Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Mayne, William

 Icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com

(1928-2010) UK author of children's/YA novels that are characterized by subtle narrative development and a strong sense of character, landscape and the presence of the past; he has also written as Martin Cobalt, Dynely James and Charles Molin. The Yorkshire moors where WM was brought up provide a frequent background, as do versions of Canterbury Cathedral (whose choir school he attended in youth). His fantastic touches often tend to be oblique or eventually explicable – like the eerie sound of the "marsh-dragon" in The Member for the Marsh (1956), which dwindles to a pumping engine but ushers in the true secret of the marsh, an Iron Age settlement.

There is real Magic in the fine Earthfasts (1966): the accidental Time Travel of an 18th-century drummer boy through an underground Portal to the present day begins a cascade of Wrongness centred on the cold-burning candle he found below and brought into the real world. Upheaval follows, partly literal: earth and standing stones move, creatures of myth and history are abroad, and a strange cataclysm (described with a piercing, mystical clarity that does not explain) snatches a modern boy out of Time. His friend must return the now impossibly heavy candle to its own subterranean reality, that of Arthur as Sleeper Under the Hill: the path is nightmarish and significant blood is spilled before order is, mostly, restored.

A Game of Dark (1971) shuttles its young protagonist Donald between grim family life and the simpler but no more soluble problems of an analogous medieval fantasy world – easily read as entirely a function of Donald's Perception, which self-defensively creates this game of dark. In the Gameworld, the foul, icy and limbless Worm that must be slain corresponds to Donald's censorious, chilly, crippled father (embodying his dislike for his father, but also his guilt at failing to love). Other real-world figures appear in the fantasy's distorting mirror. When at last fantasy-Donald kills the Worm he need no longer hate, and it is indicated that the real father very soon dies: the book ends on a worryingly ambiguous note of consolation.

A much sunnier fantasy is It (1977), whose quirky schoolgirl heroine Alice idly gropes through earth for the buried foot of a stone cross – whereupon a dry hand takes hers. She has awakened a kind of Poltergeist, which is bound to her ... perhaps because, during a "later" Timeslip into a period centuries beforehand, she has killed the Witch whose familiar the creature is. The joy of the book lies in Alice's highly practical handling of this situation.

For younger readers there is the Hob series of stories about the eponymous domestic brownie-like spirit who lives beneath the stairs and secretly helps protect a family home. These are The Blue Book of Hob Stories (coll 1984 chap), The Green Book of Hob Stories (coll 1984 chap), The Red Book of Hob Stories (coll 1984 chap), The Yellow Book of Hob Stories (coll 1984 chap) – all these collected as The Book of Hob Stories (omni 1991) – and Hob and the Goblins (1993). The last is a rather darker and more extended tale, in which Hob defends his family's new rural home – which is a Portal to an Underworld reeking of Wrongness – from Goblin invaders. A similar but richer vein is tapped in The Blemyah Stories (coll 1987 chap), a strange year-long cycle about Wainscot creatures called Blemyahs who carve wooden decorations for a medieval abbey.

Cuddy (1994) is particularly complex and challenging, with its barely signalled time-transitions between present-day Durham – whose cathedral holds the tomb of the eponymous St Cuthbert – and Cuthbert's own era, the 7th century. The girl protagonist Ange has suffered from lifelong tinnitus, which is the saint's bell calling for help to return him, in some figurative sense, to the island where he died. His Seven scattered possessions must be assembled: not mere gathering of Plot Coupons but the weaving of a complex web across time. Ange and her supporting cousins encounter surreally horrific guardians and undergo various animal Metamorphoses en route. Even her protecting teddy-bear is also the real bear which Cuthbert once admonished for part-devouring a nun (who persists within the bear as a querulous Secret Sharer). Close attention to the narrative is demanded.

