THE SENSE OF BELONGING: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE NOVELS OF JANE LOUISE CURRY
By Sue Bridgwater
[Published in the International Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship, 3, No. 3, Winter 1988, p176ff]
Jane Louise Curry is an American writer and academic who has, since1968, published many works of fantasy for young readers. The majority of her works are intended for the age range between nine and fourteen, but one or two are for younger children from about seven, Her achievement is uneven and she has written many different kinds of fantasy: this article will not therefore be a critical survey of all her to date  ‑ some of it being still unavailable in the UK, in any case. The works selected for close examination are the three novels that seem to me to illustrate most clearly the importance of the identity/maturity theme in her work, and to be the strongest of her novels.
All of Curry’s works of fiction that I have seen could be classified as ‘low’ fantasy; that is, fantasy in which the action is set in the objective world ‑ the strange or alien elements are introduced onto the scene, breaking into the characters’ everyday lives. In this ‘low fantasy’ mode she has produced time‑shift novels (or ghost stories); novels containing miniature human beings of the Lilliput school; a mystery adventure in which the ‘magic’ is explained away in the denouement; one novel based on the Arthurian legends, and a series of works which ambitiously seek to draw together the Celtic mythology of Curry’s Welsh ancestors and her own interpretation of the mythic history of pre‑Columbian America. This latter series is most important, both in terms of excellence and in terms of being more strongly individual to Curry than some of her writing.
Curry has brought together Amerindian and Celtic myth, archaeology, history and legend with her own speculation, to build a complex mythical history that dates from before the beginning modern age up to the nineteen‑seventies. The internationalism and interest in the cultures of marginalised and oppressed peoples, that are inherent in this approach, give the books a topicality that should have made them more popular in public libraries and in classroom use than they have so far been, in Britain at least. One of my main aims in offering this analysis is to remind people of the nature and quality of Curry’s work in the hope that my colleagues will begin to give her the attention she deserves.
The Celtic/Amerindian stories always involve magic, many of them involve timeshift, in most of them the race of Elves is featured; they appear either as main characters in the story or as influences in the background. Through all of them, too, run the linked themes of selfhood and identity, duty and commitment. But in some of them Curry has failed to develop enough tension or depth to her stories, because of the basic error of involving too many protagonists. In these ‘overcrowded’ books, Curry hints at many issues vital to the identity themes ‑ race, class, education, gender ‑ only to find that she has not space to develop them in any depth. Callie, for example, in The daybreakers, feels herself a misfit on many counts; she is black in a predominantly white area, cut off from her old home in the south, and struggling with a quick temper that involves her in quarrels with family and friends. But Callie’s whole class becomes involved in her adventures in ancient Abaloc, and there is no room for more than perfunctory surface reference to these issues in the rest of the book. In the single protagonist books on the other hand, Curry weaves the themes of identity and growth skilfully into the fantasy plot, so that the action is genuinely expressive of what is happening inside the young protagonist. This more conscious structuring is why these three novels make the most rewarding reading, and the most worthwhile studies, of all her works. Indeed, Curry herself seems to feel the lack of emphasis and development in the ‘crowded’ books, since there is a pattern of repeated themes following through the novels that form the Abaloc series.
In chronological order of publication ‑ although not chronological in terms of the imagined events ‑ Curry makes half-hearted use of a theme in one novel and then much more direct use in the next. Miggle Arthur in Beneath the hill feels at odds with her family, but little real use is made of this theme; while Eilian, in The change-child, is at the centre of the action, and the external events she is involved in are bound up with the theme of her discovery and acceptance of her true self. Callie in The daybreakers is unhappy, but after this unhappiness has functioned as a channel for the kings of Cibotlan to reach the present day, we are not shown its resolution through any inner growth in Callie. Dewi, in Over the sea’s edge however, undertakes a searching self-examination and is fully aware of how his attitude to himself and the world has changed to one of becoming more accepting and more positive. In the next novel in the series Curry seems to have broken out of this alternating pattern. The watchers, which picks up themes from the earlier books, especially alienation, identity and self-knowledge, is a single-protagonist novel centring on Ray Siler, and makes great use of Ray’s inner state and its resolution, in the working out of the plot. Unfortunately, its successor The Birdstones is a return to the multitude of child characters, not all of whom are ever clearly defined for the reader, let alone in terms of their own self-awareness.
