Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer

The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer by James Norcliffe, Longacre (Random House)
This is the sequel to The Loblolly Boy, published by Longacre in 2009. Readers should hunt out the first title before they read this – the basic premise might be confusing if you haven’t read the first book. Ben has lost his real identity and has become the loblolly boy – an ethereal and magical being who flies on big green wings, is invisible to all but a handful of Sensitives, and doesn’t have normal human functions. Ben longs to become human again by exchanging his loblolly identity with the boy who took his place, Benjy. But unscrupulous Benjy likes Ben’s life and doesn’t want to give it back. Ben haunts the city where Benjy lives, enlisting various strange characters to help him retrieve his identity – three blind jugglers, a treacherous sorcerer, and an inventive but unreliable gadget man. There are many mistakes, shocks and surprises before Ben finally gets what he wants.
As with the first book, I enjoyed the elegant writing and the extremely inventive plot. But I have a niggling urge to regard these stories as allegories – and if they are, then I can’t identify their message. Why does a succession of unhappy boys become the loblolly boy? Should they have stayed in their own lives and coped with whatever came along, rather than retreating into some detached and fantastical identity? James Norcliffe’s world is a puzzling and intriguing one - I’d love to hear him talk about it. Best for dedicated readers of intermediate age who like magic and fantasy.

For more information see RandomISBN 978 1 877460 69 2 RRP $19.99
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

I (Maria Gill) asked James Norcliffe a few questions about his latest book:

1.       Lorraine Orman wondered if these stories are allegories – and if they are, what is their message?
I imagine the question relates to the two Loblolly books, although it probably has application to a lot of my work...

‘Allegorical” suggests a double-barrelled narrative along the lines of Gulliver’s Travels or The Pilgrim’s Progress. In that sense – where a surface story is essentially a cover or decoy for a “real” story, the Loblolly books are not allegorical. That said, I am a poet so tend to write with a poet’s take on the world, so my stocks in trade are metaphor, allusion, layered meanings, and flights of imagination. So, quite naturally, these elements, are woven into and often inform the books.  The ideas of flight & invisibility (every child’s and not a few adults’ dreams) represent ultimate freedom (escape) and security (safety in invisibility). The catch is if we were granted either of these meta-human gifts we would become beyond human... no longer part of the real world, an aberration. Yet it is such a beguiling dream, and such a dangerous one, for such gifts allow us to break rules with impunity. Absolute power – that sort of thing. That’s why Superman, an obvious precursor, had to have kryptonite. The books spell out that ultimate freedom, while a wonderful idea to those who are trapped and unhappy, is an illusion – and a morally fraught one as Suzy found when she reduced her teacher to an ambulance case. To be a loblolly boy can lose you your humanity in both senses.
Other characters in the book do have symbolic overtones – in a broad-brush cartoon-like way. Captain Bass represents omniscience somehow. He can see what is and what will be, but does not interfere in the process. The Collector? He represents the unbridled pursuit of what psychologists call crystallized knowledge (knowledge without understanding). He’s also a deliciously nasty character and I had fun imagining him. The jugglers in the second book represent poetry to an extent: they create patterns of harmony and beauty, patterns that are beyond seeing; the Gadget Man represents technology and the idea that some new device can solve problems. His is the approach that is more concerned with the gadget than the consequences. In an earlier version of the book he was a darker figure and spent time developing military gadgets. The Sorcerer is my tale on the archetypal trickster. The mixer-upper who behaves with utter amorality in order to make his own mischief. One of the ironies of the book (and I love irony) is that it is the Sorcerer who ultimately restores Ben to his father and he does so for utterly amoral reasons.

Having written the above, I should stress that these are retrospective musings. I am very much an organic writer and there was no programme followed in the making...
2.       She asks why does a succession of unhappy boys become the loblolly boy? Should they have stayed in their own lives and coped with whatever came along, rather than retreating into some detached and fantastical identity?

Well, of course they could have. But where would be the magic and the fun. There are such books but I consider them moral tracts and I’m incapable of reading them let alone writing them. I did try once at the insistence of my agent but I found the experience utterly depressing. Rather like soviet new realism in architecture.
3.       Will there be any more in the series?

When she reviewed The Loblolly Boy in NZ Books, Diane Hebley picking up on the original meaning – an assistant to a ship’s surgeon in British warships in Napoleonic times – wondered about the origin of the first Loblolly Boy (my version) and whether there could be a connection. There wasn’t, but the idea has taken hold and I’m playing around with a Roderick Random type  adventure with the Captain the Sorcerer & the very first loblolly boy.
I’m not sure what will come of it, but it’s lovely and fizzy at the moment.

4.       Where did you get the idea for these wonderful books?

Dunno... I do have a hyper-active fantasy life and I love playing around with characters, situations, and odd juxtapositions and squirreling around for the most unlikely but really most likely explanation. Sometimes I get a poem, but every so often a story starts to emerge. When the story really gets going, it’s like taking dictation & it’s just delicious. That’s why I do it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, I think it is meant to be a lesson in choices one can make in life and who you can trust to help you - and possibly that you can't expect to find the answer or your path in life straight away.