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


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

Two Gentlemen Sharing–William Corlett

This novel is an absolute delight.  Two gay men move into an estate house in a little English village and all hell breaks loose as the village’s dynamics begin to shift.  Rich is a middle-aged producer who has shared a flat with Laurence, an old-school closeted poof.  Rich’s young lover, Bless, is an aspiring actor who has given it all up to keep house in the village.  Bless’ best friend, Maggie, is a busty, crude, aspiring actress who loves to help Bless antagonize Laurence.

Bless and Rich move in next to a crusty old veteran and his mousy wife, the Brigadier and Rosemary Jerrold.  Rosemary’s oppressive marriage is relieved by visits from her mysterious sister-in-law, Phyllis.  The Brigadier declares war on the poofs.

Diana Simpson has joined a feminist commune in France that she found advertised in a feminist journal.  She returns to the village under the cover and darkness being chased by a hypersexual Italian count, who runs his car into the gatepost of Bless and Rich’s home.  Diana takes cover from the count and his crazed lesbian sister, Carlotta, in Bless’ summer house and the romp begins.

Add an aged ballerina, a pushy housekeeper and her pushy village shop-0wning sister, a vicar and his depressed wife, two bored middle-class housewives and their boring husbands, and life gets interesting.  Add the fact that Phyllis is the Brigadier’s cross-dressing alter ego and you have all the ingredients for comedy.

Corlett builds his memorable characters through rapid dialogue that takes place in the zany (yes, I just said zany) scenes in which he places his characters.

I thought this would be an amusing novel for this middle-aged Anglophile.  It was so much more.  This is Corlett’s second novel.  I’m on a mission to find his first.

Finished 12/12/11