WM's longer fictions can occasionally seem a little too elliptical or fey for his ostensible audience, and critics have quarrelled about his stylized, impressionistic yet effective dialogue. But he is a writer of remarkable resources and imaginative power whose work has become more concise and more powerful – though also more elusive – over his long career. He stands in the first rank of authors not just of Children's Fantasy but of children's fiction as a whole. [DRL]

other works (some associational): Follow the Footprints (1953); The World Upside Down (1954); A Swarm in May (1955); Choristers' Cake (1956); The Blue Boat (1957); A Grass Rope (1957), a Carnegie Medal winner; The Long Night (1958); Underground Alley (1958); The Gobbling Billy (1959; reissued 1969 as by WM and Caesar), as Dynely James, with Dick Caesar; The Thumbstick (1959); Cathedral Wednesday (1960); The Fishing Party (1960); Thirteen O'Clock (1960); The Changeling (1961); The Glass Ball (1961 chap); Summer Visitors (1961); The Last Bus (1962 chap); The Twelve Dancers (1962); The Man from the North Pole (1963); On the Stepping Stones (1963); A Parcel of Trees (1963); Plot Night (1963); Words and Music (1963); A Day Without Wind (1964 chap); Sand (1964); Water Boatman (1964); Whistling Rufus (1964); The Big Wheel and the Little Wheel (1965); No More School (1965); Pig in the Middle (1965); The Old Zion (1966 chap); Rooftops (1966); The Battlefield (1967); The Big Egg (1967); The House on Fairmount (1968 chap); Over the Hills and Far Away (1968; vt The Hill Road 1969 US); The Toffee Join (1968 chap); The Yellow Aeroplane (1968); Ravensgill (1970); Royal Harry (1971); The Incline (1972); Robin's Real Engine (1972 chap); Skiffy (1972); The Swallows (1972; vt Pool of Swallows 1974 US), as Martin Cobalt; The Jersey Shore (1973); Robin's Real Engine and Other Stories (omni 1975 containing title story, The Big Egg and The Toffee Join); A Year and a Day (coll 1976 chap); Max's Dream (1977 chap); Party Pants (1977 chap); While the Bells Ring (1979 chap); The Mouse and the Egg (1980 chap); Salt River Times (coll of linked stories 1980); The Patchwork Cat (1981 chap); All the King's Men (coll 1982); Skiffy and the Twin Planets (1982); Winter Quarters (1982); The Mouldy (1983 chap); A Small Pudding for Wee Gowrie and Other Stories of Underground Creatures (1983 chap); Drift (1985); the Animal Library sequence, comprising Barnabas Walks (1986 chap), Come, Come to My Corner (1986 chap), Corbie (1986 chap), Tibber (1986 chap), A House in Town (1987 chap), Mousewing (1987 chap), Lamb Shenkin (1987 chap) and Leapfrog (1987 chap); Gideon Ahoy! (1987); Kelpie (1987 chap); Tiger's Railway (1987); Antar and the Eagles (1989), a full-length fantasy; Netta (1989 chap); The Farm that Ran Out of Names (1990 chap); Netta Next (1990 chap); The Second-Hand Horse and Other Stories (coll 1990); Thursday Creature (1990 chap); Rings on Her Fingers (1991 chap); Low Tide (1992), a Guardian Children's Fiction Award winner; And Netta Again (1992 chap); The Egg Timer (1993 chap); Oh Grandmama (1993 chap); Bells on Her Toes (1994 chap); Cradlefasts (1995), a sequel to Earthfasts; Fairy Tales of London #1: Upon Paul's Steeple (coll 1995) and #2 See-Saw Sacradown (coll 1997); Pandora (1995 chap); The Fox Gate and Other Stories (coll 1996); Lady Muck (1997).

as Charles Molin: The Dormouse Tales sequence, comprising The Lost Thimble (1966), The Steam Roller (1966), The Picnic (1966), The Football (1966) and The Tea Party (1966); Ghosts, Spooks, Spectres (anth 1967).

as editor: Over the Horizon, or Around The World in Fifteen Stories (anth 1960); The Rolling Season (anth 1960); The Hamish Hamilton Book of Kings (1964, vt A Cavalcade of Kings 1965 US) and The Hamish Hamilton Book of Queens (1964; vt A Cavalcade of Queens 1965 US), both with Eleanor Farjeon; The Hamish Hamilton Book of Heroes (anth 1967; vt William Mayne's Book of Heroes 1968 US; vt A Book of Heroes 1970); The Hamish Hamilton Book of Giants (anth 1968; vt William Mayne's Book of Giants 1969 US; vt A Book of Giants 1972); Ghosts: An Anthology (anth 1971); Supernatural (anth 1995).

as composer: Score for first version of Alan Garner's Holly from the Bongs (1966).

further reading: "Games of Dark: William Mayne" in Not in Front of the Grown-Ups (1990) by Alison Lurie (1926-    ).

William James Carter Mayne


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.