The Magician’s Company

The Magician’s Company by Tom McGowen, 1988.

This is the second book in the Magician’s Apprentice trilogy.

The story picks up where the previous book left off. Armindor the Magician, his apprentice Tigg, and their friend Reepah, who is a creature called a grubber, are on their way home with the “magical” devices that they retrieved in the last book, taking them back to their Guild for investigation. On their way home, they pass through a land consumed by civil war, and they pass a wagon surrounded by dead bodies. They can tell that the people were civilians, probably entertainers, and further down the road the find a young girl about Tigg’s age (around 12 years old), struggling along, carrying her belongings. They ask the girl about herself, and she breaks down crying, telling them how she and her family were fleeing the war, but her aunt and the other members of their puppeteer troupe were murdered by soldiers. The girl, whose name is Jilla, survived by hiding in a secret compartment in their wagon. After her aunt and the others were killed, Jilla gathered up what she could, taking the puppets that would help her to earn her living and a few other belongings not stolen by the soldiers, determined to continue her journey to a safer place, like the city of Inbal.

Armindor and Tigg have horses, and they offer to help the girl on her way to Inbal, a city in another territory. Along the way, Tigg tells Jilla the story of their previous adventures, and Armindor invites Jilla to stay with them awhile longer and even come home to Ingarron with them because it would be very difficult for a young girl to manage on her own in a strange city. Jilla is happy to stay with them because she is thankful for their help and worried about managing on her own yet.

In Inbal, Armindor and Tigg visit the sages in the city to show them their discoveries. They speak to Tarbizon, an old friend of Armidor’s, showing him what they found and explaining the threat posed by the reens, a species of intelligent but diabolical creatures that evolved/mutated from rats, have the ability to talk, use blowguns with poisoned darts, and are plotting to take over the world. (Yes, really. Even they think it’s weird.) Before they continue their journey to Ingarron, they decide to stay in Inbal for the winter because it would be difficult to travel until spring. Someone breaks into the place where they are staying and goes through their belongings. They have no idea who did it, but apparently, whoever it was didn’t find what they were looking for because nothing seems to be missing. Since they will be staying in the city for awhile, they decide to rent a house instead of staying in the guestinghouse (inn) where they have been staying.

While they are looking for a house to rent, Tigg is kidnapped. Fortunately, Reepah is able to sniff out where he is. Armindor pretends that his “magic” is what told him where his apprentice was in order to intimidate the kidnapper. Caught and frightened of the magician’s powers, the kidnapper admits that he was paid to abduct Tigg by Pan Biblo, who is the head servant of Councilor Leayzar, who is part of the High Council of Inbar and who has convinced the other sages that the reen do not pose a serious threat in spite of Armindor’s warnings. When they rescue Tigg, Tigg says that a man had questioned him about the spells that he and Armindor retrieved from the Wild Lands and Armindor would be willing to trade them for Tigg. From this information, Armindor realizes that Leayzar wants the lost technology they’ve discovered, but he can’t figure out why. It doesn’t take long for Armindor to realize that Leayzar is working with the reen. The reen have hired humans to work for them before, and they desperately want pieces of lost technology in order to gain dominance over humans.

Armindor and the others go to the sages in the city and tell them what they’ve discovered about Leayzar, and the other sages take it seriously. Some of them wonder why Leayzar would want to ally with a group that is an enemy of his own species, but Armindor says that it’s hard to say because they don’t know what the reen told Leayzar. Maybe Leayzar doesn’t understand what the reens’ full plans are and whatever they promised him in return was just too compelling to resist. At the end of the previous book, some of the weenitok gave Armindor a sealed box that they found, left over from the end of the Age of Magic. The sages decide that it’s time to open the box and study its contents in the hope of getting some answers. If the last book didn’t fully establish that their world is our world in the far distant future, the contents of the box explicitly state it.

