by Theodore R. Cogswell
(a short stroy from The Mammoth Book of Fantasy)
What would you do if you lived in a world surrounded by a wall? Nobody knows what is on the other side, and no one dares try to find out for fear of the Black Man who captures all inquisitive enough to make the attempt. Porgie’s father was one of those few who tried and got caught. No one saw him again. But Porgie’s desire to know what was on the otherside of the wall was as keen as his father’s. He would watch the eagles fly high above the was and knew that that was his way out. The story follows Porgie as he attempts to make a machine (machines are forbidden in their world of magic) that could imitate an eagle’s flight.
The story is very reminiscent of Harry Potter in terms of Porgie being an orphan living with his Aunt Olga and Uncle Veryl. He has a fat cousin nicknamed the Bull Pup who is very like Dudley of Rowling’s magic world. However, Porgie’s uncle and aunt are both kind and compassionate, though his uncle is rather stern.
Porgie is a rather determined young man and most of the story goes into details of his making a machine and its flight trials. Personally, I struggled through those bits as I’m not really a technical person and my eyes glaze over when anyone or anything gets technical! But the end of the book more or less made up for my having plodded through the chunk of the story. Knowing what’s on the other side of the world does not really come as a surprise. You know that if this world has magic then the other world has to have machines. Porgie is caught by the Black Man just as he lands on the wall. Surprising the Black Man means him no harm, and when unmasked he turns out to be Mr Wickens, his school teacher. It turns out that Mr Wickens had also been one of those curious to discover what was on the other side. He found out and then made it his job to keep others away, because people from both worlds were not yet ready to live with both magic and machines. But as Porgie had persevered he had earned the right to explore the other world and not go back to his own.
The story, on the whole, was rather slow, though the style and language were really good. As for me these last two are very important, I think they were the factors that kept me going through the story. I think the concept of the story lies in the fact that the mind and nature conflict with each other. There is science and there is faith, but at the time Cogswell wrote The Wall Around the World (in 1953) there must have been a lot of conflict – though not as great as during the period of the Victorians. It states how man needs to come to terms with both faith and science and realise that they both complement each other. But, man, in the story, is not yet ready to see the similarities but only treat the other (magic or machines) with suspicion and distrust.
A good concept and an okay story.
My Rating: 2/5
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