The last in the Magician’s House Quartet ends with a big battle, much like Lewis’ The Last Battle. The forces of the Magician, Stephen Tyler, battle the unleashed forces of the now repentant could-be-evil, oops, now evil again, apprentice, Morden. Yes, kindness is what heals evil, but apparently one dose will not do the trick.
I kept reading this series even though they are mechanical at times (it’s always embarrassing to see a story’s skeletal structure) because I wanted to see why Corlett wrote them. He’s said elsewhere they were inspired by his partner and it would be fun to hear more about that. Not knowing the whole story behind the inspiration, I’m left saying they’re stories for agnostics.
The bridge in the clouds is, basically, a rainbow and it’s the bridge from now to those we’ve lost. So there’s a sense of afterlife. There’s a clear sense of good and evil, but it’s not simplistic. Morden is misunderstood and can potentially be saved, but is not. His army is made of rats, but the leader of the “good guys” is a rat named Rattus Rattus, whom young Alice first despises, then loves when she sees him for who he is, not who he appears to be. Most people choose to follow evil out of fear. Love makes the world go round. Everyone has a gift and it’s different from the gifts of those around you. All solid lessons for young people.
The magician gives a nice lesson about being present when he talks to the children about time travel and says there is only now and that if we remember to live now, we will all become gold (the alchemy piece that runs throughout the series).
William is still the rational one and Alice and Mary the ones attuned to emotion, which is echoed in their adult counterparts, with Phoebe the vegetarian being moody and emotional as she senses the coming battle and Jack the scientist walking around oblivious. William and Jack will have higher earning potential and greater autonomy in western culture with their skills, but, you can say awwww here, it’s Alice, Mary, and Phoebe who really save the world.
This series has an odd underlying commentary on gender. Jack and Phoebe live together, but do not marry. Their daughter, Stephanie, is named after Stephen Tyler, the magician, who is disappointed (until the end) that she isn’t a boy. Tyler calls Alice Minimus until the end, when he says he was mistaken to give her a masculine gender because being a girl is just fine and changes her moniker to Minima. Phoebe breastfeeds in book three, which Alice finds disgusting, but which skill she uses as a defense for why Stephanie is better off with Phoebe than Jack. The other children say men can raise children as well as women since children don’t breastfeed forever. Meg Lewis and Henry Crawden are star-crossed lovers who reunite in their twilight years in the last book, but Meg has spent her life alone and in poverty (cavorting with nature because that’s what women do) while Henry married, had children, and lived in great prosperity (because he engaged in business using his sharply rational mind because that’s what men do).
These books were written in the late 1980s/early 1990s, but it would be nice to see a fantasy series along these lines that does not inadvertently reinforce these gender norms in young readers.
There are some nice speeches in this last book, which is, of course, a perfect place for big-theme speeches.
My favorite didactic bit came in the form of a speech from the dying magician, who told the Constant children, “Do your best in your own time! That is all that anyone can ask of you, or that you can ask of yourselves. If, at the end, we can say with certainty and truth that we did the best we could, then we have fulfilled this great burden, this great gift, that is called life.”
A worthy message in any age.