Inside the box, there is a recorded message from the year 2003 (the future at the time this book was written, but the past to us in early 2021, and it’s interesting what this message has to say about the world in 2003). The message is from Dr. Dennis Hammond of the National Science Foundation Project for the Preservation of Civilization. He says that there has been a war between the “Pan-Islamic Brotherhood” (the closest real-life equivalent would probably be the Muslim Brotherhood, but that’s more of a social/political movement or terrorist group (depending on who you ask) rather than an official alliance of nations) and the United States and its allies, including Canada, Europe, China, and the Soviet Union (which stopped existing just a few years after this book was published in real life and would just be called Russia in 2003). Dr. Hammond says that thermonuclear war is pending, and he and other scientists are worried because they think the resulting destruction will be the end of civilization as they know it. (He doesn’t explicitly say this is World War III, but that’s basically what it amounts to. In real life, we haven’t actually had World War III yet as of early 2021, although in 2001 and the following years, there was some speculation that the destruction of the World Trade Center and other terrorist attacks might eventually lead to World War III, so it seems that the author has caught on to a source of world tension even if he didn’t predict how it would come out.) In order to preserve existing knowledge about science and world history, they made a series of these boxes containing small computers designed to last for about 10,000 years and hid them at various locations around North America (so now we know roughly where these characters are) so that future generations that find them will have access to knowledge that may have been lost. The computers even contain language tutorials just in case language has changed too much for this speech to be understandable. It’s fortunate that the early 21th century scientists thought of that because it turns out that none of the sages understood a word of what the voice in the box said. The readers now understand the full situation, but the characters don’t.

Everyone is astonished at this talking box. They’ve never even heard of such a thing, and they think that it must be a “spell” from a past “magician”, which he created to preserve his voice. They understand that the voice is speaking an unfamiliar language, and there is a picture on the included screen showing a finger poking one of the buttons in the box, so they get the idea that the box wants them to press buttons. When Armindor presses the red button indicated, the computer in the box begins a simple language tutorial, showing them pictures of familiar things and saying their names, like “sun” and “cloud.” The sages understand that they’re being taught an ancient language, and they quickly begin taking notes. Armindor is moved to tears because this is exactly what he has been hoping to discover for years, the secrets behind all of the ancient “magic.” They can tell that the “magician” who made the box was trying to teach them, and they’re more than ready to learn!

But, there is still the matter of Leayzar and the reen to deal with. When they learn that Leayzar is looking for Armindor, Jilla suggests a cover they could use to hide their identities: becoming a troupe of puppeteers with her puppets! Becoming puppeteers also gives them the opportunity to spread word of the reen threat to the public through their puppet plays.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

My Reaction

I said in my review of the last book that Armindor and Tigg don’t find any easy answers or any miraculous device that instantly solves all of their society’s problems and launches them back into an age of technology. The computer in the box comes the closest to that, but it’s still not an easy answer because Armindor and the other magicians and sages of his time can’t understand the language it uses or how the computer works when they first find it. They understand enough to know that it’s trying to tell them something and that its creators are trying to teach them how to understand and use it, but it’s going to take some time before they reach the point where they will understand enough of the language to figure out all of the information that the computer has to share. There will be enough work cut out for future “magicians” (really, scientists) of their time, like Tigg, to figure out how the computer works, what information it has to share, and how they can teach the rest of their people what they’ve learned. It’s a turning point in their history, but it’s not an instant solution. Plus, although the characters don’t really understand it at first, the readers are told that there are other boxes that are still waiting to be found. Do these boxes all contain the same information, or are there other pieces of knowledge in each one? There are plenty of secrets for a new generation of scientist/magicians to unravel.

The Magician’s Apprentice

The Magician’s Apprentice by Tom McGowen, 1987.

From the title of this book and others in this series, it sounds like the stories take place in a fantasy world. When you’re reading this book, it seems like fantasy at first, but it’s not. It’s actually science fiction.

Tigg is a poor orphan boy who makes his living in the city of Ingarron as a pickpocket because he has no other means for survival. One night, he notices that a sage has left the door to his house open, and although it’s a risk, he decides to enter and see if he can find anything worth stealing. The sage, a man called Armindor the Magician, catches Tigg. In fact, Armindor had deliberately left the door open for Tigg to enter. When, Armindor questions Tigg about who he is, Tigg says that he’s about 12 years old (he’s unsure of his exact age and defines it in terms of “summers”) and that he has no family that he knows of. He lives with an old drunk who makes him pay to live with him with the money he steals.

