The Lost Magician by Piers Torday review – in Narnia’s shadows

An intriguing homage to CS Lewis’s mythical world – but are the parallels too close?

CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, whatever you may think of its deep and joyful Christianity, retains a hold over the imaginations of children and children’s authors that is almost unparallelled. In his latest novel, Guardian children’s fiction prize winner Piers Torday deploys Lewis as a blueprint. Four siblings are sent to an English country house. One of them finds another world through a wooden portal (a door rather than a wardrobe); he meets a creature recognisably human, but also very much not; he is initially disbelieved by his siblings. Another goes through after him, and makes a pact with an evil queen; and so the stage is set. There are many other elements from the apparatus of fantasy: magical books; texts that are activated by drops of blood; and a panoply of fantastical creatures.


Why we need wildness in children’s fiction

From The Wild Things to Saki’s beast children to Peter Pan, Philip Womack on why he is, and always has been, drawn to the wild side of children’s books It always seemed glamorous to me, to be wild. It was the sort of word adults said behind their hands - that boy, he’s wild. The implication was of something almost sinister; certainly transgressive. Yet to me wildness was enticing: something to be revelled in, experimented with, enjoyed. Continue reading...

Homer’s Iliad cast a spell on me

A 10-year-old Philip Womack had a Eureka moment reading The Iliad by Homer, transported all the way back to the Trojan War and experiencing the unique connection to the past that storytelling brings The Iliad, Homer, 18 October 1991.
I know the date as it’s stamped into the front of my book. I was 10 years old, just, and in my first term at a small, kindly boarding school, itself in a Norman manor house, which nestled in the Arun valley in between the two castles of Arundel and Amberley. Continue reading...

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit review – a bold debut about wartime abandonment

A bemusing tale about a young girl alone during the war in Poland, who travels for years with a kindly fugitive The loss of innocence is a mainstay in fiction for the young: in fact, one might even argue that all children’s books in some way reflect a knowledge of that approaching moment when childish things are put away. The innocent in Gavriel Savit’s intelligent debut novel is Anna, the daughter of a professor of linguistics in wartime Poland. When he vanishes one day, she is abandoned, and must make her own way in the world. The premise is certainly an arresting one: how can a small girl survive when the very world is being torn up around her? Her innocence is protected for longer than it might have been, thanks to her meeting with the eponymous Swallow Man, a strange but kindly fugitive who becomes her rescuer, of a kind, and her companion ...

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne review – a story of corruption in Hitler’s mountain retreat

In the new work of teenage fiction by The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas author, a young orphan goes to live with his aunt, a housekeeper at the Berghof, and loses his innocence

It’s been nearly a decade since John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, a tale of friendship between the son of a Nazi officer and a nine-year-old prisoner of Auschwitz, became an almost instant bestseller. The book was criticised for the implausibility of its plot, with some critics arguing that it toned down the horror of the death camps; yet its fable-like quality and involving prose ensured it was admired by many. Boyne, who has since shown versatility in his writing both for children, with stories about floating boys and mysterious toymakers, and for adults, with the slickly eerie This House Is Haunted, among other books, has now returned to similar territory, as he ...

Philip Womack: how to write a fantasy world

All the best people write fantasy, says Philip Womack, the author of The Darkening Path trilogy. Here he explains how to do it

The world is strange. On a quantum level, things happen that nobody can really explain. The earth is populated with extraordinary creatures, from the tiniest prokaryote to the alien squid that roam the furthest reaches of the ocean. Beyond our atmosphere, there is a vast and sprawling universe, in which anything could exist, might exist, does exist.

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