takes over mortal flesh and inhabits it until the flesh dwindles because no mortal can bear its tenancy for long. After Cadellin forces the Brollachan out of Susan's body, her spirit wanders and is not recovered until Colin finds the Mothan, a magical plant that can only be seen at full moon by following the old straight track. Fortunately Colin finds the Mothan and Susan is brought back from her wanderings with Celemon and the other Shining Ones, the Daughters of the Moon.

The attack on Susan by the Brollachan was engineered by the Morrigan who is out for revenge after her treatment at the hands of Colin and Susan and their companions (as told in The Weirdstone of Brisingamen). Thus Susan and Colin finds themselves up against the Morrigan's magic again, so the Morrigan captures Colin with the intention of holding him hostage until she can get hold of Susan, but Susan will soon come into her powers, acquired through the Mark of Fohla, a bracelet given to her (in the preceding book) by Angharad Goldenhand as a replacement for the Weirdstone and a protection, too, against the Morrigan. In another Tolkienian echo, Angharad Goldenhand (also known as the Lady of the Lake, interestingly) inhabits a place (an island in this instance) where Time moves differently as it does in Lothlorien. Besides the bracelet, she gives Susan a horn to sound when things are desperate (an echo of the Horn of the Mark which Eowyn gives to Merry), and she sends wine to Susan (when Susan is still unconscious after the Brollachan is expelled) which has many virtues, including the power of bodily endurance, like Galadriel's Lembas. Interestingly dwarves play a significant role again, moreso than the lios-alfar (elves), and Cadellin seems like a lesser Gandalf.

I did not find this book as compelling to read as The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, and it seemed to have a rather abrupt ending. The men are definitely lesser characters in this book, which I found particularly interesting, given my continuing quest for fantasy fiction with strong female characters.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Fashionable Book Buying

According to an article in today's Guardian one in three people buys a book just to look intelligent. John Ezard reports that:

Books are the new snobbery, according to a survey today. Social competitiveness about which titles we read has become one of the new mass forces of the era and only middle-aged people are relatively free of it.

Driven partly by pressure from incessant literary prize shortlists, more than one in three consumers in London and the south-east admit having bought a book "solely to look intelligent", the YouGov survey says.

It finds one in every eight young people confessing to choosing a book "simply to be seen with the latest shortlisted title". This herd instinct dwindles to affect only one in 20 over-50 year-olds.

"The latest literary pressure is keeping up with the rest of your fellow travellers and commuters. Bookshelf contents are fast becoming as studied and planned as outfits as a way to impress others. Books shortlisted for prestigious literary panel awards are becoming 'de rigueur' reading for many."

I confess to finding myself slightly baffled by this information... Leaving aside the craze for buying the latest Harry Potter (which is a phenomenon of its own), I've never considered buying or reading a book in order to be fashionable - but then, as anyone who knows me could tell you, I don't take any notice of clothing fashions either, so maybe that's not much to go on ! Plus, I don't think I possess a herd instinct - I'm such a non-conformist that it wouldn't occur to me to follow a herd.

Where books are concerned (aside from the aforementioned young wizard), I'm more likely to avoid a book that everyone's reading than read it too: The Da Vinci Code springs to mind - long before it became de rigueur to read it, I'd read the first chapter in electronic format and it did nothing for me. When lots of people around me started raving about it, I briefly considered giving it a second chance and my sister loaned me her copy - which sat around on top of my pending pile of books, being ignored and collecting dust, for about a month before I sent it back to her, still unopened... I guess this must make me an inverse snob ?

Oh and spot the gender-change for one of the authors mentioned in this article - I bet the author concerned isn't impressed !

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Feast of Alan Garner

Today I have read a couple of essays from Garner's collection, The Voice That Thunders and I've also read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, which was a lot more straightforward than The Owl Service - possibly because this is Garner's first book. It's very Tolkienian, in that Dwarves, Wizards, Trolls (here called the Mara) and Elves (the lios-alfar), wander through the story, and the Dark Lord is an echo of Sauron; but also because it is influenced by Norse myth (both Fenrir and Ragnarok are mentioned), but the difference between Garner's book and Tolkien's, is that Garner's are set in the real world, at a time in recent history, whereas Tolkien's Middle-earth is clearly a mythological place of time long past... Having said that, though, Garner's Alderley Egde (in Cheshire) contains magic and mystery enough. Susan and Colin go to stay with their mother's former nurse, Bess, and her husband, whilst their parents are overseas. Susan wears a bracelet carrying a small stone which she refers to as the Tear, but Bess tells her is the Bridestone, a family heirloom that has been passed from mother to daughter for generations - so long in fact that no one can remember from where it originated.

When Colin and Susan, out for a walk, are pursued by weird creatures across Alderley Edge, they are saved by the wizard Cadellin. He takes them into the caves of Fundindelve, where he watches over the enchanted sleep of 140 knights. But the heart of the magic that binds them - Firefrost, also known as the Weirdstone of Brisingamen - has been lost. Cadellin has been searching for the stone for more than 100 years, but the forces of evil are closing in, determined to possess and destroy its special power. Colin and Susan finally realise that Susan's Bridestone is the Weirdstone and they set out to take it to Cadellin, but it is taken from them. Fortunately they manage to recapture it, but getting it to Cadellin is not going to be easy, when Nastrond's agents are out looking for them and the stone, and are determined to prevent the children, their two dwarf companions, and Gowther (Bess' husband), from reaching the pre-arranged meeting with Cadellin.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Owl Service - Alan Garner

I first read Alan Garner's The Owl Service as a child and I remember that it scared me silly, so it was with some trepidation that I picked it up this morning to re-read it. However, I need not have worried - there's no doubt it's a peculiar story - but I didn't find it scary. Perhaps because I've read more mythological works since I originally read it aged about 9 or 10.

Garner takes a tale from the Welsh Mabinogion, that of Bloduwedd, and re-works it into a more modern setting (the book is actually set in the 1960s). Bloduwedd was a woman made from flowers by Gwydion to marry his nephew Lleu. She later betrayed her husband with a lover and for that was punished by being turned into an owl. This "love triangle" is played out relentlessly in the valley in which Garner's characters are currently holidaying. I'm not going to try to explain the ins and outs of the story as it's quite complicated, instead I'll just point you in the direction of Kimberly Bates' Greeen Man Review of the book.

If you're interested in Alan Garner, there are articles and interviews on Robert Mapson's comprehensive The Unofficial Alan Garner site. I've got The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath, plus The Stone Book Quartet and The Voice Than Thunders to read yet, so I shall definitely be reading more of Robert Mapson's site.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Enquire, Discover, Read

This sounds exciting:

England’s public libraries are joining forces to provide a suite of new online services. Enquire, Discover and Read. Managed by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) the new services will be available for the first time from a single national website for public libraries with cutting edge 24/7 library services to help answer any question, guide you through the web and explore books and reading online.