Tigg asks Armindor what he plans to do with him. He can’t really punish him for stealing from him because Tigg hadn’t had a chance to take anything of Armindor’s before he was caught. Armindor says that’s true, but he was planning on stealing something, so Armindor tells him that he will do the same to him – plan to take something he has while still leaving him with everything he has. Tigg is confused, and Armindor explains his riddle. He witnessed Tigg picking someone else’s pocket and was intrigued by the boy because he seemed to possess courage, wit, and poise. He left his door open for Tigg because he has been looking for a young person with those qualities to be his apprentice. If Tigg becomes his apprentice, he will have to put his good qualities to use for him, but yet, he would keep these qualities for himself as well.

Tigg likes the praise but has reservations about becoming a magician’s apprentice because an apprenticeship would limit the freedom he currently has. His current existence is precarious, but the long hours of work and study involved in an apprenticeship sound daunting. However, Armindor isn’t about to let Tigg get away. He takes a lock of Tigg’s hair and a pricks his thumb for a drop of his blood and applies them to a little wax doll. He tells Tigg that the doll is a simulacrum and that it now contains his soul, so whatever happens to the doll will also happen to him. If Tigg runs away from his apprenticeship, Armindor can do whatever he likes to the doll as his revenge or punishment. Tigg, believing in the power of the simulacrum and feeling trapped, sees no other way out, so he becomes Armindor’s apprentice.

Although Tigg is fearful and resentful of his captivity as Armindor’s apprentice, it soon becomes apparent that life with the magician is better than what he used to have living with the old drunk. Armindor gives him a better place to sleep and better food. There is work and study, but it’s not as difficult or unpleasant as Tigg first thought. At first, he is daunted at the idea of learning to read and do mathematics, but Armindor is a patient and encouraging teacher, and Tigg soon finds that he actually enjoys learning things he never thought he would be able to do.

Armindor’s magical work seems to mainly involve healing sick people. When people come to him with illnesses, he gives them medicines that he calls “spells.” He keeps a “spell book” with instructions for remedies that he’s copied from other sources. Armindor teaches Tigg about the plants he uses in these spells. Armindor also does some fortune-telling, and he teaches Tigg that, too.

However, Tigg is still uneasy because, although Armindor treats him well, he still has that simulacrum of him, and he can also tell that the money he takes in doesn’t seem to account for his personal wealth. Armindor sometimes goes to meetings with other sages, and Tigg is sure that they’re doing something secret.

It turns out that Armindor is planning a special mission involving Tigg, one that will take them on a journey through uninhabited lands to the city of Orrello. Tigg realizes that if he leaves the city with Armindor, he will be committed to whatever secret plans Armindor has. At first, Tigg wants to take the simulacrum and escape, but when Armindor intentionally leaves the simulacrum unguaded where Tigg can easily take it, Tigg realizes that Armindor is telling him that he’s not really a captive and that Armindor is giving him a choice, trusting him to make the right one. Tigg realizes that he likes being trusted and that he trusts Armindor, too. He decides to stay with Armindor as his apprentice and go with him on his mission.

Tigg and Armindor leave town with a merchant caravan. On the way, the caravan encounters a wounded creature called a grubber. Grubbers are described as furry creatures about the size of a cat and have claws, but they have faces like bears and walk on their hind legs and may be intelligent enough to make fire and have their own language. One of the soldiers with the caravan things that the grubber is wounded too badly to save and wants to put it out of its misery, but Tigg insists on trying to save it. Armindor treats the grubber for Tigg, and it recovers. It is intelligent, and Tigg teaches it some simple human words, so they can talk to it. He tells them that his name is Reepah because grubbers have names for themselves, too. Armindor asks him if he wants to return to his own people when he is well, but by then, the caravan has taken them further from the grubber’s home and people, and he says that he doesn’t know the way back, so he’d like to stay with Armindor and Tigg, which makes Tigg happy.

