Margaret Mahy

By: Suzanne Fischer
March 21, 2014


Early in MARGARET MAHY (1936-2012)’s Catalogue of the Universe (1985), high school seniors Angela and Tycho are trying to understand the unaccountable actions of the people in their families. They decide that actual truth, as opposed to common sense, “wobbles and hides,” that truth is “an ellipse, not a circle” (referencing Tycho’s beloved ancient Greeks and natural philosophers), that truth, like Mars, has two focuses, that what seems to be symmetry, stability, or fairness never quite is. That wobble in the heart of the universe, that deep instability that transforms everything, animates the novels of this prolific Christchurch, N.Z. writer and librarian. Many of her books are fantasy, where this wobble is literal — in The Changeover (1984), Laura realizes that she must develop her own occult powers in order to help her possessed brother — but her realistic YA novels also feel like fantasy. Memory (1987) features a troubled teenager who ends up taking care of an older woman with Alzheimer’s; the house-cleaning scenes — “People can say what they like about the eternal verities, love and truth and so on,” Mahy has noted, “but nothing’s as eternal as the dishes.” — are trancelike, transfiguring. Mahy’s books for younger children — The Pirates’ Mixed Up Voyage (1983), for example, in which pirates learn how to read from a swashbuckling female Doctor of Literature — tend to be absurdist. Mahy’s hundreds (!) of books help us see more clearly the wobble between the true and the real.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Flor Garduño, Thomas Frank, John Prendergast, Russ Meyer, Slavoj Žižek.

READ MORE about members of the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).


HiLo Heroes, Literature