W is for Wrightson, Book Collecting, and Australian Fantasy

Patricia Wrightson's An Older Kind of Magic is one of those books that I read as a kid, then couldn't find again for years. I remembered it with great fondness, rather like The Great and Terrible Quest. Unfortunately but not atypically, I couldn't remember the author.

I scoured published book lists (fantasy and science-fiction for teenagers, etc.) and then Amazon. (Googling is far less wieldy a research tool than often imagined--it is a search engine par excellence, but it can only produce what it can produce; in addition, it takes effort and imagination to whittle down a search--ohmygosh, 248,000 hits!--to manageable proportions.) At some point, I learned Wrightson's name, then forget it again.

Lo and behold, to my delight, I rediscovered the book in a local library!

The story is magical realism at its best--honest fantasy mixed almost seamlessly into everyday life. It is droll and even slightly (very slightly) dark (fantasy noir).

Its Australian setting was utterly unique for me as a kid--and still stands out. Not only does Wrightson explore downtown Sydney and its Botanical Gardens with non-heavy exposition, she utilizes Australia-specific fantasy creatures.

Wrightson makes a fascinating point in her final notes--a point echoed in New England folklore. When the English arrived in Australia, they attempted to bring with them the sprites and fairies and imps of English folklore. These beings didn't take. Likewise, when the English arrived in
The edition I read as a teen.
New England, they weren't able to fully transfer over the trooping fairies of the English countryside. Apparently, "fairies" (using the term generically) are location-centered.

Consequently, Wrightson went to Aboriginal folklore to produce her Pot-Koorok, Nyol, and Bitarrs. They are kin to their British cousins--as well as  Native American serpents, giants, and little people--but unique to those shores.

Other Australasia teenage/children authors who produce this type of seamless magical realism:
  • Margaret Mahy (New Zealand): The Tricksters, The Changeover
  • Joan Phipson (Australia): The Watcher in the Garden 
    Of course, the New Zealanders still pay tribute to their European ties.


1 comment:

FreeLiveFree said...

I've never read Wrightson, but a fantasy based on Australian folklore sounds interesting.

Neil Gaiman's American Gods dealt with supernatural being immigrating to America. I generally like Gaiman, but in this case I thought it was better in conception than in executioner.

One of my favorite series about local folklore was the John the Balladeer (also known as Silver John.) It's about a musician wandering the Appalachians and his encounters with witches and supernatural creatures. Many creatures are from folklore and others are Wellman's invention. It's hard to tell which is which. Supposedly, Wellman said that he got letters talking the folklore of a monster he thought he invented. (Wellman was known to exaggerate.)