However, Tigg soon learns that their journey has only just begun. They’re not stopping in Orrello; they’re just going to get a ship there to take them across the sea. Their eventual destination is the Wild Lands, an uninhabited area said to be filled with monsters and poisonous mists. Tigg is frightened, but also feels strangely compelled to see the place and have an adventure. Armindor finally explains to Tigg the purpose of their secret mission.

Years ago, there was another magician in Ingarron called Karvn the Wise, and he possessed some rare “spells” that no one else had. Armindor now has one of these “spells”, which he calls the “Spell of Visual Enlargement.” Tigg describes it as looking like a round piece of ice, and when he looks through it, things look much larger than they really are. Tigg is amazed.

Anyone reading this now would know from its description that what Armindor has is a magnifying lens. Tigg and Armindor don’t know the words “magnifying lens”, which is why they call it a “spell”, but that’s what they have. This is the first hint that this book is actually science fiction, and the “spells” are really pieces of lost technology and knowledge that are being rediscovered. One of Arthur C. Clarke’s Three Laws of science fiction is “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Armindor the Magician thinks of himself as practicing magic with “spells” because he’s doing things and using things he can’t fully explain, but he’s actually a doctor and scientist. He doesn’t fully understand why these things work like they do, but he’s investigating how different forms of science, technology, medicine, and knowledge work, and he’s passing that knowledge along to his student and assistant, Tigg. So, you might be asking at this point, who made the magnifying lens and why doesn’t Armindor understand exactly what it is?

Armindor knows enough to understand that the lens is made of glass, not ice. He knows what glass is, but he says that their people don’t have the ability to make glass that clear and pure themselves. This lens is the only one of its type they have, and it’s more than 3000 years old, from what Armindor calls the “Age of Magic.” Tigg has heard stories and legends about the Age of Magic, when people apparently had the ability to fly through the air, communicate over long distances, and even visit the moon. The events that brought an end to the “Age of Magic” were “The Fire from the Sky and the Winter of Death.”

Spoiler: I’m calling it a spoiler, but it really isn’t that much of a spoiler because, by the time you reach this part in the story, it starts becoming really obvious, even if the characters themselves don’t quite know what they’re describing. This fantasy world is our world, but far in the future. For some reason, thousands of years in the future, so much of our knowledge and technology has been lost, to the point where people don’t know what magnifying lenses are. Also, there are creatures in this world, like grubbers, that don’t exist in other times. Something major must have happened, and it doesn’t take too long to realize what it was. Even when I read this as a kid in the early 1990s, I recognized what the characters are talking about. This book was written toward the end of the Cold War, in the 1980s, and the concept of nuclear winter was common knowledge at the time and something that was pretty widely talked about, even among kids. We know, without the characters actually saying it, that the winter was caused by nuclear weapons rather than an asteroid striking the Earth because Armindor knows from writings that he’s studied that animals mutated after the “Fire from the Sky.” An asteroid or massive eruption can cause climate change due to debris in the air, but they wouldn’t cause mutation. People also mutated, and Tigg and Armindor and other people now have pointed ears. People have been like that for so long, they think of it as normal, and it’s only when Armindor explains to Tigg about the concept of “mutation” that Tigg wonders what people in the past looked like.

Armindor explains that Karvn had a nephew who was a mercenary soldier. One day, this nephew came home, seriously wounded. He died of his wounds, but before he died, the nephew gave Karvn this lens, explaining that it came from a place in the Wild Lands. He said that there were many other types of “spells” and magical devices there left over from the Age of Magic. The nephew and his friends had hoped to make their fortune selling the secret of this place, but there was a battle, in which the nephew was seriously wounded and his friends were killed. He told Karvn where to find this place in the Wild Lands, but Karvn was too old to make the journey himself. He wrote an account of his nephew’s story, and after his death, all of his belongings and writings became property of the Guild of Magicians, to which Armindor also belongs. Armindor has studied Karvn’s writings, and he thinks he knows where to find this place with magic and spells, and he is going there to claim whatever he can find on behalf of the Guild.

There is danger on this journey. These lands, which Armindor says were once one country long ago, are now smaller countries that war with each other. There are bandits and mercenaries and the strange creatures that inhabit this land, and it’s difficult to say whether there is more danger from the creatures or the humans.