The Enquire service will give the public online access around the clock to library and information staff. In a truly innovative move which has involved cooperation with international partners in the US and Canada, questions of any kind are answered in real time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for free either via a live chat link or by email. Discover helps people to find their way through the online world, bringing together a rich range of resources, from news items and quick links to websites to information about collections and objects in libraries, museums and archives. Users can also personalise Discover to access resources that match their particular interests. Read aims to enhance enjoyment of books and reading by giving people access to great reading resources as well as opportunities to meet other readers either face to face or online.

Together, Enquire, Discover and Read make library services even more accessible to people than ever before, opening up opportunities to connect more and different people to the valuable public services they have on offer.

However, I find myself feeling rather sceptical about it... I have this nasty suspicion that this new service will be used to phase out other services that maybe I'd rather have... Maybe the Government will prove me wrong (which would be nice in this instance !), but I guess I'll have to wait and see. If you want to see the new service, it's available at The People's Network (which seems like a really folksy name to me !)

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Serenity Logo














Well last night I finally got to see Serenity - it was FAN-blinking-tastic !! Absolutely awesome - the Great God Joss at his best...

I couldn't believe they killed off Wash - I loved that character so much... Loved his "I'm a leaf on the wind, watch me soar" line - and then he was dead moments later... ! Talk about a shock !

Loved the way they resolved River's story - and blinking heck was her fighting awesome !! I've read several interviews with Summer Glau (who plays River), where she's talked about them training and teaching her to do her own fights, and having seen it, I've got to say, she's one hell of a young lady ! Awesomely agile, graceful, amazing ! You could see clearly that she is a trained dancer - particularly during the Dance of Death she did with the Reavers, but also before that when they were in the Maidenhead Bar. I know Buffy's been described as moving in a Dance of Death in some of the novels I've read, but I don't think Sarah Michelle Gellar was ever as graceful as Summer was playing River...

I truly thought no one was going to get out of there alive once the Reavers attacked... So I was pleased as punch that they mostly did !!

Now, just call me Oliver, 'cos I'm gonna cry "Please Sir, I want some MORE, MORE, MORE... !"

Favourite lines from the movie:

The Operative: Do you know what your sin is?
Mal: Hell, I'm a fan of all seven... but right now, I'm gonna have to go with wrath.
Mal: Yes, I've read a poem. Try not to faint.
Simon: Am I talking to Miranda now?
[River gives him a look]
Simon: No, never mind.
The Operative: Are you willing to die for your beliefs?
Mal: I am...
[Mal Fires]
Mal: 'Course, that ain't plan A.
Mal: Do you want to run this ship?
Jayne: Yes!
Mal: [caught off guard] Well... you can't...
Mal: [Over the ship's intercom] This is the captain. We have a little problem with our entry sequence, so we may experience some slight... turbulence and then explode.
Mal: I'm risking my crew on the theory that you're a real person. If you're not, you might as well shoot me now...
[River cocks the gun she is pointing at Mal]
Mal: [stammering] Ooooor, we can talk some more...
Mal: [shouting down into the vault] We're coming down to empty the vault now!
Vault Guard: [calling back up] You'll have to give me your authorization password!
[Jayne fires a burst from his automatic rifle]
Vault Guard: ...Okay!
Mal: The leg is good. It will bleed plenty and we avoid any necessary organs.
Vault Guard: I was thinking more of a graze.
Mal: Well, you don't want to make it look like you just gave up.
Vault Guard: Oh, I get that.
The Operative: I want to resolve this like civilized men. I'm not threatening you. I'm unarmed.
Mal: Good.
[pulls a gun and shoots the Operative in the chest, knocking him into the wall, grabs Inara and gets ready to leave]
The Operative: [grabs Mal from behind] I am, however, wearing full body armour. I am not a moron!
Simon: [to River] If there's any fighting, you fall down or run away.
[pauses to look at the rest of the crew]
Simon: It's okay to leave them to die.
Mal: It ain't all buttons and charts little Albatross. You know what the first rule of flyin' is? Well I suppose you do, since you already know what I'm about to say.
River: I do, but I like to hear you say it.
Mal: Love. You can know all the math in the 'Verse, but take a boat in the air you don't love, she ain't keepin' up just as sure as the turning of worlds. Love keeps her up when she ought to fall down, tells ya she's hurtin' 'fore she keens, makes her home.
Wash: This is gonna get pretty interesting.
Mal: Define "interesting".
Wash: [deadpan] Oh God, oh God, we're all going to die?

I don't think I can quote my favourite of all of Kaylee's lines though - it's not quite decent !! :-D

Biggest disappointment (and it's not a huge one) - they didn't use the Firefly theme song anywhere in the film...

I loved the way Mal referred to River as "little Albatross" in his closing speech to her - the Operative had referred to the fact that an Albatross is bad luck and claimed that was what River was, but Mal had pointed out that an Albatross wasn't bad luck until someone killed one (hence his line about having read a poem)... I think the fact that he nicknamed her "little Albatross" was both a vindication of the fact that she wasn't bad luck and an acceptance of her as part of his crew: he had commented a lot earlier in the film that although Simon, her brother, had earned his place by being the Ship's Doctor, River had done nothing to be a part of the crew.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Raven's Gate - Anthony Horowitz

I've not read any of Anthony Horowitz's books before, although I've heard a lot about Alex Rider from various sources, so it was with some interest that I picked up Raven's Gate from the library. It's billed as a supernatural fantasy thriller (!) To be honest, I didn't find it all that supernatural - some of the Diana Wynne Jones books I've read lately were far more supernatural; and sadly I didn't find it that thrilling either... However, that's not to say I didn't enjoy it ! It's a fairly engaging tale and I imagine that young male fans of Harry Potter, as well as fans of Alex Rider, will enjoy it (it's billed as being suitable for 8-12 year olds and that seems very accurate to me).

