Chapter Eleven: The Dispatch is Delivered
One last bit of Gondalling, in which they finally arrive in Angora. Again, the plot doesn’t make much sense. Jason goes straight to the King because “the matter is of deepest urgency”, but when they meet, Jason doesn’t say a word about the evil Regent’s plots. Instead, he has a nice meal, then when he leaves, Rupert hands over the forged document and claims that he escaped before the Gaaldines could torture him. Rupert goes back to join the other Guards and is horrified to realise they’re about to go and meet the Angoran King, so Rupert’s treachery will soon be revealed. He must quickly kill Jason and escape to Gaaldine, although he wonders whether he’ll be safe there.
This is the point where Ginty says “Let’s get up and act this properly”, suggesting that sometimes their Gondalling was sitting and talking, and sometimes they acted it out.
Rupert/Patrick goes to kill Jason/Lawrie, who is shocked at Rupert’s betrayal but tells Rupert to “shoot me quickly and make your getaway” (in a way that Lawrie would never do). But just as Rupert is about to fire, the others rush in, now aware of Rupert’s treachery. Jason says Rupert must be taken home and tried as a traitor, which means he will burn at the stake. Rupert urges the others to shoot him now, but Malise/Peter says he couldn’t do that, indicating his broken arm from the battle (and Peter actually has a broken collarbone now, so the Gondalling foretold that) and Nicholas/Nicola says Rupert/Patrick deserves to burn (for Rosina, the geese and not caring when she fell off Buster). Rupert announces he will shoot himself and the children break out of Gondalling to discuss this.
Peter says suicide is “too easy” and Nicola wonders how Rupert can do that if he’s Catholic. Ginty wants to save Rupert by sending him into exile “and we could all go into voluntary exile with him”. But Peter thinks Rupert deserves to burn for being a “coward and traitor”. Patrick loses his temper and points out that Malise Marlow, the Civil War ancestor who supported Charles, actually betrayed his own side when the Royalists were losing and showed the Parliamentarians how to get into the Royalist castle. And then Patrick’s Royalist ancestor, Anthony Merrick, was captured and shot.
“There was a moment’s violent silence, loud with old betrayals and antique feuds and ancient enmities. And then Nicola said, ‘Lumme, what a heel!’ and the long dead things went back to their own place. Peter, very pale, said nothing.”
Then Patrick raises an actual pistol to his head to shoot himself, Nicola is frightened to see he’s wearing his Rupert face and, “panic-stricken”, bashes his wrist with the actual sword she’s carrying. The pistol falls and discharges, shooting a hole in the window beside Lawrie’s head and nearly hitting Rowan, who’s outside in the spinney. Because of course, when Peter checked the old pistols were safe, he didn’t do it properly. Didn’t I say that Peter and guns should never be allowed in the same place? Everyone hastily re-arranges the scene so that when Rowan arrives, they all look completely innocent, the pistol having fallen off the wall accidentally (although Lawrie is “quietly bleeding to death into her trousers pocket”). Rowan is not convinced, but can’t prove anything and at least she takes all the guns away. I’m just remembering when Peter was carrying around a pistol earlier, in case they met the neighbourhood drunk, and he playfully held it to Nicola’s head – imagine if it had gone off then. He’s so irresponsible!
Nicola, thoroughly fed up, announces she’s leaving Gondal, despite Lawrie saying she can’t, they need her and it’s “four to one”:
“I don’t care if it’s a billion to a quarter,” said Nicola, discarding family democracy at the same time as she put on her macintosh. “I think the whole thing’s quite mad. And I think those Brontës of Gin’s must have been absolutely mental, still doing it when they were thirty, nearly!”
Then Peter, who never wants to hear the word ‘Malise’ again in his life, banishes the others from the Hide. He takes the Malise paper and farm journals and “stuffed the whole thing away at the very bottom, underneath everything”, which is exactly how Peter always responds to trauma. Then he ponders how everything in the Hide transmogrified itself:
“The sovereigns had become farthings: Malise had turned from hero to villain: even the holiday itself had changed from whatever he’d planned into this Gondal nonsense: whatever Mr. Tranter might say, it did look as if Ted Colthard’s grandfather had–well–you never knew–”
Yes, Peter, let’s put all the blame on the devil on the roof. It couldn’t possibly have gone wrong due to your own character flaws.
Then there’s a nice scene between Nicola and Rowan, in which Rowan is leaning on a gate, “Saying ‘Aarrh’ to the crops. It makes them grow,” and Nicola discusses her plans for the rest of the holidays:
“Then I think I’ll have elevenses and then I’ll get Buster and go for a ride. And tomorrow, if that’s all right with you, I’ll come up to the lambing pen.”
Good for you, Nicola. And I hope the rest of your holidays are much better than the first bit.
Lawrie blames everyone else, but she’ll be fine, Gondalling away by herself in her bedroom. Patrick and Ginty are the most upset by the abrupt end of Gondal. Ginty says, “You could sort of find out how people feel when things happen to them, couldn’t you?”, which is what fiction does and suggests Antonia Forest isn’t completely against Gondalling. And Patrick says:
“I wish we could have gone on long enough to find out [what Rupert decided] … once we really got going, what was happening to Rupert felt much more important than anything that was happening to me … we could have gone back to before all this happened and seen why Rupert got like this … Anyway, it was much more fun being Rupert than me.”
So Gondalling did seem to have a psychological benefit for Patrick – it allowed him to consider how other people thought and felt, which is not something he seems to have done before this. After all, the only real danger they faced from Gondalling was due to Peter’s irresponsible attitude to guns. A winter holiday of escapism is not going to cause much harm to most children.
Ginty and Patrick are very sad that “from now on ordinary everyday life will have to serve”, but I don’t have too much sympathy for them, because they both have youth, good health, good looks, lots of money, servants and their very own ponies. And the book concludes with Patrick suggesting, “Let’s get The Idiot and Catkin and go for a ride.”
I can absolutely see why Victoria University has chosen Peter’s Room as a set text for their children’s literature course. Apart from being an enjoyable read, there’s so much to explore within the text, especially about the role of fantasy and fiction in children’s (and adults’) lives.
My personal favourite bits were the discussion about the Brontës, the talk Rowan and Nicola had about careers, and the scene with Nicola, Buster and the fox. I found the Gondal bits fairly tedious. I can see why they had to be there, but did they have to be so badly written and clumsily plotted? Of course, the children were ‘writing’ those bits and wouldn’t be expected to be brilliant at it, but I wondered if the clumsy prose reflected Antonia Forest’s opinion of High Fantasy. Did she like Lord of the Rings and Narnia and those sorts of books? I’d guess not from this book. I also got the impression that despite her stern warning about the dangers of Gondalling, she’d had a fair bit of daydreaming experience herself. And after all, she lived inside the imaginary world of the Marlows for decades.
The next Marlow book is The Thuggery Affair. Oh dear. Perhaps it’s not as bad as it sounds…