It remains generally true however, that Curry handles the ‘Low Fantasy’ mode very well. There are ways in which it is a more difficult genre to work in than high fantasy, since the writer has less freedom to create an imagined background against which to set characters and plot. More of the work must depend on techniques of realistic writing and it must seek to delineate a convincing contemporary society. To hold balance between this and an equally convincing imaginary society of Elves or of the far past is very difficult. Some writers take drastic ways out of this problem; it could be argued that Susan Cooper, for example, seriously mars her sequence The dark is rising by the device of forgetfulness. That is to say, her magically empowered characters are able to make ‘ordinary’ people forget anything supernatural that they may have witnessed. As a result no one grows or develops at all, and much of the mythic power of the folklore mode Cooper employs is wasted. Curry gets neatly round this problem by running parallel strands of experience through all her stories. The single protagonist novels in particular are notable for their skilled use of adult characters, realistically related to the children and often themselves experiencing growth and change. There is always a problem in the society depicted, a ‘real’ problem which engages the adults but which the children fully perceive is linked with an underlying supernatural situation. To select one example: the adults in Beneath the hill think they are facing the problem of the despoliation, through modern technological methods of mining, of a beautiful tract of land. The children see the link between the greed of the modern contractors and the ancient evil that they learn of from the elves. Family life and sociological trends in modern America are convincingly presented; yet there is hauntingly beautiful evocation of the Otherworld of Celtic legend, with enough mixing of the strands to make it clear that experiences within the Otherworld stand in Curry’s novel, as they did in the ancient tales, for the experiences of the deeper levels of the mind. Faery is employed as a metaphor for the underlying states both of individual consciousness and of the social structure. This skilled dual usage is revealed very clearly in the three single protagonist novels chosen for close study.
The change child, set in Wales at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, clearly illustrates both the use of the techniques of low fantasy and the use of the metaphor of the Otherworld encounter, to point up a time of growth in consciousness and self-awareness in a particular individual. Eilian, the child of the title, is at odds with her surroundings in many ways. Slightly crippled in one foot, redheaded, and given to the making of songs and poems, she is regarded with suspicion by neighbours as a probable changeling; that is, a child left by the fairies in exchange for a human child. She is thought of as odd. Since her own mother shares in this opinion to some extent, and is only half joking in her own application of the term ‘changeling’ to Eilian, the girl has a rather low opinion of herself. She has comfort from her father’s love and her grandmother’s care ‑ but there is still bitterness to cope with. Even her father says, ‘…it’s foolishness for a girl to wish to be a poet at all, that only a man can be a bard and compete for prizes at the Eisteddfodau. . .’ No one completely understands or accepts her nature or her aspirations. Therefore she cherishes within herself a compensatory self-image that involves some idea that she might actually be special, might have fairy blood in her, even though in everyday conversation she explicitly states, more than once, ‘I am no changeling!’ Bettelheim points out that this is one of the compensatory images that children adopt for themselves and find in fairy‑tale:
“The feeling of inferiority is defensively turned into a feeling of superiority. The pre-pubertal or adolescent child may say to himself, ‘I do not compete with my parents, I am already better than they are; it’s they who are competing with me’ … Every child at some time wishes that he were a prince or princess ‑ and at times, in his unconscious, the child believes he is one, only temporarily degraded by circumstances.’”
Eilian’s circumstances change twice during the novel, and although the cause of these changes, in terms of the real world, is the trouble between her father and the Rastall family over the inheritance of Plaseiran, the journeys involved constitute a quest-like experience for Eilian. She is forced in the course of this quest to learn to value other individuals and to give weight to their needs; to accept responsibility for her actions; and to be reconciled to the limitations and the potential of her own nature. She has to make a choice of allegiance, a commitment. While the outer problem of the inheritance is being worked out in plots and lawsuits, Eilian’s growth is being worked out in a visit to Faery which, in the terms of the novel, ‘really’ happens, but can be shown to have much in common with traditional tales in which every action is expressive of some psychological trait or condition of the protagonist. Both these come together at the end of the book to reconcile Eilian with her mother, whose own attitude has become gentler as a result of her improved fortunes, so that she is ready to meet the advances of the more understanding Eilian.