Matthew Freeman is 14 and an orphan. His parents were killed in a car crash when he was 8 years old. Since then he's being living with his mother's half-sister and her partner; they only took him in for the sake of the money his parents had left him, which they proceeded to spend like water, and once it was gone, they resented his presence. As a result Matt has drifted into petty crime: stealing things from supermarkets, truanting from school. When the book opens Matt is waiting for his friend Kelvin to meet him - they're off to rob a warehouse that's stocked with DVDs, CDs, MP3 players, mobile phones, etc., all waiting to be transported to shops. Kelvin's older brother had told him that there was only one guard, an older man who was always half asleep - and no security system. They break in easily enough, but things go wrong very soon afterwards, and Matt finds himself arrested as an accessory to Kelvin's attempted murder of the security guard and the attempted burglary. Since he's too young to go to prison, Matt is offered the chance to volunteer for the LEAF project: Liberty and Education Achieved through Fostering - a typical government project that is meant to massage the figures of juvenile delinquents being kept in custody. Unfortunately for Matt he's fostered to Mrs Deverill who lives in Lesser Malling, Yorkshire, and is (presumably without the authorities knowing) a witch. What's more, she knows about Matt's past - particularly the fact that he has precognitive powers. He had, in fact, dreamt about the fatal car crash the night before his parents were killed, but he hadn't told his parents that was why he didn't want to go with them, because he knew his father (a doctor) would be cross. During the course of the book, Matt tells his story to a young man who has more or less befriended him, and reveals that he's had such dreams since he was quite young and when he'd told his parents about one or two of them, he'd been accused of making things up. For 6 years he's lived with the guilt of knowing that he could have prevented his parents' death if he had told them about the dream.

Knowing about Matt's power, Mrs Deverill is convinced that Matt is one of the Five - a group of four boys and one girl who possess great Power to fight and defeat the Old Ones. She intends that he will be the human sacrifice for Roodmas, when she and the other villagers of Lesser Malling will bring one of the Old Ones through the Raven's Gate. Much of the book consists of a series of attempts to escape or get help on Matt's part - but unfortunately almost everyone who attempts to help him ends up dead - and in the end Matt realises that he has to learn how to use his Power if he is to save himself. There is a shadowy secret organisation called Nexus who know all about Raven's Gate, the Five and the Old Ones, and they also try to help, with only limited success (at least one of them ends up dead).

This book was quite interesting, and I shall certainly look out for Evil Star next Spring - and in the meantime, I just might give Horowitz's Alex Rider novels a try...

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Thud - Terry Pratchett

The new Terry Pratchett Discworld (TM) novel, Thud is a Commander Vimes novel, so I was more or less guaranteed to like it - and I did ! Vimes is forced to deal with the upcoming anniversary of the Battle of Koom Valley, a battle between dwarves and trolls that has made them enemies for several centuries. The trouble is that the dwarves are being egged on by a rabble-rousing Grag, a dwarf who stays underground as much as possible, and if he has to go outside, moves around dressed in layers of black leather and is carried around in a sedan chair that has no windows, since the outside world has no interest for a Grag.

Then the Grag, Hamcrusher, turns up dead, allegedly killed by a troll - and the dwarves try to keep the murder from Commander Vimes. When he goes to investigate he finds that the dwarves have been undermining Ankh-Morpork (his city !) quite literally... Added to that, is the fact that Lord Vetinari has finally bullied Vimes into at least interviewing a vampire candidate for the Watch - most species Vimes can get along with, but a vampire in his Watch ?

And on top of all that, he must be home by 6 pm on the dot every night to read his son, Young Sam's, favourite picture book Where's My Cow ? to him at bedtime...

Funniest scene (for me, anyway) in the book is the moment when Vimes, who's just been battered by tones of water, looks up and sees Death nearby, sitting on a folding chair and reading a book. It turns out that whilst Vimes is having a near-death experience, Death himself is having a "near-Vimes experience" !

Monday, October 17, 2005

What use is a critic ?

In his review of Helen Vendler's new book 'Invisible Listeners': Overheard Speech in the New York Times, Langdon Hammer writes:

When did you last read a book of literary criticism? Not recently, most people who do not write criticism themselves will answer. Criticism today is impenetrable and irrelevant, since it is jargon-ridden and no longer interested in literature. Or so people have said. There may have been some truth in this caricature a few years ago, but the Age of Theory is over in America, for better or worse, and plenty of literary critics go on with their work. Take Helen Vendler, who has been writing about literature in lucid prose for more than 40 years. Her 'Invisible Listeners', a compact study of "lyric intimacy" in three poets, demonstrates, if you have forgotten, some of the best reasons to read literary criticism.

Anyone who has felt himself directly addressed by Whitman in 'Crossing Brooklyn Ferry', as if the poet were present on the page and looking at us, will know what Vendler means by "intimacy" and be grateful to her for describing the sensation. That is one thing a critic can do for us - verbalise our experience of great writing. It doesn't undo the effect, but deepens it [. . .]"

When readers accustomed to the lyric doodles that Ashbery has published over the last decade encounter the riveting passages from 'Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror' elucidated by Vendler, they may be startled to remember, or to realise for the first time, that it is one of the poetic masterpieces of the 20th century. (This type of reminding is something else critics can do for us.)

The kind of criticism which Vendler writes, is the kind of criticism I aim to write: the kind that reminds or elucidates... If you're interested in Vendler's book, you can read the first chapter on the New York Times website (although you probably need to register (which is free)).

On a sidenote, I'm going to be reading fewer novels over the next few weeks (certainly not one a day) as I spend more time reading Tolkien biographies. As a result I may not be posting to my Blog every day. I tell you this in advance so you don't start wondering if the novelty has worn off !

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Dalemark Quartet - Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones' 'Dalemark Quartet' consists of Cart and Cwidder, Drowned Ammet, The Spellcoats and The Crown of Dalemark.

Dalemark is made up of 15 earldoms and the three King's Lands (the Holy Islands, the Marshes and the Shield of Oreth). Unfortunately the kingdom no longer has a king, and as a result is divided into North and South Dalemark.

The cwidder in Cart and Cwidder is a musical instrument - a cross between a lute and an acoustic guitar. The cart of the title takes Clennen the Singer, his wife and their three children (Brid, Dagner and Moril) around both North and South Dalemark, giving performances. Moril is 11 and is learning to play the cwidder; when his father is stabbed and killed by men from the South (who are at war or close to it with those from the North - which is where Clennen and his family come from), Clennen leaves Moril the big old cwidder which belonged to Osfameron, of old. It is a magical instrument with the power to (amongst other things) send people to sleep, or make mountains walk. Osfameron is one of the Undying, of which there are two kinds:

1 - The Elder Undying who had the status of gods and whose were apparently trapped in the land. They were worshipped in various rituals which are remembered in bits and pieces all over Dalemark. The Elder Undying can be distinguished by their ritualised names, such as the One, whose names must not be spoken; She Who Raised the Islands; the Weaver of Fates; the Earth Shaker.

2 - People who live forever. Apparently there is a gene of true immortality in the blood of the people of Dalemark. Although such people are born rarely, they do exist and they nearly all possess unusual powers.

Moril wields the power of Osfameron's Cwidder, even though he does not understand it, and uses it to allow himself, his sister and his friend Kialan (who is the son of a Northern earl) to escape from the clutches of a Southern earl. When the book ends, Moril is about to set off with Hestafen, another Singer, in order to learn more about how to use the Cwidder.

