Time of the Ghost - Spoilers, questions on the ending

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Tue Apr 3 02:09:06 EDT 2001

On Sun, 1 Apr 2001 22:44:02 +0100, Liz Ottosson wrote:

>I read Time of the Ghost last week, and found it very different to any other
>DWJ I've read so far. For one thing, it was scary! (Sorry, I scare easily; I
>decided to stop watching thrillers unless there was a really good reason for
>it after I saw Seven about six years ago.) The beginning was genuinely
>upsetting, when Sally didn't know who or where she was.

This book scares me too, and Monigan is one of the most horribly creepy
characters in all of DWJ.  *But* it's also one of my favorites.  It's
horrific on two levels: the obvious "horror" story, but there's also the
neglected children part that just gives me chills.  I was thinking about
re-reading it soon, because I looked at my piano the other day, which is
currently serving as a multi-level table, and thought "good thing there are
no paint pots on it."  And then I couldn't stop thinking about it.  Learning
that it was semi-autobiographical only made it better.  While other DWJ
books have bits that are gruesome, ToTG is, to me, the scariest one overall.

Everyone has pretty much covered the main questions, but here's my take on
the sacrifice that is IMO central to the story--Imogen's giving up her

>Imogen - why exactly does she have to give something in order to release
>Sally? Because she's the only one who didn't give anything to begin with? Or
>does she make some pact with Monigan while she's caught in the storm? I know
>that what she does give is worth more (or is it?) than the gifts of the
>others, but most of the gifts are things that are important to the giver,
>and should therefore have worth.

Two parts to this:

First, why was her sacrifice the one most acceptable to Monigan?  Monigan is
a genuinely evil creature who delights in the harm she's going to cause all
the children.  Each of them offers something that really is valuable,
therefore Monigan gets to hurt them twice--she robs them, even as she makes
it clear that their gifts aren't sufficient.  It's like handing a robber
your wedding ring and having him scoff at how it's only 14 carat gold, but
he keeps it anyway.  Still, all the evil she does through the gifts--forcing
Howard to leave England, or leaving Ned hopelessly unrequited in love--are
chump change compared to what she thinks she's doing to Imogen.  In
comparison to the others' gifts, Imogen is offering her whole life, and
according to the terms of the bargain, a life is what Monigan was entitled
to.  And she sells it SO well:  "I'm going to give you honor and glory," she
says to Monigan, "You'll get cheers from the masses and the applause of huge
audiences...years of hard work...the rise of my beauty into the limelight."
It's exactly the sort of thing that would appeal to the hard, selfish,
smugly evil creature Monigan is.

The part about Imogen having to be the one is complicated.  Sally couldn't
alter the past because Monigan was aware of her in all times, like some
spider squatting across past and present and future.  So Sally couldn't
change things that Monigan was paying attention to, only the things that
were on the edge of her attention.  I think everyone else's sacrifice was
part of Monigan's reality, and therefore couldn't be changed by Sally.
Imogen, on the other hand, hadn't been present, and so was a little like the
last fairy in Sleeping Beauty: unable to fundamentally change anything that
had happened, but still able to act after the curse has fallen.  (This is
probably why Sally was in the car accident; Imogen's gift wasn't
retroactive.  She had to offer it in the past, but Monigan had to accept it
in the past and seven years later in the present.)

But the point wasn't just to save Sally's life, it was to cheat Monigan, who
had done a fair amount of cheating herself, like accepting the others' gifts
despite their being insufficient.  And as Dorian said, the adult Imogen
knows something that child-Imogen doesn't, namely, that her musical career
is nonexistent.  So Imogen is able to both offer the best gift AND have it
be a false offering at the same time.  The only thing Imogen loses is seven
years of going in the wrong direction, and it seems likely that she would
have done this anyway, the way many children outgrow their youthful
aspirations.  This part reminds me a lot of _Fire and Hemlock_, with Polly
having to firmly believe that she's giving up Tom entirely.  Imogen has to
keep pretending that her musical career means something to her up until the
point where she knows Monigan's accepted it.

What a great, complex, scary, wonderful book this is.  DWJ is brilliant.
I'm continually amazed at how easy it is to re-read her books, how the ones
I think are superficial turn out to be deep, and the deep ones more
complicated even than I first imagine them to be.  Layers upon layers upon
layers.  I love it.

Melissa Proffitt
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