At the level of the fantasy plot, then, there is much traditional material, carrying out its traditional function. In fact Eilian thinks she may be going into something like fairyland on her first journey to stay with her grandmother’s troop of thieves, who are known as the Red Fairies. She is enchanted by them in the everyday sense of being very much in love with the idea of them, and she makes a kind of commitment to them in her heart on first meeting:
There were laughs and greetings and kisses, and in the light of the lanterns their hair shone gold and their eyes gleamed silver. Eilian tightened her arms around her uncle’s waist until he could feel her heart pounding from excitement. ‘Maybe I’ll never go home’, she thought. ‘Maybe, maybe this is the true homecoming’. Mam and Dad seemed dim shadows in a heavier world.
This romantic hope is knocked flat by Eilian’s eventual discovery that the Red Fairies are in fact robbers; that Uncle Emrys is weak and under his mother’s thumb; and that her dear Grandmother is plotting to sell her to Simon Rastall against her father’s wishes. The Red Fairy identity, which she had hoped to adopt, is not the answer to her problems. She learns to see the people she has been living with as flawed, ambivalent, ordinary individuals, the normal mixture of good and bad. This is an important step on the way to her discovery of an autonomous identity. Having brought her to a point where she is vulnerable to such influences, the story now takes her into Faery, to find herself; to see the complexities of the truth about herself, as she has already seen it about Emrys and Mamgu and the others.
Eilian goes into the forest under the guidance of Goronwy, the boy who has always seemed quite ordinary, but now turns out, confusingly, to be one of the Fairy folk after all. On the realistic level the forest functions as a refuge for the injured Emrys, who is in danger of arrest if he does not go to ground. On the psychological level, the forest is filling its traditional role as a symbol of wandering in the unconscious, exploring the self, often at risk ‑ expressed as the danger of going mad ‑ but with the hope of making useful discoveries about oneself. Two traditional examples of this are the mediaeval tale of Sir Orfeo, who wandered bereft of reason until his music healed him and he was reconciled to his wife Herodis;’ and Malory’s Lancelot who ran mad for two years in the forest; a token of his inability to cope with the pressures of Guenever’s possessiveness. In both these tales the fact of being lost in the forest stands for a wandering in the inner world of the unconscious self. Eilian is not lost, but guided by the care ‑ and criticism ‑ of Goronwy. She passes through the forest with him, is aware of his sense that she is letting herself down by her self-absorbed attitude, and there comes to her realisation about the importance and uniqueness of other Selves; ‘I only let him be Uncle, she thought, not Emrys … But now he was his own. . .’
In the next confrontation, with the Fairy King, Eilian finally meets the truth about herself. Again, this parallels the experience of Orfeo and other traditional figures in folktale who enter Faery and are changed by their meeting with its powerful figures. Eilian learns, ironically enough, that she is indeed of Fairy blood; but the learning is an ambivalence of bitterness and pleasure. For on the personal level, she sees that there is a sense in which this makes no difference. Her growing conviction, for example, that she may make a good singer but has not such skill as a poet as she had hoped, is affected neither way by this. And painfully, on the wider level, her arrival in Gardd Terfynol functions as the fulfilment for the Tylweth Teg of a prophecy that they must leave Middle-earth for the fairy kingdoms oversea. So the fact of Eilian’s being who she is has brought: joy to Goronwy, who loves her; pain to the Tylweth Teg, who lose their ancient home; and to her, the continuing need to make the effort to accept herself and learn to accept others. There is no side‑stepping that need for the effort of self acceptance, however colourful one’s ancestry or multifarious one’s talents. And so Eilian’s act of commitment is an act of commitment to herself, and to a positive attitude to that self. Just as the heroes of high fantasy learn to mobilise their strengths in order to defeat evil enemies, Eilian is taught by the Lady Wintida that her answers are also within:
“Eilian was muddled. ‘Change is not good then?’ she ventured doubtfully.
‘On the contrary, child. All that is good comes through it. But it is no sudden shift played on you, for what is growth but change and transformation? To fear it is to invite decay, but to live in hope it be imposed upon you by some kindly fate is to live a fool.
‘I do not understand. Am I so foolish?’ No sooner had she said it than a thought brushed past Eilian of the aching sameness, the dreaming ‑ of ‑ when ‑ things would ‑ be ‑ differentness, of so many of her days.
The Lady smiled. ‘Only in thinking we can give you love and peace if you have not tended the seeds of these things in your own heart.’”