Drowned Ammet features another young boy, Mitt, who becomes a freedom fighter (or terrorist, depending on your point of view) in order to avenge the death of his father and revenge himself on the group of freedom fighters who betrayed his father. He drops a bomb in front of the Earl Hadd, intending to kill Hadd (who is the one who raised rents so high that his father moved to the town from the family farm to earn money but he ended up joining the freedom fighters). Mitt's plan fails, although Earl Hadd is killed anyway, but a lone gunman, and he escapes by stowing away on a rich man's pleasure boat. The boat, it turns out, belongs to Hadd's grandson Ynen and his sister, Hildy, and they get caught in a storm and carried so far out to sea that they end up visiting the Holy Islands. There Mitt encounters Ammet, the Earth Shaker, and is set on a course that leads him to North Dalemark.

The Spellcoats was quite the oddest book of the series. It features a family of five children, two girls and three boys (most of whom have bird names - Gull is the eldest boy, Robin the eldest girl and Mallard the youngest boy) whose mother is dead, and whose father goes off to war (taking Gull with him). Gull returns, but their father does not, but he's in a strange way. He stares a lot and doesn't do anything, even eat, unless told to do so. The children finds themselves ostracised by their village for being different (they are fair-haired where everyone else is dark-haired), and then the River they live near floods. They take themselves off in the family boat and travel down the River. On the way, they learn that a powerful Undying one, Karkredin, has put spells on Gull and intends to capture his soul. The Spellcoats of the title is a reference to the rugcoats (a garment like a poncho made of woven wool) that are worn as outer clothing by the men and women of the Riverside (ie. Robin and Gull and their siblings, and those who live in their village. However, it is traditional to weave words into the rugcoat, thus making it into a spellcoat if the weaving is done by someone descended from the Weaver of Fates, as it turns out that Robin and Gull's sister Tanaqui is; Tanaqui makes a coat that describes in its weaving the journey she and her siblings make down the River, but it is taken from her, so she makes a second coat (which incidentally describes the first) and then she is able to use its power to help defeat (but not destroy) Kankredin.

The fourth and final book of the Dalemark Quartet, The Crown of Dalemark, brings together many of the characters from the preceding books, together with a girl nicknamed Maewen, who is 200 years into the past, from a 20th century Dalemark that features planes, trains, computers, and tourists from a country called Nepstan - which sounds like the Dalemark equivalent of Japan. Maewen is sent into the past by an agent of Kankredin in the hope of preventing the advent of Amil the Great, the new King of Dalemark. Unfortunately for Kankredin and his agent, Maewen helps to bring about the reign of Amil the Great, along with Mitt, Ynen, Moril and Kialan. Tanaqui and her brother Mallard both appear in the book too, as they are both of the Undying, although they appear with different names.

This series is complex and features a lot of both major and minor characters. I didn't enjoy The Spellcoats much, as it was quite confusing, not least because of the entry of a villain (Kankredin) who is known to both Mitt and Moril in The Crown of Dalemark, although he had not been mentioned in either of the two books in which they are the chief protagonists. However, I did enjoy Cart and Cwidder and The Crown of Dalemark, and it was interesting to see how Maewen fitted into the past, which she had learnt a lot about via history lessons in school and how she helped to bring about the future.

Of course, as is usual with DWJ's books, not everyone is as they appear to be... But I won't reveal who isn't who they say they are, as that's too big a spoiler !

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Here Be Monsters - Alan Snow (Reprise)

Cover Image

Alan Snow's Here Be Monsters! is a fun book ! The illustrations are detailed and fascinating, and the story is interesting. The Monsters of the title are described in 'Johnson's Taxonomy of Trolls and Creatures' which is provided at the start of the book:

Box Trolls - "A sub-species of the common troll, they are very shy, so live inside a box. These they gather from the backs of large shops. They are somewhat troublesome creatures - as they have a passion for everything mechanical and no understanding of the concept of ownership (they steal anything which is not bolted down, and more often than not, anything which is). It is very dangerous to leave tools lying about where they might find them."

Cabbageheads - "Belief has it that cabbageheads live deep underground and are the bees of the underworld. Little else is known about them at this time, apart from a fondness for brassicas." (They are people who wear a cabbage strapped to their head - hence the name - and rarely speak above a whisper.)

Trotting Badgers - "Trotting badgers are some of the nastiest creatures to be found anywhere. With their foul temper, rapid speed, and razor-sharp teeth it cannot be stressed just how unpleasant and dangerous these creatures are. It is only their disgusting stench that gives warning of their proximity, and when smelt it is often too late."

Rabbit Women - "Very little is known about these mythical creatures, except that they are supposed to live with rabbits and wear clothes spun from rabbit wool." (In fact they are women in rabbit jump-suits (think of Anya's costume in 'Fear, Itself' (BtVS 4:4) but less fluffy) who believe rabbits are their ancestors.)

Cheese - "Wild English Cheeses live in bogs. This is unlike their French cousins who live in caves. They are nervous beasties, that eat grass by night, in the meadows and woodlands. They are also of very low intelligence, and are panicked by almost anything that catches them unawares. Cheese make easy quarry for hunters, being rather easier to catch than dead sheep."

You'll find illustrations at Read this book - it's funny and crazy, and Arthur, the young hero, is both very brave and quite foolish. As it's also titled 'The Ratbridge Chronicles Volume 1', I'll be interested to see what happens in volume 2 !

Friday, October 14, 2005

Archer's Goon - Diana Wynne Jones

I had the strangest feeling when I was reading Diana Wynne Jones' Archer's Goon, that I had read it before, even though I knew I had never written anything by DWJ before reading Fire and Hemlock for the first time this year. This feeling intensified when I realised I knew who the mysterious Venturus was, even before his identity was revealed. I wondered whether I had seen some of the 1992 TV series, although I've no recollection of watching it. Anyway, as is usual for me, with DWJ's books, I found it hard to put down.

For the last 13 years Quentin Sykes, a writer, has produced 2000 words on any subject at all, every quarter which he sends to Mr Mountjoy at the Town Hall, in return for which he doesn't pay any taxes. However, the envelope goes astray one quarter and when Quentin's children arrive home from school they find a large thuggish man in the kitchen. He has come to collect "Archer's two thousand", an announcement that earns him the nickname "Archer's Goon", although he's usually referred to as "The Goon". Archer himself is one of seven siblings who run the town; he looks after banks and services such as gas and electricity; then there's Shine - she looks after crime; Hathaway - he looks after transport and quite literally lives in the past (four centuries to be exact); Dillian - she looks after law and order; Torquil - he looks after music; Erskine - he looks after the sewers; and finally, the youngest, Venturus, and he looks after the future.

