Friday, 17 November 2006

Maddigan's Fantasia/ Maddigan's Quest

MADDIGAN’S FANTASIA Margaret Mahy, HarperCollins, Auckland, New Zealand, 2005, 493 pages, paperback, NZ$24.99. ISBN 1-86950-561-1

The Last of the Maddigans

When terrible things turn out well, we call them adventures,” says Garland Maddigan, who is the unassuming hero at the heart of this exciting adventure. A tiny travelling circus, Maddigan’s Fantasia, comes to hold the destiny of the world, as it faces attacks by bandits, monsters and time-travellers, as well as treachery from within. Offering its customers a few minutes of magic, amusement and excitement, Maddigan’s Fantasia is one of the last remaining links between the settlements that have survived The Destruction and The Chaos, caused when the world “growled like a mad dog and tore itself to pieces.”

Garland, the tightrope walker, who is also the great granddaughter of the Fantasia’s founder and daughter of the ringmaster, begins to keep a journal when she finds a blank book which has survived the wars. She describes the circus troupe, which forms her wider family, as they set off on their challenging journey to the city of Solis: bossy Lilith, motherly Goneril, and overconfident Tane. As the circus passes ruined cities and motorways buried in the bush, tragedy strikes. Garland has to cope with her father’s death and disturbing changes within the Fantasia.

Eden and Timon, two mysterious young refugees, who turn up carrying a baby named Jewel, claim to have arrived from the future in order to set the past right. They have strange powers but their motives are not always clear, and they are pursued through time by murderous enemies, as the past and the future interact. Eden’s magical powers and Timon’s divided personality create uncertainty.

This novel was written in tandem with a television series, which will screen on Three, probably later this year. Therefore, in writing her original story outlines, Mahy says she introduced visual elements such as “landscape possibilities, mysterious tunnels, and things like that. I was thinking of crossing, say, Canterbury and going over the mountain passes to something approximating the West Coast.” Some readers may recognise an early destination named Gramth.

As their odyssey takes the Fantasia through mountains, lakes, caves and swamps, there are many surprises, often echoing myths and legends. The circus folk have to face the Taniwha, as well as the Road Rats and Birdboys. Garland also finds an amazing library, which in true Mahy fashion, holds its own secrets. This is no simple quest story; its characters have to deal with such major issues as time travel, alternate universes, power and corruption, magic and illusion. Yet, Mahy always maintains a sense of wonder. Very little is as it seems.

Mahy also has the magical ability to create sympathy for the most unlikely characters. Even the assassins, the machine-like Ozul and the mechanical Maska engage our pity when their monstrous master, the Nennog, threatens to “delete” them. “My lord, we have worked for you – been true to you,” they cry. This richness of character and emotional range gives total plausibility to the fantasy worlds of Maddigan’s Fantasia.

Garland is alarmed to find that, even as she writes, her words are somehow being read and affecting events around them. Despite this, Garland realises that the world’s only chance of remaking civilisation rests with her, so she keeps on writing, using the power of narrative to the full. “Writing it down would give her some power over things that were really beyond her…She had to remember them as well as she possibly could, and somehow build a story out of them, for if she built a story she would be able to learn it by heart and take charge of it and the story would, in time, dissolve into her blood and build itself into her bones.”
The conclusion involves a dramatic and exciting interaction between the past and the future, with unexpected consequences for several characters.

Maddigan’s Fantasia is a remarkable, delightful, surprising book, containing some of Margaret Mahy’s best work. Garland’s saga is powerfully affecting and able to be read and enjoyed at several levels. It will be consumed with pleasure by teenagers and adults alike. As Garland says, “A book isn’t truly finished until someone reads it.”

Trevor Agnew

First published in
The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand
June 11 2005

Note: This novel was also published as Maddigan's Quest, the same title as the subsequent television series.

Taniwha powerful monster of Maori myth

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