Four Books by William Mayne
The World Upside Down
Anyone remember what a "Camera Obscura" is? This one's part of an underground wall and its part
in the story is all tangled up with a lost treasure and a lost heir and a huge fish.
When Patty's basement wall falls down in the middle of her Town Festival project she
follows the opening behind it to something most amazing, and a little like the secret
of Gone-Away Lake. Patty's an amazing character both in herself and literarily – a real girl,
not just a formula writer's idea of what publishers are demanding these days, but one
who takes it for granted that she can build with the best of them and make a pigeon
pie for dinner as well. The Underground Alley is in Wales.
A Swarm in May
Mayne was a chorister and lived in a choir school and knows the insides of the cathedral
and of the chorister's life well. The youngest chorister has to sing "The Beekeeper's Introit"
to the Bishop, to get the wax blessed for the Cathedral Candles, and he's panicked about it
– until he comes upon an intriguing artifact while investigating semi-forbidden parts
of the Cathedral. Things turn out quite interestingly, with a scientific twist to the
magical-seeming powers of The Artifact. The Chorister's Cake and Cathedral Wednesday
are about the same school, but less mysterious.
Just a step beyond the Underground Alley and the Beekeeper's bauble to the supernatural.
But the way bits of another world protrude into today's is not at all like fantasy as we've
come to think of it and result in very real kinds of happenings with explanations half in
one world, half in another; thought-provoking and rather frightening.
William Mayne is a master of the "numinous object" and very Ransomeish in his fascination
with crafts and devices and in his acute literal and figurative ear. Many of the uncritically
and vividly presented characters could have stepped right out of one of the S&A books.
Many of Mayne's books are categorized as fantasy but in the good ones the supernatural
is so rooted in everyday life and so carefully and logically investigated that even
Dick would eagerly read them. Mayne is rather uneven – some books are nauseatingly
whimsical or goody-goody, others downright grim – but at best he tells a great
story with the invincible innocence and honesty of a Ransome. Mayne has been compared to
Nesbit but you'll find no sudden uncles bringing fortunes and no condescending about
anyone in his books. He was born in 1928 and I can't find anything that says he read any
Ransome books, which would have been new when he was a child, but it's hard to believe he didn't.
Mayne is sadly under-represented in too many libraries, but ABE (Advanced Book Exchange),
www.abebooks.com, has some 4000,
many at very reasonable prices
Reviewed by Molly McGinnis, December, 2004
This article is ©2004 by Molly McGinnis,
and posted on All Things Ransome with permission.
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