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Quaker by conviction, mother by default, Celticst through love, Christ follower because I once was lost but now am found...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

When is a cat not a cat?

"Wake me when whatever terrible thing is about to happen happens, or if it appears I might get wet." Mogget

I came across Mogget by default.  It was one of those times every obsessive reader comes upon; I had nothing to read!  I hadn't had anything to read for a very long time.  I was getting slightly desperate then idly browsing the news agent's stand I came across a fantasy novel I hadn't seen before.  The novel was Garth Nix's Sabriel.

Now Nix is likely to be the sort of author to have certain Christians throw up their hands in horror because his protagonist [Sabriel] is a necromancer & her job is to lay the dead to rest.  In the process she walks among the dead & the undead & the river of death & she uses magic to do it.  At her side is Mogget. 

Generally speaking I'm not a fan of talking animals.  Mogget is different.  He is sly & witty & generally gives pithy advice along with the sort of running commentary no~one needs when they are in a tight spot.  He is a huge amount of fun.

There are certain things that make fantasy stand out for me.  Foremost is originality.  Tolkien began this whole mythological craze that waaaay too many authors have followed without Tolkien's very in depth & intelligent understanding of mythos.  I am over the elves & the hobbits & the trolls & the ogres, ok. 

Nix is an Aussie & wisely he avoided the trolls & the fairies.  Instead he gives us a divided world.  On one side of the fence [& there is indeed a very literal fence] there is the prosaic world of Ancelsteirre; on the other the undead are wrecking the sort of havoc that is likely to destroy both worlds.

Like Garner, Nix has an excellent *sense of place*.  There is a gritty realism to his descriptions that bring his descriptions vividly to life & he anchors them firmly in the everyday.  There is the bored guard on border patrol & the tourist bus getting in the way when a war is about to erupt & the very specific use & description of the bells an Abhorsen wears....& then there is Mogget, one of the most beautifully contrived characters in children's fiction.  He is a very catty cat, beautifully portrayed: complex, irritating, opinionated, both brave & cowardly ~ & of course more than he first appears.

The other thing about fantasy, & one of the reasons I have always liked it so much, is that it invariably has the protagonist standing for what is good & right against the odds & that is one of the hardest lessons anyone anywhere has to learn.  There may be no reward, there may be no success but one does what is right & what is needed simply because it is right & needed.  They are incredibly moral books & in this Nix is no different.  His Sabriel is old enough to be trained, but young enough to still need guidance, to doubt herself, to be unsure & afraid ~ & yet she must take on a burden & do what is right with no promise that she will succeed.

There are other books in this series & I have read them all but none is as good as this first one.  Nix has another series, The Keys to the Kingdom, for younger readers but again, in my view, they are nowhere near as good as Sabriel.  There is a great clarity of vision, a tautness of plot & writing & a joy de vere that gives Sabriel a certain sparkle that is lacking in Nix's other work.  And then there is Mogget.  This book is worth reading for Mogget alone!


The HoJo's said...

I found this series in our local library a while ago...loved it :o)


Ganeida said...

You know, I don't often meet someone who reads more than I do but I'm pretty sure you're it! lol It is a great series though it is Marsden's Tomorrow when the war began that has got all the attention. Hate it. All his women folk sound like blokes to me. Ah, well, sooner or later someone will decide Nix is worth turning into a movie.

The HoJo's said...

A girl in Dymocks recommended Tomorrow.... on cd for Fraser for Christmas, despite my pointing out that we don't allow excessive swearing and adult themes in the house for the children....oh no, lovely series, gripping, and rude! ho hum very expensive mistake that one!

Ganeida said...

Lots of suspense, yes. Dubious literary quality. I think all mine have read the series now. They're older, of course & Star only tackled it this year. Don't remember excessive swearing. Little too much boy/girl stuff. I can't stand it. Like I said, all his girls sound like blokes, but from memory all mine liked the series ~ including my non~reader.