The seven of them have been trapped in the Sykes' town for years - some of the siblings believe they've been there for 13 years, but Erskine and Hathaway know they've actually been there 26 years. Most of them believe that it's Quentin's words which are trapping them there, and Dillian has persuaded a friend of the Sykes' lodger (Fifi) to bringing the missing 2000 words to her - she is hoping to discover how Quentin's words have kept them trapped. The siblings make various attempts to persuade Quentin to do another 2000 words to replace the ones that went missing -the persuasion includes Hathaway setting workman to dig up the road outside the Sykes' house, the Goon more or less becoming a second lodger, Torquil causing bands of various kinds to parade up and down the street - and all the musical instruments in the house to play (Quentin's wife is a music teacher), Archer cutting off the gas and electric, and freezing the bank accounts of Quentin and his wife; etc., everyone discovers that it is in fact Venturus who has trapped them in the town, so that he could grow into his mysterious powers sufficiently to build a spaceship (he has also been waiting for technology to advance far enough that when he travels forward into the future, he can enhance it to build his spaceship). The first time he builds the spaceship, however, something goes wrong, so he traps his siblings in the town for another 13 years to try again. When the spaceship does finally work, Venturus tricks his three eldest siblings, Archer, Shine and Dillian, into boarding the ship, which he has programmed in such a way that it will go off into space and they won't be able to return to Earth.

It is only when Howard, Quentin's son, goes to where he thinks Venturus has hidden himself (on the site of a new building that's being put up at the Poly where his Dad teaches), that Venturus' identity is revealed. It also turns out that the Goon is not quite who he appears to be either, but everything works out well in the end...

My enthusiasm for Diana Wynne Jones' books will continue unabated for a little while longer - I've got the Dalemark Quartet sitting beside me, waiting to be read. But first, I must finish Alan Snow's Here Be Monsters! which finally turned up this week after several weeks of waiting...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Stravaganza: City of Flowers - Mary Hoffman

The third book in Mary Hoffman's Stravaganza series, Stravaganza: City of Flowers is set in Giglia, the Talian equivalent of Florence in 21st century Italy. This time a young man named Sky Meadows, who is the same year at school as Georgia, finds a blue glass bottle with a fleur de lys stopper on his doorstep as he arrives home from school. Sky is unhappy as he has been caring for his mother for the last three years; she suffers from ME. He doesn't know his father, so he must manage running his home alone with whatever help his mother can give when she is feeling a little better. When Sky Stravagates he finds himself in a friary, where he meets Brother Sulien, another "Moor" as the Talians call him. Brother Sulien disguises Sky as a novice monk called Celestino, or Tino for short, and he becomes involved in the preparations in the city for four weddings between members of the di Chimici family. He befriends a young street boy named Sandro, and meets the other Stravanganti who are all in Giglia for the forthcoming weddings. They are concerned for the safety of Arianna, Duchessa of Bellezza, who has been invited to the weddings; the di Chimici are engaged in a perpetual feud with the Nucci family, who are their greatest rivals in terms of wealth. Unfortunately, an attack is made on the wedding party as they're progressing from the church, and although Arianna survives, others do not, and Sky is one of those who are injured, although fortunately he is not injured badly. The head of the di Chimici family, who has declared himself Grand Duke of Tuschia (the region of Talia where all the leaders are members of the di Chimici family) swears vengeance on the Nucci. He also, rather inappropriately decides to ask Arianna to marry him, which she refuses to do, saying she does not love him and also she wants Bellezza to remain independent. Niccolo rightly surmises that Arianna loves Luciano, and so challenges him to a duel, intending to kill Luciano by using a poisoned rapier. In a scene worthy of Hamlet, Niccolo's rapier is given to Luciano (without the latter being aware it is poisoned), and Niccolo is killed by his own poison.

The plot of this book is even more complicated than that of City of Stars and there are even more characters, both primary and secondary ones. It requires some concentration to keep them all straight, particularly as the characters from 21st century England are given 16th century Talian names. For all that, however, I enjoyed the book and was disappointed to close it as Hoffman had made it clear that there would not be any further adventures featuring these characters (all the 21st century English characters had resolved by the end of the book to destroy their talismans).

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Stravaganza: City of Stars - Mary Hoffman

When I was looking up Mary Hoffman's Stravaganza series online, I read a review which suggested that City of Stars was not as good as City of Masks, so it was with some trepidation that I picked up the former on Friday evening and began to read it. Fortunately, I was able to give the review the lie: City of Stars is every bit as difficult to put down as Hoffman's first offering. Lucien Mulholland still has a role in the book, but there is a new Stravagante now: horse-mad Georgia O'Grady, who spots a replica statue of a winged horse in the window of an antiques shop near her Islington home where she lives with her mother, step-father and bullying older step-brother, the repulsive Russell. After saving up for and purchasing the winged horse statue, she falls asleep holding it and wakes up in a stable in Remora, Talia - the parallel Italy. There she sees a live winged horse, the first to be born in Talia for a century, and considered a good omen for the Twelfth of the Ram. Remora is a city divided into twelve parts, each one related to a sign of the zodiac. She soon meets Paolo, the owner of the stable in which she has arrived, who is also a Stravagante, and then Rodolfo, Lucien (now Luciano) and Doctor Dethridge, now Luciano's foster-father. Georgia is mistaken for a boy, because of her short hair, flat chest and baggy clothing, and it is in the guise of a boy that she moves around Remora. She becomes caught up in the preparations for the big race, the Stellata, that is run every year in the centre of the city. This is similar to, but not the same as, the Palio that is run every summer in Siena in our world.

We learn more clearly in this book, as we did not in City of Masks, that the Stravaganti Talisman finds its way to someone who is unhappy in our world. Thus Lucien, who was dying of a brain tumour, is giving the Talian notebook that is his Talisman. And Georgia, who is being bullied endlessly by her older step-brother and has very few friends at school, picks up the statue of the winged horse. We also learn that a Talisman is left by a Talian Stravagante at a time of crisis, when extra help is needed in one of Talia's city states. Thus Lucien was called to Bellazza to aid Rodolfo in protecting the current Duchessa (by foiling an attempted assassination organised by the di Chimici family who want to rule over Bellazza), so Georgia is called to Remora to assist the Twelfth of the Ram, who are loyal to Bellazza (each Twelfth is loyal to a different city state of Talia). Georgia, with Luciano, gets to know the two youngest sons of the di Chimici family, Gaetano and Falco. The latter was crippled two years before the story opens in a horse riding accident, and in 16th century Talia struggles to get around using two sticks. He concocts a plan, with Georgia and Luciano, to Stravagate to 21st century England to get medical treatment for his injuries, with the intention of remaining in 21st century England permanently - just as Lucien lives permanently in 16th century Talia. A decision that will have far-reaching consequences for more people than just Falco.

