They've Escaped Out of His Mind!
Roger Davenport. Pictures by John W. Taylor
Grades 5 - 8 / Ages 10 - 13.
At this point the train crossed on to another line and shook the book so that the words blurred. Tom Short looked around vacantly at the real world: his mother sitting opposite reading a magazine; fields and telegraph poles moving backwards outside the thick windows...How much more vibrant was the world of Fortrain! He found his place on the page and the real world receded again.
Tom Short reads from one of his favourite series while he reluctantly travels to stay with his grandfather. However, a bonus is that his grandfather was formerly the gardener for the author of the Fortrain books, and Tom has every intention of visiting the Manor where the books were created even though C.M. Furnival is no longer in residence. Tom, however, becomes even more intimately involved with this favourite fantasy epic than he could ever have imagined. Owing to the author's illness and the fear of the series being discontinued, the characters in the books seek and find a way out of his imagination and into the real world. Tom's being drawn into an elaborate plot to rescue the author from a nursing home becomes part of a letter writing campaign to publishers and film producers and, at its height, involves the transport of book characters both in actual vehicles and between minds.
Roger Davenport has taken the concepts of imagination, fiction and plot, and pulled them into the real world. The premise is wonderful, and the playing out of the ideas is effective. Characters who are well defined in the books have more resiliance to resist the pull back into fiction, one-dimensional characters are limited in their ability to deal with the challenges of conflict, and the evil creature is infinitely expandable and unpredictable whether within or without the books. However, Davenport, by adding too much to his mixture, distracts the reader from the fantasy/real life context. To an already complicated plot, he adds stock characters, such as the cruel nursing home matron, and then loads in a lot of physical comedy with misplaced hypodermics and car chases. Readers of fantasy will want more about that other world, and readers of adventure and humour may be irritated by the plunges back and forth from the mythical to the real. Diana Wynne Jones in her Wizard Howl books is able to make this transfer and carry a complicated plot, but Davenport is less successful. The reader is pulled here and there without a clear purpose. The author goes from dealing with Tom's night fears while the Monorath is in residence in his mind, to a misdirected message from the publisher, and treats all with equality. As a result, the focus on the story is distracted. Some readers who revel in detail may enjoy this; others will simply become impatient.
In They've Escaped Out of His Mind! Davenport attempts a complicated fantasy plot which amalgamates too many elements to work as a successful novel.
Jennifer Johnson works as a librarian in Ottawa, Ontario.
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Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE - JUNE 6, 1997.
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