Fire and Hemlock - my first breathless thoughts...

Neil Ward neilward at
Sat Jul 22 10:23:15 EDT 2000

I've just finished "Fire and Hemlock" for the first time and it's one of my
favourite books; not just of DWJ's books, but of all books since the dawn of

I think it was an advantage going in blind to this story.  I had no idea
what to expect, apart from perhaps a bit of witchcraft somewhere along the
way.  The story unfurled as if I were maturing and realising the truth just
like the heroine, Polly Whittaker.  I'd had never read Tam Lin or Thomas the
Rhymer, so I didn't get those references either, until they were explained
in the book.  In short, F&H is a classic - a wonderful, sinister,
sensational book.

Note, this is a bit of a spoiler for those who haven't read it.  Those of
you who know it, might want to correct any misconceptions I may have!


Having met her, by accident, at a funeral, Thomas Lynn attempts to maintain
a link with Polly, throughout her late childhood, in order to loosen the
clutches of the evil Laurel, a sort of soul-sucking vamp.  Laurel had
endowed a young Tom with the gift of truth, which obliged him to hand over
his 'life' nine years later to help rejuvenate Laurel's husband, Mr Leroy.
In desperation, Tom involves Polly by giving her a charmed photograph [Fire
and Hemlock] and sharing made up fantasies with her.  Because of his gift
the stories they share tend to come true.  

Tom also sends Polly books - an endless supply of classic children's
literature (all of which I will now read, or re-read, myself).  This, I
assume, was to inspire her own fantasising and to send her coded messages,
but I've been having another thought.  If you give someone a book as a gift
and the book means something to you, it's like handing over a part of
yourself; you are sharing your love of something, but giving up part of your
ownership of it.  

To my mind, Thomas Lynn attempts to give himself to Polly, in pieces, by
sharing favourite books [and, later, music] with her.  The plan fails, but
the bond created must have been very powerful; by the end of the book, they
are keen to share each other in a different way.


Anyway, looks like my crash course in DWJ is coming along nicely! What to
read next?

Neil Ward

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