Eilian has seen that she can and must come to terms with the contents of her own heart; her father reflects, when she has returned to their new home: “It is the real child’s come home.” He senses that she is in some way more truly herself, more balanced and self-aware, than before her adventures. And Curry closes the novel with an age-old symbol of psychological and spiritual stability; the symbol of the tree.
“And I have bought a cherry tree,’ said Eilian, ‘which I must plant tomorrow.”
The theme of reconciliation to the self and the device of providing two levels of motivation for the action of the story, recur in Over the sea’s edge. For Dave/Dewi as for Eilian, his physical journey stands for his psychological and spiritual exploration of himself. For the others in the story, there are plenty of realistic reasons for the journey across the ocean and through the forests of pre-Columbian America. For Madauc, to a greater degree than for Emrys or any of the other adults in either novel, there is also an increase in self-knowledge and a shift in expectations of and attitudes to life. This runs parallel with Dewi’s experience and serves to underline it.
The identity problem is brought to the fore in this novel in a startling way; two characters actually do change identity by means of a timeshift effected by a magic talisman. Instead of this being reversed at the end, as might perhaps have been expected in a children’s novel, the changeover holds, and it is to the new identity that Dave-whobecomes-Dewi is gradually reconciled. Less attention is paid to Dewi-who-becomes-Dave, but we do see at the end that he is also reconciled to his new life. At the beginning of the story, Dave feels himself a misfit in his life in modern Ohio, unhappily aware of his lack of the academic skills and enthusiasm that his father wants him to have. He feels he is, in a sense, the wrong person, that he cannot please his father by being who he naturally is. He longs for adventure and physical activity:
“I don’t want to Structure My Personality Around a Positive Goal. I want to … to sail down to the Gulf of Mexico on a raft and explore a wilderness and ride with a banner in the wind and…and know how to live on trapping and acorns and nuts and berries or whatever, and …”
Meanwhile, in the year 1170 the Welsh boy Dewi longs fiercely for the life of a scholar, for all the things Dave rejects. The longing and the discontent together are channelled through the silver pendant from ancient Abaloc that Dave finds in a cave along the Ohio (at once ‘before’ and ‘after’ he (as Dewi) left it there ‑ Curry deals skilfully with these complications of time). One night, the boys change places in their sleep, so that each awakes to what he thought he wanted.
The action of the story largely concerns their struggle to accept the selves they find themselves to be; the unavoidable task for each growing individual. It is significant that at the end of the story, when each has found peace, each is shown to have done so by integrating into the chosen identity a measure of the self that was formerly rejected. Dave-who-was-Dewi ‑ referred to as Dave from now on ‑ learns at the end to relax some of his obsessive drive for academic success and to enjoy relaxing on the river like Dewi-who-was-Dave (hereafter called Dewi). Dewi finds that his book learning can serve a useful purpose in keeping records of Madauc’s community in the New World. The pattern is of the integration of various traits in the self, not of being able to reject some in favour of others. In fact the story makes greatest sense if the two boys are treated as the folktale motif of the Two Brothers, whose interdependence signifies the need for integration between the two opposing principles within the self. Bettelheim argues:
“The stories on the ‘Two Brothers’ theme add to this internal dialogue between id, ego, and superego another dichotomy: the striving for independence and self assertion, and the opposite tendency to remain safely home, tied to the parents. From the earliest version on, the stories stress that both desires reside in each of us and that we cannot survive deprived of either: the wish to stay tied to the past and the urge to reach out to a new future. Through the unfolding of events, the story most often teaches that entirely cutting oneself off from one’s past leads to disaster, but that to exist only beholden to the past is stunting; while it is safe, it provides no life of one’s own. Only the thorough integration of these contrary tendencies permits a successful existence.”
Many of these implications and nuances are embedded in the story f Dave and Dewi. The new Dave tries to limit himself to one aspect of himself, concentrating upon his scholarship to such an extent that, ironically, even his father is alarmed and urges him to ease his pace. Allowing the other aspect of himself back in, Dave finds he can relax and feel safe; imagination is allowed its place alongside Mathematics and Latin: ‘. . . he never grew so old that he made the mistake of forgetting that dreams hold their share of truth.’ The new Dewi, by contrast, tries to get back to his former state and rejects the new:
“I have to get back. He felt the old daydream ‑ the one about an adventurous life where every tomorrow held its own surprise ‑ blow away in a black wind that took his childhood with it. He wanted only to be safe.”
