Saturday, 18 November 2006

Marvellous Codes: The Fiction of Margaret Mahy, 2006

MARVELLOUS CODES: The Fiction of Margaret Mahy edited by Elizabeth Hale & Sarah Fiona Winters, Victoria University Press, Wellington, New Zealand, 2006, paperback, 264 pages, NZ$39.95 ISBN 0-86473—516-2

On 21st March 2006, Margaret Mahy will celebrate her 70th birthday. An unusual present is this collection of scholarly essays, concentrating on “the wisdom, wit and compassion” of her novels for young adults. Since co-editor Elizabeth Hale coined the word Mahian, it is worth noting the marvellously Mahian surnames of most contributors; Waller, Cohoon, Scally, Feingold and Winters. Pinning down the genius of Margaret Mahy is like sweeping up mercury: it can’t be done. Nevertheless these essays are surprisingly readable assessments of Mahy’s storytelling techniques, insights, ideas and treatment of issues. The best is Diane Hebley’s analysis of Mahy’s linking of the New Zealand landscape to “distinctions between truth and illusion, reality and imagination, to express her perception of human experience in this land.” Now that children’s literature is a respected field of study, it is appropriate that the first New Zealander to merit such critical analysis should be one of the world’s most superb practitioners.

Trevor Agnew

First published in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand, on February 25th 2006.

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