This book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

My Reaction

I remembered this series from when I was a kid. It made a big impression on me because of the way that technology was treated as magic. The types of futures depicted in science fiction books, movies, and tv series can vary between extremely advanced technology and civilization, like in Star Trek, and this kind of regression to the past, where even simple forms of technology that we almost take for granted today seem wondrous and are the stuff of legends. Nobody knows what the future actually holds, but I thought this series did a nice job of showing how people who had forgotten much of the everyday knowledge of our time might think and feel when encountering it for the first time, knowing that people who lived in the past were once able to make these amazing things themselves and use them every day.

Because of the mutations that have taken place in animals, probably due to radiation from nuclear fallout, some types of animals have become intelligent. The grubbers, who call themselves weenitok, are peaceful, but the reen (which Armindor realizes are a mutated variety of rat) actually want to gain access to old technology so they can conquer the humans and take over the world for themselves. These are Armindor and Tigg’s worst enemies, along with the human they’ve hired to do their dirty work. (Yes, the mutated rats are paying a human mercenary. Even the characters in the book realize that’s weird.)

When Tigg and Armindor finally reach the special place with the magical devices, it turns out to be an old military base. Much of what they find there has been destroyed by time. Armindor tells Tigg to look for things that are made out of glass, metal that hasn’t corroded, or “that smooth, shiny material that the ancients seemed so fond of” (plastic) because these are the things that are most likely to still be usable. Tigg makes a lucky find, discovering a “Spell of Far-seeing.” It’s a tube that can extend out far or collapse to be a smaller size, and it has glass pieces similar to the magnifying lens, and when you look into it, it makes things that are far away look much closer. (Three guesses what it is.) Tigg also discovers a strange, round object with a kind of pointer thing in the middle that moves and jiggles every time the object is moved but which always points in the same direction when it settles, no matter which way the object is turned. Most of what they find isn’t usable or understandable, but they do find four other objects, including a “spell for cutting” that Armindor things that they might actually be able to duplicate with technology and materials that their people have. Each object that they find is described in vague terms based on its shape and materials because Armindor and Tigg don’t know what to call these things. Modern people can picture what they’ve found from the descriptions, and it isn’t difficult to figure out what they’re supposed to be. Sometimes, Armindor and Tigg can figure out what an object is supposed to do just by experimenting with it, but others remain a mystery. Armindor explains to Tigg that is what magicians do, investigate and solve these types of mysteries, “to take an unknown thing and study it, and try it out in different ways, and try to think how it might be like something you are familiar with.” Tigg decides that he really does want to be a magician and make this his life’s work. He’s going to become a scientist.

I liked it that none of the objects they find are any kind of advanced super weapon or a miraculous device that instantly solves all of their society’s problems and launches them back into an age of technology (although there is an odd sealed box that proves to be important in the next book). There are no easy answers here. In the grand scheme of things, they risked their lives for things that nobody in modern times would risk their lives to retrieve, but they have to do it because, although these things are common in our time, they are unknown in theirs. If they can figure out not only how the objects work, what they were supposed to do, but why they work the way they do, they can gradually rebuild the knowledge of the past. The objects that they find are generally useful. Some are labor-saving devices, some are examples of scientific principles they would use to create other things (demonstrating concepts like optics and magnetism) and one is a medical device, which if they can figure out how to use it, will help advance their medical knowledge and treatments.

One of the fun things this book inspires me to do is to look at the world around me while imagining that I had never seen some of the basic objects in the world before. This could be a fun activity to do with kids, something like the archaeology activity that some teachers of mine did with us years ago, where we had to intentionally create objects from some kind of “lost” civilization for our classmates to analyze, to try to figure out what they were supposed to do and how that civilization would have used them. But, you don’t even have to create anything if you use your imagination and try to think what a traveler from another time or another world might think if they saw some of the things in your own home right now. Imagine what someone from a world without electricity would think of something even as basic as a toaster. How would you explain such a thing to someone who had never seen anything like it?

Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars

Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars by Ellen MacGregor, 1951.

This is the first book in the Miss Pickerell series, which was written to introduce scientific concepts to children in an entertaining way.