This story is fairly complex, with lots of secondary characters, as well as primary ones, and there is a fair amount of politics in the plot, but it's still a gripping book.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Scarecrow and His Servant - Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman's The Scarecrow and His Servant (which was recently shortlisted for the Nestle Children's Book Prize) is a fun book that can be read on several levels. Younger readers will relish the craziness of a scarecrow that comes to life and goes off having weird and wild adventures in the company of a small boy named Jack. The adventures include scaring off a band of ruffians, appearing with a band of travelling players as a "prop", hiring out as a bird scarer (naturally), falling in love with a broomstick, encountering a travelling astrologer, joining a regiment and thus being involved in a battle, and being shipwrecked on a desert island.

Older readers will observe that the book is also an indictment against big businesses that take over land and destroy the environment, and unscrupulous lawyers and judges. Jack and the Scarecrow's final adventure involves appearing in a court case so that the Scarecrow can claim ownership of Spring Valley, the place in which he was created and first lived. The unscrupulous judge and lawyers are all related to the owners of the company that has taken over Spring Valley and are rapidly poisoning the land and drying up all the water.

There is another thought-provoking aspect to this book as well; during the course of his many adventures the Scarecrow, being mostly made of wood and straw (with a turnip for a head) loses his various extremeties, one arm is replaced by the arm of a wooden signpost, another is replaced by an umbrella, his spine is replaced by an ordinary stick, and his head by a coconut - he had already lost the pea that served as his brain, which was eaten by a blackbird after the Scarecrow dislodged it from his turnip head. During the court case, the lawyers argue that the Scarecrow isn't the original one created by the farmer, Carlo Pandolfi, who owned the farm in Spring Valley where the Scarecrow originated, because all his extremeties have been replaced since his creation. This is an interesting argument. Owing to the way modern medicine and technology are moving, it is already possible to have a realistic artificial hand that mimics a human one and can be connected to the muscles in the arm via a small processing unit and is controlled by small contractions of the muscles which move the wrist. Which means that with this hand the "owner" could clutch objects such as a ball, move the thumb out to one side and grip objects with the index finger in the way you do when opening a lock with a key, and wrap the fingers around an object in what is called the power grip - like the one you use when holding a hammer or a microphone. It won't be long before such artificial hands are common-place, and it will be a surprisingly short time before scientists and doctors create not only artificial limbs like this hand, but perhaps even artificial spines, so that paraplegics and quadraplegics can regain movement in their bodies. From there it's quite a small step to a bionic man or woman, and then it may be that the only natural thing left will be the brain... And if artificial intelligence can be developed sufficiently far enough, I can imagine that it will one day be possible to "download" one's memories and experiences into an artificial brain, so that one could live even longer. But would such a person still be a person ? If all your limbs are replaced, as the Scarecrow's were, are you the same person ? And are you the same person, still "you", if your brain is artificial too, but contains all your memories ? It's an interesting question - both for philosophers and theologians - but I doubt that I'll be around to find out the answer !

Monday, October 10, 2005

Bad news for Wallace and Gromit fans

Props and sets from the Wallace and Gromit films are believed to have been destroyed in a warehouse blaze. Fire crews were called to Oscar-winning Aardman Animations' Bristol site, which contained the firm's "entire history", early on Monday October 10. Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park said it was "dreadful" for the company but comparatively "not a big deal". The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the new Wallace and Gromit film, has just gone to the top of the US box office chart. Company spokesman Arthur Sheriff said: "It couldn't have come on a worse day - we were supposed to be celebrating, but instead our history has disappeared in a couple of hours. "Everything has gone, from as far back as Morph and all the way through to Chicken Run, including all the Wallace and Gromit films, Creature Comforts, it's all there. Everyone is devastated." Mr Park, who won Oscars for animations such as The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave, said: "Even though its precious stuff and nostalgic - and its dreadful news for the company, in the light of other tragedies it's not a big deal." Fire crews were called to the building near the city's Temple Meads station at about 6 am on Monday. They were unable to stop all three floors inside collapsing.

Avon Fire Service Divisional Officer Geoff Cater said: "All three floors inside have collapsed and the exterior walls are unstable. "We couldn't commit people inside, so we are fighting the fire from the outside which is more time consuming." At the height of the blaze, flames were reaching 100ft, he added. Nobody was in the building when the fire broke out. The area has been sealed off and crews are expected to remain at the scene for the rest of the day.

Personally, I don't know how Nick Park can be so philosophical. I know that on a scale of disasters, it doesn't compare to hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunami, but I feel pretty devastated myself, and it's not even several years of my work that's gone up in flames !

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Jonathan Stroud and Roald Dahl

There was an interesting interview with Jonathan Stroud in The Guardian on Friday. Michelle Paulli talked to him about the publication of Ptolemy's Gate, the third and final part of the Bartimaeus Trilogy.

There is a treat for Roald Dahl (and Quentin Blake) fans this month with the publication of Roald Dahl: Songs and Verse. Edited by Quentin Blake, the book is divided into seven sections: There are Things to See and Do; Best Behaviour; Unlikely Creatures; Poisonous Possibilities; Look Who's Here; All Together Now; and a Few Surprises. Each section opens with three pages of illustration from Dahl's best-known illustrator, Quentin Blake; there then follow visual treats from some of the most exciting artists working in illustration today. Familiar tales such as 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears' (from Revolting Rhymes) feature alongside lesser known or unpublished gems such as 'The Shark'. These verses are unparalleled in their verve, wit and appeal and these marvellous illustrations really do them justice, making this the perfect gift choice for Dahl fans and lovers of children's books and illustration everywhere. Featured illustrators (in alphabetical order) are: Russell Ayto, Peter Bailey, Quentin Blake, Geefwee Boedoe, Emma Chichester Clark, Lauren Child, Babette Cole, Alexis Deacon, Mini Grey, William Joyce, Satoshi Kitamura, John Lawrence, Neal Layton, David McKee, Helen Oxenbury, Chris Riddell, David Roberts, Tony Ross, Gerald Scarfe, Axel Scheffler, Joann Sfar, Posy Simmonds, Lane Smith, Joel Stewart, Bee Willey and Chris Wormell.

Blake explains in a foreword that "Most of the Dahl books in the shops have pictures which I drew specially for them; and many of them which I had discussed with Roald Dahl himself." But several Dahl books had previously been illustrated by other people. "It's interesting to compare different versions," says Blake. "So we thought - what about getting a whole assortment of talented artists to join in on the book?"

I'll be begging the library for both of these titles !

