The Bridge in the Clouds-William Corlett

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.

Finished 4/20/12

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The Door in the Tree–William Corlett

This is the second in the Magician’s House Quartet, a series I found through Corlett’s book about a gay couple who move into a small, rural English neighborhood.  Oh, the places we go!

The Constant children are back to the Golden House on spring holiday.  Before two full days pass they are entering the bodies of animals and talking to time-traveling wizards again.  Alice, the youngest, is frustrated with William and Mary, her older siblings who are having a hard time accepting that their previous experiences were real.  A major theme, with which Corlett beats one around the head, is that if we think too hard, magic can’t happen.  We have to just let it be, live in the moment, pay attention to our surroundings.  There’s also a strong animal-rights theme involving some badger baiters.  Even little Alice starts to think vegetarian Phoebe might be onto something.

Corlett just does not seem to be a writer who knows children.  Alice, Mary, and William don’t quite ring true.  The lessons are too heavy-handed and yet shallow.  This contradiction reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, but with less doctrinal clarity.  What I don’t understand is how this series made it into a BBC series.

At the same time, I’m intrigued just enough to finish reading the two remaining books in the series in order to see the grand plan–and I’ve already bought them from Thriftbooks.

Finished 4/16/12

The Steps Up the Chimney–William Corlett

 

I read William Corlett’s Two Gentlemen Sharing and fell in love with his wit and his style.  When I investigated him as an author and found that he had written a children’s fantasy series, I was intrigued and rushed to order the first in the series.

The Steps Up the Chimney feels, to start, like a bad reflection of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Three children are sent to live with their uncle in a weird old house isolated in the country.  The opening scene begins on an isolated train platform.  There is no war in the background, but, instead, the children’s parents are off to Africa to help the beknighted on that continent.

Uncle Jack is an engineer who works with nuclear energy, but he’s gone off the grid to refurbish a Tudor mansion, along with his pregnant girlfriend, Phoebe.  They have no television, no central heat, and are vegetarians.  Corlett makes a big deal of their decision not to marry, which is voiced by the youngest sibling, Alice.    Near the end of the novel Phoebe tries to explain to Alice why they’re not marrying (it would be hypocritical to have a religious service since they’re not church-goers) and that it doesn’t matter whose last name the baby carries.  Alice is not quite up for this feminist approach, but there are three more books in which she can be softened.

The magic portion of the story involves the ability to inhabit and communicate with animals and a magician who (sort of) dwells in a hidden room in the old mansion.  Again, like Lewis’ classic, the children explore the rooms of the house and try to explain why the angles do not all add up  This exploration leads them to a magical space that belongs to two worlds.  Like Lewis’ classic, there are talking animals.   Like Lewis’ classic, there is good magic and bad magic.  Even Corlett’s good magician, however, is, as one of the girls describes him, a misogynist pig.  He cannot be blamed too much, however, since he’s over 500 years old.

The story has a rough beginning, but picks up pace about a third of the way through. However, it never quite leaves behind the feel of a formula production, which was disappointing.

As a huge fan of fantasy literature of this type for middle-grade readers, I still found this book enjoyable and look forward to seeing how Corlett develops his three protagonists and plays out the plot lines he establishes in this opening volume.

Finished 3/12/12