The story begins when Miss Pickerell is visiting her brother and her nieces and nephews. She takes the children to ride on a ferris wheel, but she refuses to get on it herself because she’s afraid of heights. Really, all she wants to do is take her pet cow home and start getting her rock collection ready for the exhibition at the state fair.

As she leaves, she offers a ride to a man when the bus he was waiting for didn’t stop for him. Although she isn’t anxious for conversation and would prefer silence after her visit with her noisy nieces and nephews, she does make a comment about the sound of a jet overhead. She explains that airplanes are her nieces’ and nephews’ newest obsession, and she’s glad because they were obsessed with flying saucers before, and at least airplanes actually exists. The man riding with her, Mr. Haggerty asks Miss Pickerell if she believes in flying saucers and space travel. Miss Pickerell says that she doesn’t believe in flying saucers and doesn’t think any intelligent person would, but Mr. Haggerty tells her that he will soon be traveling to Mars. At first, Miss Pickerell doesn’t believe him. He says that he works for a scientific expedition whose headquarters is nearby, but the captain in charge of the expedition wouldn’t want him to say too much about it too soon, just in case it doesn’t work out well.

However, Miss Pickerell can’t help but get involved in the project, considering that they’re doing it on her land. Miss Pickerell lets Mr. Haggerty out of the car in front of her farm, but when she enters her own house, she can tell that someone else has been there in the weeks that she’s been gone. Then, she spots the space ship at the end of her cow pasture.

Miss Pickerell marches up to one of the people working on the expedition and demands to know what they’re doing on her property. The man says that they thought that the house was abandoned because it had been empty for weeks and they wanted a quiet place to work on their project. Miss Pickerell threatens to call the governor and report them. She picks the governor to call because, since she lives in the country, there are no police nearby, and she’s met the governor before at the state fair, where he’s given her prizes for her rock collection.

When she calls the governor, he isn’t there, so she leaves a message with his wife and decides to talk to the men at the space ship again while she waits for the governor to call her back. Although she’s afraid of heights, Miss Pickerell climbs into the space ship to talk to the men – right before it launches.

Soon, Miss Pickerell is in outer space and headed for trouble because it turns out that, not only was she not supposed to be there but they’ve accidentally left Mr. Haggerty behind. Mr. Haggerty is important because he’s the one who’s supposed to do the calculations for the flight.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

My Reaction

I vaguely recalled my mother reading us one or two of the Miss Pickerell books from the library when we were kids. I think I liked them at the time, but it had been so long that I’d really forgotten what they were like.

I can definitely see the educational lessons in the book. After the ship launches, it takes awhile to impress on Miss Pickerell the seriousness of their situation and why they can’t just turn around and go back, during which they talk about Mars as a planet and how the ship’s course is programmed into the computer. A young man on the crew, Wilbur, shows Miss Pickerell how to drink water in outer space, and they talk about what gravity is and why there isn’t any in space. By accident, Miss Pickerell has caused further problems by bringing her hammer with her onto the ship because the hammer is magnetic, and the magnet is interfering with the ship’s equipment. Miss Pickerell’s first instinct is to throw the hammer out a door or window, but there are no windows, and Miss Pickerell is treated to an explanation about atmospheric pressure and oxygen in the space ship. Each event on the ship and on Mars itself requires explanation.

Fortunately, they do make it safely to Mars and back, and Miss Pickerell turns out to be surprisingly helpful and is actually glad that she made the trip. On their return, she finds out that Mr. Haggerty has been taking care of her cow, and the governor has invited her for a visit. The governor gives her an award, and she even brings back rocks from Mars with her and gives some to her nieces and nephews.

A Meeting of Minds

A Meeting of Minds by Carol Matas and Perry Nodelman, 1999.

This is the final book in the Minds series. Each book in the series begins shortly after the previous book ends, and this one starts only three weeks after the last book.

Princess Lenora and Prince Coren are still in Andilla for their impending wedding when, while simply walking down a hallway of the castle, they suddenly find themselves transported to a land of snow. The world in which they now find themselves is our world (which, I guess would be distant past of their world, the late 20th century). Disoriented and cold, Lenora and Coren go inside a shopping mall to get warm. At first, Coren thinks that Lenora has caused their present predicament (because, usually, she does, either consciously or unconsciously), but Lenora denies having anything to do with it.

