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.

2 comments:

Howlleo said...

Great! Another DWJ reader!
Maybe you can enlighten me as to what exactly is going on in hexwood?

Michele said...

Did you read my review: http://scholar-blog.blogspot.com/2005/10/hexwood-diana-wynne-jones.html ?