Bellairs appears to have written mainly children's fiction. This was his one outing with adult fantasy. It featuresSuprising, Inventive and Very Short
Bellairs appears to have written mainly children's fiction. This was his one outing with adult fantasy. It features the adventures of two wizards - Prospero (who shares only his name with Shakespeare's) and Roger Bacon. They embark on a quest to discover who is sending sorcerous warnings to and attacks at Prospero and to find a warping evil book. They travel accross a cod-medieval world, similar to a jumbled up historic Britain.
So far, so conventional. Where it exceeds these standard fantasy tropes is in Bellairs writing. It is intensely evocative. It has a great lightness of touch and a good eye for telling detail. As a result the book can change in tone from light whimsy to worrying horror from paragraph to paragraph.
The result is something quite unusual - particularly for anyone used to reading recent modern fantasy. We have a book without any of the strained for significance of heroic fantasy, none of its dully mournful and dutiful heroes, no threat of crashing empires and armies on the march. Instead we have two - slightly silly but human - old men engaged on a journey to set things right again against a foe that might well be more powerful than them. Although the book was Bellairs response to reading Lord of the Rings, Prospero owes more to T. H. White's Merlin than Tolkein's Gandalf. And the book is very slim - you could read it in afternoon.
'Mr Wooster,' he said, 'you are a typical young man about town.'
'Oh thanks,' I responded, for it sounded like a compliment, and one always likes to sa'Mr Wooster,' he said, 'you are a typical young man about town.'
'Oh thanks,' I responded, for it sounded like a compliment, and one always likes to say the civil thing.
With these words Bertie Wooster finds himself packed off to the country by his doctor - who has diagnosed too much fast living, too many cocktails, cigarettes and generally too much of a good time for young Bertram. As ever, in the world of Wodehouse, the quiet country retreat is nothing of the sort. Instead, Bertie finds himself in the middle of a squabble over a horse race, between a pair of young lovers (one of whom Bertie might be in danger of marrying, the other of jealous and violent disposition), with an affectionate cat hanging around and assailed by a favourite but wilful aunt with a dastardly ploy: all typical Wodehouse ingredients.
Published in 1974 this was not only the last Jeeves and Wooster book it was also Wodehouse's last novel. It is not Wodehouse at, perhaps, his very greatest. Elements of the story appear just a little too familiar perhaps and the wit and verve of the story is lacking compared to Wodehouse at his absolute finest. Very few authors are, however, anything like that good and, like me, I suspect that most readers will have a permanent inward smile as they read this. Wodehouse's prose is still a delight to read.
Fans of Wooster's world will be pleased to know that, despite the later publication date, this is still the one of overbearing moneyed aunts, serious young women (with views on improving Bertie), daft and impecunious young men and cocktails before dinner. Barring a reference to Billy Graham - which suggests a post-war setting - this could easily still be the pre-war heyday of Wodehouse.
Even if a falling off for Wodehouse, this is still well worth reading for hours of joyful and innocent fun. ...more