Saturday, October 08, 2005

'The Divide' series - Elizabeth Kay

I don't know why, but it appears that authors have got a sudden penchant for creating young male heroes with a life-threatening illness; in the last year I've read three series that feature such a character. First there is Garth Nix's series 'The Keys to the Kingdom', featuring Arthur Penhaligon, who has such severe asthma that he almost dies of an asthma attack in the opening chapter. Then there is Mary Hoffman's 'Stravaganza' series, featuring Lucien Mulholland who, as the first book opens, is recovering in hospital from a bout of chemotherapy for a brain tumor. Finally, there is Elizabeth Kay's 'Divide' series, featuring Felix Sanders who is suffering from a fatal heart condition. Strange...

There are certain similiarities between Mary Hoffman's and Elizabeth Kay's series - apart from the fact that both young heroes are terminally ill. Both involve the young hero travelling into another world where magic is commonplace and science is unknown, although in Felix's case, it is not an object, but a place (the Continental Divide) that is responsible for shifting him into the parallel universe. Both series see the young hero's illness cured by magic - which to me seemed a bit too good to be true. However, Elizabeth Kay's series is aimed at younger readers and is consequently more light-hearted than Mary Hoffman's.

Felix finds himself in a world where human beings are considered mythical creatures, but griffins, elves, unicorns, centaurs, sphinxes pixies, gnomes and brownies, and other creatures that Felix (and the reader) would consider to be mythical, not only exist, but live together (if not always harmoniously). Magic can be initiated by most creatures, and when science is introduced, either accidentally or deliberately into the parallel universe, it has some rather alarming consequences (even something as apparently innocuous as printing). Over the course of the trilogy (The Divide, Back to the Divide and The Jinx on the Divide) Felix finds himself growing in strength (literally and metaphorically), learning many new things, making lots of friends, and occasionally facing some very dangerous creatures or situations. There's an interesting twist at the end of the third book in the series, which seems to indicate that no further adventures will befall Felix, which is a shame because I've enjoyed reading them over the past three days.

Friday, October 07, 2005

CfP: Extrapolation Special Issue on Le Guin

I received the following Call for Papers for a special Le Guin issue of Extrapolation - Deadline: June 1, 2006.

Ursula K. Le Guin is the author of a number of acknowledged classics of science fiction and fantasy, among them The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, and the A Wizard of Earthsea trilogy, but these early masterpieces were all written and published a quarter of a century ago. Even Le Guin's award-winning novel Tehanu is some fifteen years old. For this special issue on the work of Ursula K. Le Guin we welcome essays on any of the author's published fiction, but would particularly like to see explorations of her children's fantasy, short fiction, poetry, or such recent novels as The Other Wind and The Telling.

All manuscript submissions, including explanatory notes and the list of works cited, should be double-spaced on one side of the sheet only. Neither embedded footnotes nor generated footnotes that some software systems make available should be used. Documentation should follow the MLA Style Manual with parenthetical citations in the text and a works cited list at the end. Only explanatory endnotes are needed.

Please send electronic submissions in Word to the guest editors Michael Levy and Sandra J. Lindow at and to Extrapolation editor Javier A. Martinez at jmartinez@ Please contact the editors with specific questions.

* * *

I wish I could participate, but between the Oxford entry for the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia and the essay for the Masters of Magic casebook (deadlines Feb. 1 and mid-October respectively), I can't manage it (unless I give up working - but then there's the small problem of the lack of a lottery win !)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Hexwood - Diana Wynne Jones

One of Diana Wynne Jones' favourite tropes seems to be time-travel, and she also seems fond of creating characters who are not what they seem. In Hexwood she does her best to push both these ideas to their limits. The book opens with teenager Ann Stavely lying in bed with a nasty virus and watching the mysterious arrivals at Hexwood Estate, a short distance down the road from the greengrocery shop/flat where she lives with her parents and brother, Martin. When she recovers sufficiently from the virus to go out, she goes down to Hexwood, hoping to find out what has happened to the visitors who've arrived yet never left. In the wood she meets a man named Mordion who tells her that he has been trapped in stass-sleep (a form of suspended animation) for thousands of years, after he tried to disobey the Reigners. Using magic and blood from himself and Ann, he creates a boy whom he intends to grow up to be a hero to go after the Reigners on his behalf. Mordion explains to Ann that Hexwood is being affected by something which is creating a set of "paratypical extensions", which is akin to casting a spell. Together Ann and Mordion find out that the field of effect is controlled by something called a 'bannus',. which is effectively an ancient but powerful computer. It cause time to repeat, jump forwards or backwards, and do other odd things. The bannus field also spreads outwards from the farmhouse on to the nearby housing estate (on which Ann lives), and pulls in people and objects which it then manipulates.

I won't go into any further detail about the plot which is complex and extensive. I don't want to risk putting anyone off by summarising poorly. None of the characters in the book are who they appear to be, not even the robot Yam (short for Yamaha), and not all of them are actually natives of Earth. Suffice it to say that this complex and detailed tale needs to be read with one's full attention, or the different names applied to the same people will confuse the reader. This is definitely a book for older readers. I did enjoy it, and I would probably re-read it in the future.

Sidenote: I've included a cover-image of the book, because I think it gives an idea of the potentially sinister nature of Hexwood and the people who live in it. Note how the arist has made a face out of the branches, and there are various faces on the branches, which will be clearer on this large image.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A Dog So Small - Philippa Pearce

Continuing my habit of reading books from my childhood, I picked up Philippa Pearce's A Dog So Small at the library on Saturday. I had forgotten much of the story in this very short book, in the intervening decades, except for the fact of the very small dog. The story opens with Ben Blewitt waking early on the morning of his birthday, anticipating that he will have a dog of his own. His grandfather had promised him one for his birthday and even though Ben knows the impossibility of having a dog in London, he still expects to receive news of the dog, if not the animal itself, on his birthday. Instead he receives a picture done in wool, of a Chihuahua called Chiquitito (the Spanish word for very, very small) which had been given to Ben's Granny by her son Willy as a souvenir of his third (and last voyage) as a sailor.

Ben is bitterly disappointed and swears never to visit his grandparents again, but he goes to stay with them in their home in the country shortly afterwards. It is on his return trip to London that he suddenly sees Chiquitito for the first time behind his closed eyelids. From then on he and the dog are inseparable, sharing Ben's dreams and then his waking hours, as he sits with a hand shading his eyes to disguise the fact that they're closed. Finally, on Christmas Eve, with presents unbought, Ben follows Chiquitito across a busy London road, with his eyes closed and is knocked down. He has terrible nightmares whilst he is unconscious from the accident, but he survives. He goes to live with his grandparents to recuperate, having been surprised by the news that his grandparents' dog, "Young Tilly" (who is in fact quite old), has had nine puppies. His mother accompanies Ben to visit her parents and whilst there, she and her mother have a conversation that leads, on her return to London, to a discussion with her husband and a decision to move to North London, near Hampstead Heath, to be near their newly married daughter, May, and her sister Dilys who is sharing a flat with them. And Ben is promised one of Tilly's puppies…

That isn't the end of the story, nor is it by any means an obvious happy ending, for Ben finds that his puppy is not the Chiquitito of his imaginings, but a flesh and blood and fur puppy with his own personality. At first Ben rejects the puppy, when he discovers this, but then he comes to his senses, and instead of abandoning it on Hampstead Heath as he had half-planned, he takes it home.

