Australia Rocks!


Jenny and Geoff at Mulubinba Moments have some kind words to say about my site. I'm flattered. I'm also intrigued that this couple from Australia has been paying attention to a story from the Canadian blogosphere.

Anyway, this seems as good a reason as any to repeat my praise of the venerable (but, unfortunately, unknown in Canada) Australian childrens' author Patricia Wrightson. As I have said, Ms. Wrightson has been one of the stronger (and, for most of my life, unrealized) influences on my writing. In many ways she is Australia's Madeleine L'Engle. Her books may not have L'Engle's spiritual bent, but she has had a long and highly respected career in childrens' literature.

In a previous post I talked about how I'd discovered a copy of The Nargun and the Stars (1973) in a used bookstore in Halifax and how much I enjoyed this treasure. A couple of months later I found four more books by her in a used bookstore here at home. One, The Rocks of Honey was written early in her career (1960). The others comprised a trilogy known as the Book of Wirrun. The three novels, The Ice is Coming, The Dark Bright Water and Journey Behind the Wind follow Wirrun, a young aboriginal man just out of his teens, as the Land calls him to service. Things have come out of balance. A race of ice-people known as the Ninya have grown sick of living deep underground in the deserts of northwest Australia and are travelling south to build the great ice again. The powers of the People (how the aboriginies refer to themselves) are almost forgotten, so it falls to Wirrun. Wirrun feels the weight on his shoulders: he's no great man, he believes. He's hardly more than a boy. But he courageously rebuffs his own fears and goes on a quest to fight back the Ninya and restore the land's balance.

Patricia Wrightson is known for drawing inspiration from Australian aboriginal folklore to build her stories. This alone makes her novels new and different from this Canadian's perspective. Most of my children's fantasy is crafted from Irish roots, where you can see the history of the Celts reflected. The ancient civilization that got steamrolled by and incorporated into Celtic culture reveals itself in the elves and the fey of the Good Folk. Australia's aboriginies have been in Australia for over 40,000 years. They conquered no-one. As a result, their folk creatures and denizens tend to be personifications of the land and the elements. Some take human form, some take animal form, but there is no organized civilization operating just out of eyesight of the aboriginies. These creatures are to be respected and feared as the forces of nature that they are.

In The Ice is Coming, Wirrun and the readers are taken on a virtual tour of the Australian spirit world. Wirrun is charged with his task of restoring the balance by Ko-in, a spirit who rises not from the land but from the People and who is Hero. He is helped by a Mimi, a tall, light willowy woman-spirit who travels through rock and who was plucked from the ground by the wind and carried far from her land. Wirrun has been charged with the Power, a magical stone that allows him to see all of the spirits of the land, and which obliges them to help (although many creatures are eager to help Wirrun because they fear the ice, some are just too wild to be trusted and they would hurt Wirrun if he was caught unaware). We see some of the creatures from The Nargun and the Stars, including Nyols and Potkorooks, and we see Narguns.

The Ninya, the people of the ice, are searching for the Eldest Nargun, a creature of volcanic rock which has the power to call up fire. The Eldest Nargun fought off the ice thousands of years ago and then headed south to fight the sea. Wirrun must track the ice as it travels south, find the Eldest Nargun before the Ninya do, rally it to hold off the ice, and then send word to the People from the Ninya's land, who can come and sing the songs that can call the Ninya home.

Ms. Wrightson is well on form in The Ice is Coming. Her prose style is crisp and her characterizations are strong. She evokes the feel of the land very well and she has fun with the creatures she deals with, especially the timid but proud (and ultimately courageous) Mimi. The book is written for young teens, and is no chore for older readers to pick up. It is funny, exciting, creepy and, at times frightening and sad.

All in all, a good time is had and this reader is given a glimpse through an interesting window not usually open to him in children's literature. Patricia Wrightson deserves more attention here in North America. Her writing offers something very different for those who have had their fill of elves, goblins and trolls.

There is a fourth book in the Wirrun trilogy, The Song of Wirrun, written five years after the first three. I haven't found a copy and I don't know a thing about its plot.

How Time Slips By

Monday was my thirty-second birthday, and I'm again reminded by how quickly time slips past you. The :Trenchcoat Farewell Project: is going well, but proofreading stalled out a bit a week ago and I need to spend an evening or so regathering myself and relaunching the momentum.

It's had to believe that it's now over four years since I started this fanzine project. How did it get to be so long? I'll tell you. Between Erin and I maintaining our jobs, keeping our house and doing an assortment of other stuff, there's just not enough hours in the day for everything. So some things with uncertain deadlines get set aside and deferred for a day, and then another day, and then another day, until you look up and suddenly realize that months have passed. The :Trenchcoat Farewell Project: isn't the only thing that has been put off for too long.

These past two months have been exceptionally busy. This is the good kind of busy, however, with three part time jobs between us, lots of freelance work and some web design business, but it has also made for a bit of a scramble. Our taxes are due April 30th, and I've only just gathered the receipts together. I know that I have to set aside an evening in order to get everything calculated just right.

It's frustrating, but I suppose it's better than the alternative.

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