Flashback Fridays: “Barnaby’s Dead! Barnaby’s Dead! I’m going to be very lonely.”

These days, say New Zealand and people tend to think of the epic scenes from Lord of the Rings.  But for me, New Zealand was home to magic long before those movies were a spark in Peter Jackson’s eyes.   It was home to an author of children’s books who wrote about magic, and mystery, and family.   Who told a story of an unusual boy haunted by strange images and messages and the sister who loves him.  A story about ancestors and family legends and real magic that lives in the lineage.

The Haunting by Margaret Mahy (Gardners Books, c1982)

Do you remember Margaret Mahy’s The Haunting?  It had a different cover at the time, but I snagged a copy of this off the shelf out of curiosity.  I nearly stopped reading it after the first two pages.  In that first scene, a young Barney finds himself confronted by a strange, ghostly vision that announces “Barnaby’s dead! Barnaby’s dead! I’m going to be very lonely.”  It was a bit scary to be honest.  That opening scene just kind of caught you up and chilled you and made you imagine all sorts of scary things.

However, Mahy didn’t let the book spin off into a scary horror novel.  Instead it becomes a story about family, and special gifts and the paths people choose to take.   Barney, though frightened by the strange vision,  has the help of his sister to look into their family’s past and discover the secrets of that family history.  Ultimately, this dark story is a supernatural tale and not horrific.  It’s touching and poignant, and well, magical.   I know by reading some of the reviews of the book that some readers are disappointed by the lack of action in the story–The Haunting is a much quieter story than the urban fantasy action adventure stories that are more common today.  So much of contemporary fantasy has a Buffy-verse or Lightning Thief intensity to it.  Mahy’s stories have always been quieter–though they are no wondrousl an experience.

We lost Margaret Mahy last year, July 23, 2012.  A fairly prolific author of young adult, and children’s books, her works have been translated into many languages and published worldwide.

The Haunting (1982)  and her YA novel The Changeover (1984)  were both awarded the Carnegie Medal in literature.  I’m not quite sure how such marvelous books have gone out of print.  The Haunting is something I’d like to hand to some of my more thoughtful readers. The Changeover was paranormal romance for teens before such a thing even existed.

I’ve loved both these stories and have copies of both books in my personal collection.  While I’ve seen Mahy’s picture books in print here in the States, few of her fiction works still are available, or even known about by today’s tweens and teens.  I tend to feel that’s a huge disservice.  Firstly, such a talented author does not deserve to fade into obscurity. Secondly, there’s nothing out there that’s quite like Mahy’s writing, and I’m sad that kids can’t encounter her books now the way I did all those years ago.

What are your favorite Margaret Mahy stories?



About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on June 15, 2013, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I do love both the Haunting and the Changeover, and I made sure they stayed in my library’s Closed Stacks collection when the branches wanted to weed them out for lack of use. I’d say one of my favorites by Mahy though is her picture book “A Summery Saturday Morning.”

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