When each boy is reconciled to the existence in himself of elements of the old and the new identity, he finds peace. This finding of peace by the two brothers, each in his proper place, signifies in the folktale the establishment of integration in the one personality, different aspects of which the two brothers symbolise. Dewi, like Eilian, accepts himself. On the fantasy level of the story, other traditional motifs are used. Like Eilian, Dewi crosses water and travels through a dense forest on way to confrontation with the truth about himself. That he crosses ocean rather than a stream, and that the forest exists in a remote past so alien to Dewi that it might almost be an Otherworld itself, serves to intensify the image of rebirth to a new phase of existence. Crossing water signifies the end of one stage and the beginning of a new one; a symbolism employed, for example, in the Christian rite of Baptism. Dewi’s supernatural experience differs from Eilian’s. She is led to reflect on her own attitudes and behaviour, while travelling through the forest to face the King of Faery. Dewi confronts his earlier self walking in the forest in a surreal mist, and each is confirmed by this experience into his sense of belonging in and intending to stay in the new identity; in other words, is confirmed in his sense of self. After this the fleeting contacts between the two are broken off. Neither retains any desire to be other than he is, although Dave has still to overcome his terror at the very thought of anything from his past life in Wales, and Dewi to make a step towards true independence that involves ending both his reliance on Madauc and his acceptance of Madauc’s dream as his own. This comes about through a truly fantastic confrontation, reminiscent of the high fantasy mode. Dewi and Siona, one of the Elvish/Indian people of Abaloc, witness the destruction of the evil priest Neolin at the hands of the Being who is the embodiment of Evil throughout the Abaloc series. The children – they are still only thirteen or fourteen ‑ are not actively involved ii the turning out of the Sun Serpent Katoa from Ebhelic, but for Dewi the awareness of the existence of such evil is a turning point. It gives him a set of allegiances, the choice of which indicates his new self awareness and confidence. In deciding that he is against Katoa, that he feels at home in Abaloc, and that he has an affinity with Siona ‑ who later marries him ‑ Dewi is deciding who he is and that he is happy with his identity. The theme of choice between good and evil is interwoven with the identity theme; finding a place that feels like home reflects the finding of peace within oneself ‑ motifs that are repeated in the last novel to be studied, The watchers.
In terms of both the realistic writing and the fantastic elements, Curry displays in this book a greater depth and power in the realisation of character and the dramatic tension of events, than in any of her earlier works. The fantastic events are much more thoroughly bound up with the hero’s psychological state and his growth in awareness; there is a need for a willed commitment on his part to the cause of Good that increases the functional validity of the fantasy element. The particular sector of modern society that Curry chooses to evoke, the cut-off world of the Virginia mountain hollows, is fascinating in itself and skilfully handled in order to express the writer’s concern about many aspects of contemporary life. And that concern is effectively expressed through the fantasy as well as on the realistic level. This is a classic example of how well low fantasy can work, at its best.
Surface events that motivate the action in the story are that Ray Siler is not wanted by his stepmother, and is sent to live with his mother’s ‘kin’ in Twilly’s Green, an isolated mountain hollow. Ray feels rejected and resentful; he is a strongly convincing portrait of an alienated working-class adolescent, sullen and suspicious and heavily profit motivated. All is not well in the Hollow, although there is a warm and loving welcome for him there. Almost all the large extended family is living on ‘Welfare’, one young man has been killed and another emotionally damaged by the Vietnam War, one of the younger girls, Bonnie, longs to leave the Hollow and seek fame and the comforts of the modern world as a singer. The children are unhealthy. Modern culture is cutting off the old ways at the roots and putting nothing in their place. As the plot evolves on the ‘real’ level, we learn that these simple, unworldly folk have been cheated out of the ownership of part of their land and that the whole community may be destroyed by Arbie Moar’s greed; his greed, apparently, for the coal that underlies the mountain.
Meanwhile, on the symbolic and supernatural level, things have been developing in parallel. Reverting to a symbol she used fairly successfully in Beneath the hill, Curry revitalises it to even greater effect. The idea of dark forces underlying surface appearances is expressed in the image of the mining that undercuts the green and daylit Earth. This carries on the realistic level the expression of selfish human greed that destroys the environment in the name of efficiency and greater profit. It also carries the psychological meaning of the dark levels of the individual psyche that can destroy if not integrated. And the mine is also the location of Katoa, the Ancient Serpent, who embodies all spiritual evil and violence and destructiveness. So three levels of operation of the story all centre on the mine.
