July 24, 2012

and the mother never made up stories again

I don't like all of Margaret Mahy's work. Some of it seems like it was squeezed out in time for the next one to come charging along.

But the ones I love, I love like no other author's. I've always loved fantasy, and Mahy was the only author I knew in my teens who brought magic into the world I lived in every day. The Changeover is my favourite, but I have a soft spot for The Catalogue of the Universe (because Tycho is so decent and overlooked) and The Haunting (because I wanted to be Troy when I grew up). It really takes something special to take the experience and culture of what is around you and pull it into a story strong enough to carry a book, without it feeling artificial and clunky. And Mahy's New Zealand was always present, unselfconscious, just there because of course that is where the story is set. In her contribution to New Zealand and New Zealanders recognising and claiming our own experience, I rank her as easily as important as Colin McCahon and Janet Frame.

I heard a story recently about a high school teacher (this was in the 60s) who introduced a poem to his students (it was called In the Dairy or similar). It was a New Zealand poem about early morning milking. After a bit of reading, one of the kids stuck up his hand and said in astonishment "But that's just how it is, Sir!". I can empathise with his shock at hearing parts of his experience expressed in printed words.

And I have to take a moment to bless the people who decided we needed the School Journal. It's been what it's creators intended, a source of New Zealand fiction and non-fiction for New Zealand kids. It has also been a source of income for some of our best authors and artists. Dick Frizzel has and James K Baxter both have extensive work in it. And Margaret Mahy must have contributed a measurable percentage. It gave her work publication until the world noticed (and well afterwards).

For little kids I particularly like Bubble Trouble for pure, relentless word play, and The Lion in the Meadow is genius. It's rare to get that level of post-modern meta into a children's story. Let alone into one for young children. And yet it works.

In the story, it is lightly told that the mother never made up stories again, it gains lift on the child's imagination triumphing over more mundane things. That line feels very bittersweet to me today.

Posted by carla at July 24, 2012 11:42 PM
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