Fire and Hemlock - my first breathless thoughts...

Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at
Sat Jul 22 18:21:50 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

:-)  Now those are the kind of thoughts which strike a chord!

>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!

No misconception correction coming up, but maybe just a slightly different
>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.

I wouldn't have thought Tom was originally trying to maintain the link with
Polly to escape Laurel.  And I think it's an important element in the story
that _Polly_ is trying to hold on to Tom.

  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.

Here, my take on it would be that Laurel got her claim on Tom first, and
then gave him the "gift", expecting it to make it harder for Tom to escape.

>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.

And how!

>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.

I like that way of putting it, although I still agree with the idea that
Tom was trying to teach Polly what she needs to know.

 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.

And we just squeak out a happy, if confusing, ending IMHO!

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

Hexwood is great, and another one of the more complex DWJ books.  (But not
reprinted yet, iirc.  Same with Howl's Moving Castle, I think.)  Deep
Secret's wonderful and available.  Or Cart and Cwidder, to start off the
Dalemark books.


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