Fortunately, three people are aware of the inner or spiritual dimension to the problem and of those, two have some chance of doing something about it. Mary-Mary, Ray’s learning-disabled little cousin; Ray himself, vulnerable through his misery and the sheer fact of being adolescent; Delly, damaged by his war experience in Vietnam; these three are able to see something of a past drama centred on the Shrine of Katoa, which is called up to be re-enacted around them because of the disturbances of the current situation. This gives them the clue to the inner story they are involved in, and Ray and Delly are able to fight the battle on that level even while their uncles stand up to the forces of modern bureaucracy with shotguns and a road barrier.
Ray is pulled back into the past because his unhappy and violent emotions link him with the boy Ruan, who in 330 AD betrayed the secret of the Shrine to the evil Queen Tekla, and whose remorse and misery echo Ray’s. Ray is in danger of being used by Arbie Moar, as Ruan was by Tekla, to reveal the location of the Shrine, so that Moar can unbind the Serpent, who has taken him over as an instrument to bring about his release. Delly can see into the past because he is the Watcher. Although the lore and knowledge of the folk of Twilly’s Green is diminished almost to nothing, it becomes clear as the story develops that in the days when it was called Tul Isgrun, they were a proud race, of mingled Elvish, Indian and Welsh blood, perhaps even partly divine if the Aldar, who were among their ancestors, originated like Katoa in the Third Age of the world, the age before our current one. In the past they possessed power enough to bind the serpent in Tul Isgrun, and to keep watch over him there. Today, Delly can only contrive to blow up the mine, so destroying the double threat ‑ of destruction by mining and destruction by the release of Katoa. Yet he has fulfilled his duty, and Ray learns to respect the quiet-spoken cousin he had always thought a little odd. Ray learns some other things a well; and these are the things that make this so much a novel about identity.
Bettelheim says, in a discussion of Hansel and Gretel:
“’Hansel and Gretel’ ends with the heroes returning to the home from which they started, and now finding happiness there. This is psychologically correct, because a young child…. cannot hope to find happiness outside the home. If all is to go well in his development, he must work these problems out while still dependent on his parents. Only through good relations with his parents can a child successfully mature into adolescence.’
Although Bettelheim is here discussing pre‑adolescent children, younger than Curry’s three protagonists in the novels we are considering, what he has to say about reaching home has a good deal of relevance. Each of the three young people has to overcome the feeling of not really belonging anywhere. Only Eilian follows the Hansel and Gretel pattern of returning to the family home, and even that is in a new house (with a slightly improved Mam!) But all three have an experience of having at last reached home. Dewi in Abaloc and Ray in Twilly’s Green both feel that they have found somewhere to belong, somewhere where they can fit in, and with a kind of parent substitute in the Tribe or extended family.
When Ray arrives in Twilly’s Green his resentment against his father for sending him there predisposes him to resist the spontaneous love his family offers: ‘It tempted you to stretch and yawn and sprawl your legs out on the broken-backed sofa, and Ray set his mind against it like a wary half-wild dog.’ Determined to resist assimilation into the new environment and to get back to the old one, Ray at first sees Moar – although he cannot like or trust him ‑ as a potential ally, simply because he is willing to pay Ray for any interesting fragments, relics of Katoa, that he can pick up in the Hollow. And Ray is desperate to acquire enough money to buy a bus ticket for home. So, like Ruan, he lines up on the wrong side at first. It is in spite of himself that he begins to respond positively, on the outer level to the love of the family and on the inner to the secrets of his inheritance that he finds in the old books at the Gare, on the gravestones, and in his relatives’ fading memories. It is uncharacteristic behaviour for Ray to be interested in such matters. It is the craving for identity and belonging that motivates him. A sense of beauty and history is awakened in him, and the old motivation begins to die, when he first comes to the Gare. Uncle Penn has suggested that if the secret of the old house got out, the tourists would move in:
“And run up a few gift shops and a Colonel Chicken’s Barn,[/I] Ray thought. The Twilley’s Greeners would end up weaving baskets of white oak splits and stitching quilts for the tourists. There was nothing really wrong with that, but somehow it made him shiver. The thought of all this beauty and stillness shattered by the shrieks of small bored children and the satiny stone defaced by others, dismayed him. He had done that himself once, making a furtive scratchy I-was-here in a courthouse corridor in Apple Lock. But not here. Never here.”