This is a brilliant book. It talks of the power of the imagination, especially a child's imagination - and the dangers as well as the pleasures of a powerful imagination that brings things to life. It also talks about the making and breaking of promises, and the difficulty of living with something that has been wished for and longed for - the old adage about being careful what you wish for as you might get it, certainly applies here. But in the end, the story ends happily, and though it is short, it is engaging.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Stravaganza: City of Masks - Mary Hoffman

I'd heard about Mary Hoffman's Stravaganza: City of Masks but didn't really know anything about it. However, when I was wandering in the children's library on Saturday, I noticed it on the shelf and decided I would read it.

This tale is set in a parallel world, in the city of Bellezza, in the country of Talia. They correspond to 16th century Venice in Italy. The hero is Lucien, who in our world is suffering from brain cancer. His father gives him a marble-covered notebook to help him communicate when his throat hurts too much to speak after chemotherapy. This notebook is actually a talisman, planted in 21st century England by a Stravagante from Bellezza, and it is the means by which Lucien travels to the magical, yet dangerous, new world. He finds himself involved in political intrigue, including assassination attempts both foiled and successful, and makes several friends, including a 15 year old girl, Arianne, who wants nothing more than to be a mandolier (the Bellezzan equivalent of a gondolier). Belleza is evoked in incredible detail, the silks and velvets, the sensuousness of the food, and the elegance of the city and its waterways are all beautifully described. The world of Talia is unforgettably and convincingly real.

The story continues in two sequels, Stravaganza: City of Stars and Stravaganza: City of Flowers, although they feature new protagonists. you can find out more about the books at the Stravanganza website, but don't bother following any of the links mentioned in the book itself (about William Dethridge, the first ever Stravagante) as they're all fake - which I personally think is wrong; Mary Hoffman shouldn't have given the full links that Lucien uses to access information on Dethridge if they're not real, because it's too misleading whether the reader is 15 or 50.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Dragon Rider - Cornelia Funke

When I Blogged Cornelia Funke's The Thief Lord with such enthusiasm last weekend, Kelly over at Big A little a recommended that I try Funke's Dragon Rider as well. I was finally able to pick it up from the library on Friday, and I finished it on Saturday afternoon. Here's the synopsis:

Firedrake, a brave young dragon, his loyal brownie friend Sorrel and a lonely boy called Ben are united as if by destiny. Together, they embark on a magical journey to find the legendary place where silver dragons can live in peace forever. With only a curious map and the whispered memories of an old dragon to guide them, they fly across moonlit lands and seas to reach the highest mountains in the world. Along the way, they discover extraordinary new friends in unlikely places and a courage they never knew they had. Just as well, for the greatest enemy of all is never far behind them - a heartless monster from the past who's been waiting a very long time to destroy the last dragons on earth.

This is a good book. I liked young Ben, and brave Firedrake, and grumpy Sorrel with her mania for mushrooms; and I liked the idea of the three of them flying half way round the world, from the Scottish mountains where Firedrake and his fellow dragons live together with Sorrel, all the way to the Himalayas in search of 'The Rim of Heaven', the places where dragons can live safe from human interference.

This book isn't just a Quest tale featuring a battle between good and evil, it's also a thought-provoking commentary on humanity's habit of driving out native fauna in our greed for more land. There is a strong contrast between the unseen men who are planning to flood the valley which is Firedrake and Sorrel's home, and both the people of the village on the Indus where Ben learns of his heritage as a dragon-rider, and the monks of the Tibetan monastery high up in the Himalayas where Ben finds someone to lead them to the Rim of Heaven. In the village and at the monastery a dragon is regarded as a bringer of good luck so it is a momentous occasion when a dragon arrives in either place.

I did enjoy this book, so my thanks to Kelly for the recommendation; I think The Thief Lord is my favourite book by Cornelia Funke of the three that I've read so far - but I definitely liked Dragon Rider, and I liked it better than Eragon !

Sunday, October 02, 2005

A Tale of Time City - Diana Wynne Jones

As I mentioned yesterday, I read a couple of Diana Wynne Jones books last week, the second of which was A Tale of Time City. This is more of an SF book than a fantasy one, and although I'm not as big a fan of SF as I am of fantasy, it looked interesting, so I borrowed it from the library.

When Vivian is evacuated from London in 1939, she expects to be staying in the countryside. Instead, she is whisked away to Time City - a place that exists outside time and space. It is a strange and remarkable place, where technology rules - yet important events of both past and future are marked by the appearance of mysterious Time Ghosts. Here, a Time Patrol works to preserve historical events - but unknown rogue time-travellers are plotting to take control and are stealing the wards that protect the city. If they succeed, Time City and History as we know it will both be destroyed. Jonathan and Sam are convinced that Vivian can help to save their home -- for, astonishingly, she appears as a Time Ghost herself in a forgotten part of the city. But how can she possibly know what to do, when the important event hasn't even happened yet ?!

I liked all three main characters in this book, although Jonathan is arrogant and bossy, and Sam is like an annoying younger brother who tags along when you'd rather he didn't. Vivian acts as a counter-balance to the excessive behaviour that the two boys occasionally indulge in, and her method of getting her revenge on Sam for stealing all her credit is priceless ! However, the three of them work well as a team when it most matters, and they all show bravery in the face of some nasty circumstances. They manage to work out how to deal with the danger that faces the whole of humanity, past and future, with a little help from Elio, the android, although the role each child plays is absolutely cruicial. I imagine that it will appeal to children of both sexes and especially to fans of time-travel and SF.

Diana Wynne Jones seems fond of using time-travel elements in her stories: there is time travelling (of a sort) in Fire and Hemlock, and it is a large part of the story The Time of the Ghost. And I note that Farah Mendlesohn's new study of DWJ's work, Diana Wynne Jones The Fantastic Tradition and Children's Literature (which is only out in the US apparently) has two chapters that cover this subject, judging by the Contents list: chapter 3 is entitled 'Time Games' and chapter 4 is called 'Diana Wynne Jones and the Portal-quest Fantasy'. I wonder how long it will be before Farah Mendlesohn's book is published in the UK as I would definitely be interested in reading it ?