The Tunnel Behind the Waterfall–William Corlett

Book Three of the Magician’s House Quartet was worth sticking with the series.  Corlett’s characters are still stiff at times and seem more like a medium for a message than fully developed personalities, but they receive more dimension in this story and the overarching narrative of the Magician, Stephen Tyler, and his interaction with the Constant children is further fleshed out.

What seems in volume one like an atheist’s answer to Narnia is further complicated with mentions of God and the contemplative notions of emptying the self. There are some irritating negatives in this volume.   The oldest sibling, William, embodies the stereotype of men as overly rational and his sisters of women as emotional.  Alice, the youngest, has been the most consistent in seeing the Magician, but Mary, who previously was scorned for falling in love as her major hobby, becomes the biggest convert.

In this volume of the series, the children are on summer holiday and are faced with the threat of the land around the Golden Estate being sold and developed into a vacationing funfair and hotel complex.  Together with their uncle and Meg Lewis, with whom they saved the badgers in volume two, the children work to save the sacred place that surrounds Golden House and deepen their understanding of magic.  In a long speech, the Magician tells them magic should only be used for good, for un-selfish reasons.  He then berates a variety of selfish actions in the modern world that have caused famine, global warming, species extinction, etc.  The Tennessee legislature has most likely banned this book in light of their recent decision about global warming in the curriculum.

The connection to Tudor England grows stronger as we learn that the antagonist, Morden, was executed as a wizard in his own time.  And, as Miss Prewett, the local historian, says, “Never trust a person who doesn’t like history!” (112).


Finished 4/17/12


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