This is a special place, the right place and time for Ray to begin to look at and to reassess himself. Some of what he is expressing here is a sense of possession and of belonging ‑ ‘This is my place’. From this moment on he begins to function naturally as a member of the community in the Hollow, and to forget about going home. When his father sends him a ticket for home, he decides not to use it. His allegiance is shifting. By the time the crisis comes and the older men are lined up against the forces of the law on the road up to the Hollow, Ray is aware enough to perceive the strength of what is going on, on the other levels of action:
“Whatever was going on, it had been trying to play itself out from the day he had first climbed the long hill into Twilly’s Green: the past pressing into the present; some old defeat seeking to complete itself. And something ‑ Ray was frightened what it might be ‑ was expected of him.”
Gradually, Ray works out what has been happening and how his own negative attitudes to himself and to everything around him have helped to precipitate events. He realises that he has changed and that change is bound up with events in Twilly’s Green:
“…his universe had shifted underfoot and overhead. It was changed and so was he, and it was not just the sense, so unexpected and so deep, of belonging; … It was as if he had something to do here. Or undo.”
All this; the personal struggle for identity, the legal battle for the land, and the spiritual struggle against Katoa, comes to a head when Bonnie, Delly and Ray, preparing to blow up the mine, are assaulted by temptation in the form of promises from Katoa, promises of all their wishes fulfilled. Ray breaks out of his struggle against this insidious attack ‑’. . . to the bewildering knowledge that none of the old aches hurt anymore.’ He has overcome resentment and self absorption, and achieved self acceptance. In allying himself with good, not so much for his own sake as for the sake of his family, he has broken free of his earlier, restricted Self. His story ends, like Eilian’s, with an image of planting and growing, as Ray and his Uncle plan a garden in the area of land that has been saved from destruction.
”He could not have been happier if he had been Ruan, come home at last after twice eight hundred years.”
These summaries of and comments on a selection of Curry’s work do not by any means do justice to her achievement. I hope however that they will stimulate teachers and librarians to read her for themselves and discover how much there is in all her books that they can introduce to children and adolescents, in the certain knowledge that they will enjoy them.
A) Chronological list of fictional works by JANE CURRY (As at 1988):
Down from the lonely mountain: California Indian tales. London: Dobson, 1968.
Beneath the hill. London: Dobson, 1968.
The sleepers. London: Dobson, 1970.
The daybreakers. London: Longmans, 1970.
The change child. London: Dobson, 1970.
Over the sea’s edge. London: Longmans, 1970.
The housenapper. London: Longmans, 1971. (Originally published as Mindy’s mysterious miniature. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1970).
The ice ghosts mystery. Harmondsworth: Kestrel, 1972.
The lost farm. London: Longmans, 1974.
The Watchers. Harmondsworth: Kestrel, 1975.
The magical cupboard. New York: Atheneum Press, 1975.
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and time. New York: Atheneum Press, 1975.
Poor Tom’s ghost. Harmondsworth: Kestrel, 1977.
The birdstones. Harmondsworth: Kestrel, 1977.
The Bassumtyte treasure. Harmondsworth: Kestrel 1978.
Ghost Lane. New York: Atheneum Press, 1979.
The wolves of Aarn. New York: Atheneum Press, 1981.
B) COOPER, Susan; ‘The dark is rising’ sequence:
Over sea, under stone. London: Cape, 1965. 2nd Edition, London: Chatto and Windus, 1974.
The dark is rising. London: Chatto and Windus, 1974.
Greenwitch. London: Chatto and Windus, 1974.
The grey King. London: Chatto and Windus, 1975.
Silver on the tree. London: Chatto and Windus, 1977.
- C) GENERAL
BETTELHEIM, B. The uses of enchantment: the meaning and importance of fairy tale.
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MALORY, Sir Thomas. Works. London: Oxford University Press, 1954
Sir Orfeo. In: Donald B. Sands, ed. Middle English verse Romances. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966.
WATERS, F. The book of the Hopi. New York: Viking Press, 1963, 12‑14.