Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Stones are Hatching - Geraldine McCaughrean

After reading Geraldine McCaughrean's The White Darkness, I wanted to read some more of her books, but I was rather daunted by the length of the list of publications she had in the OPAC, so I asked my Child_Lit colleagues for advice, and The Stones are Hatching had a double recommendation since it is set around the time of the First World War (which is my other area of literary interest). So I requested the book from another library in Oxfordshire and it arrived in time for me to collect it this week and I managed to read it yesterday in spite of watching 6 episodes of Buffy's season 5.

The book reminded me (in positive ways) of both Diana Wynne Jones (the way the folklore is fully integrated into the story) and Alan Garner (the way the landscape is hugely important to the story).

Phelim Green is 11 years old and in the care of his older sister Prudence (who is actually off-stage until the very end of the book); his mother is dead, and his father left them a few years earlier. His sister paints lead soldiers to earn a living and once a month she goes off to the toy company's headquarters to deliver the latest batch. One day, during her trip away, Phelim discovers that the "ghost cat" he thought he'd been feeding with a nightly saucer of milk is actually a Domovoy, a household spirit who protects Phee's cottage. He finds the Domovoy and the Glashans (spirits who protect the fields) in the house, and they want him to protect them and the world at large from the Hatchlings of the Stoor Worm. She is being awakened by the guns of World War One and as a consequence the stones are hatching all sorts of strange and malevolent creatures, such as dracs (large, fearsome, winged sea-serpents), the barguest (a large black dog), nuckelavee (a creature with no skin, so its yellow veins, muscle structure and sinews, can clearly be seen to be covered in a red slimy film), and other gruesome horrors, all of which are bent on destroying humanity. The Domovoy calls Phee "Jack o' the Green" and believes he will be able to save them, using his magical powers. Phee, on the other hand, believes they need his father, and he continues to resist Alexia (his Maiden), Sweeney (his Fool) and the Obby Oss (his Horse) when they tell him that he is the Green Man and only he can save the world. There is a painful undercurrent to Phee's interactions - he keeps recalling his sister's nasty names for him, and these undermine his confidence in himself and the confidence that the others have in his ability to do his task. In spite of his lack of confidence, however, Phee succeeds at his task - although there is a moment when he's carrying it out when he doubts the wisdom of his actions, and whether the Stoor Worm is really at fault. The way Phee has been treated by his sister gives him a remarkable level of sympathy with others. Phee's revenge on his sister and his discovery of his father's whereabouts are joyous closing moments in this beautiful book.

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