Friday 14 September 2012


I came across this picture in the National Library collections a few months ago, and made it the hero of a Through a Window set on DigitalNZ.

K.E. Niven, Boat seen through window. Ref: 1/2-228136-F. Alexander Turnbull Library.

The photo triggered the memory of one of my favourite Margaret Mahy books, The Door in the Air and other stories. This collection is Mahy at her fairytalish, descriptive best - a series of stories about alternate worlds, escapes, travellers, mysteries and magic.

From The Door in the Air

It was too far from the tree to the wall, but the prince did not hesitate. He flung himself forward as if he might fly rather than fall. Aquilina, meeting him half way, picked him out of the air in the very second when he was poised between sky and earth. There was a shout from below. The robot-guards had seen them. As Aquilina and the prince vanished among the leaves, mechanical dogs with teeth of iron were let loose, and steel traps, triggered by computer, gaped under the ferns of the forest floor. The guards, in their curious armour, searched in hollows and holes while the prince and Aquilina swung side by side above, pursued through Riddle Chase. But the air knew Aquilina was its true child, and it held them both up, opening and closing around them like silk.

From The Bridge Builder (a favourite)

It was obvious the soldiers needed a bridge.
My father stared at them, and they stared at him like men confounded. But he was a bridge-builder before he was anybody's friend or enemy, before he was anybody's father.
"That word?" he asked me. "You have it there?"
I nodded. I dared not speak, or the word would be said too soon.
"When I step into the water, say it then, Merlin!"
I waited and my father smiled at me, shy and proud and mischievous all at once. He looked up once at the sky, pale blue and far, and then he stepped, one foot on land, one in the water, towards the opposite bank. I spoke the word.

From The House of Many Coloured Windows

My friend, Anthea, longed to go into the wizard's house and spy out through his windows. Other people dreamed of racing-bikes and cameras and guitars, but Anthea dreamed of the wizard's windows. She wanted to get into the wizard's house and look through first one window and then another because she was sure that through one of them she must see the world she really wanted to live in. The candyfloss window would show her a world striped like circus time, the golden window would show her a city of towers and dones, dazzling in the sunlight, and every girl who lived there would be a princess with long golden hair. The windows haunted Anthea so much that her eyes ached for magic peep-holes into strange and beautiful countries.

And from The Magician in the Tower (*my* favourite)

"I hope that visitors don't put you off, then" Matilda said, laughing a little. "You talk more than you used to, Mr Magician. Don't forget your dreaming."
The magician gave her a look, both kind and sad, which for some reason terrified her, and she left the tower thinking, I don't need to go back again. I'll never go back.
But she came back the next day and began to read The Book of Changes where it lay open upon the bank of an angry river. She read until a bunch of decaying reeds became a swirling mist and then, gradually, a man. From then on, though the magician became better at talking, Matilda became better at silence. Her silences led her to feel like the seed in the ground. She, too, broke open to release the white downward bending root and the pale, upward turning shoot. She too held up first, blind leaves like hands. She became the tiny egg, the creeping, greedy caterpillar, the jewelled chrysalis and the butterfly. Coming out of a dream of birds she was alarmed to find her hands covered in tiny feather, as soft and brown as her hair. But, as she stared, they melted and ran down her fingers, like drops of water from a stream.

All this from one photo. How magical.

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