At the time they’d been walking down the hallway, they’d been discussing the exhibition at the castle in honor of their upcoming wedding and Lenora’s desire for a better world. The exhibition was called “A Meeting of Minds” and designed to showcase the ways that different groups of people in their world live and what they envision as a perfect world. The entries in the exhibit were chosen as entries in a contest, and a panel of judges from different countries would choose winners from among them. The winning entries would be adopted as real laws in the hope of fulfilling Lenora’s wish of making the world a better place for everyone. What could go wrong? (Seriously, things in this world always go wrong when people try to enforce some vision of perfection, so what’s it going to be this time?) Could the exhibition have something to do with their present predicament?

Lenora and Coren briefly consider different possibilities, including the possibility that some unknown enemy has sent them to this strange place, but nothing really makes sense. Lenora has the uncomfortable feeling that something she’s done may have cause this problem after all, although she can’t think what it is. Either way, they are stuck in a strange land.

They stop a passing girl and ask them where they are, and she tells them that they’re in a mall called Portage Place. That doesn’t really explain much to Lenora and Coren, so the girl tells them to buy a map. Lenora and Coren don’t understand the concept of “buying” (in the last book, they didn’t know the word “economy”). When they try to ask her the name of her “world”, it turns out that the girl is an alien conspiracy theorist, wearing a shirt with a picture of an alien on it and the words “The Truth is Out There” (the slogan from the X-Files tv show). The girl is very excited, thinking that Lenora and Coren are space aliens. She tells them that they’re in Winnipeg on Earth and asks them where they’re from. Coren recognizes the name “Earth” as the old name for their world. This confirms that, although there are fantasy elements in these stories, Lenora and Coren are actually from the distant future of the Earth, although the three of them work out that they might actually be from a parallel universe of our Earth. However, her helpfulness ends when she suddenly seems to suspect them of being “Mindies” and making fun of her. Lenora and Coren don’t know what she’s talking about.

The two of them explore the mall, getting into trouble when they try to stop two girls from taking another child’s toy and end up having security called on them and not having money to pay for food in the mall food court. Fortunately, a couple of other young people in line offer to pay for their food. These young people, Barb and Thomas, seem to recognize them as Princess Lenora and Prince Coren, but strangely, Lenora and Coren learn that they think that they’re in costume and only pretending to be themselves. It slowly comes out that the authors of the book series live in Winnipeg and that there’s a fan convention in town for the books in which Lenora and Coren are fictional characters. (I’ve never actually heard of a convention specifically for this series of books, but I don’t live in Canada, so I can’t swear that it never happened. However, the characters later meet someone dressed as Spock at the convention, so it’s possible that this is supposed to be part of some larger book or sci-fi/fantasy-themed convention.)

Lenora and Coren don’t fully understand the concept of the fan convention, but Lenora sees it as a possible lead to what’s happening, so she insists on going to the convention center. At the convention center, Lenora and Coren encounter other people who are apparently trying to dress like they do and pretend to be them. Some of them even criticize what Lenora and Coren are wearing because their real outfits don’t agree with the fans’ interpretations of the characters. (Fandoms are like this in real life. The more someone likes something and spends time with it, the more they consider themselves an authority on it. They kind of are, but sometimes, fans get wrapped up in their own vision of what they’d like characters to be like that they kind of depart from the original story or get out of sync with the vision of the original authors. It’s almost like they mentally create an alternate reality of a world that was already fictional, which fits very well with the themes of this entire series.) Lenora and Coren think that they’re all very rude for criticizing the way they dress, telling them how they should talk to be in character, and thinking that Coren is a wimp or geek or that Lenora is annoying or arrogant, which some of them say right in front of them.

At this point, someone comments that Lenora sounds just like she does in the books, and the people at the convention start talking about all of the books in this series, which I’ve already reviewed. Finally, Lenora and Coren understand that these people know about them and are imitating them because they have read books about them. Coren is embarrassed when these fans start talking about some of his more embarrassing moments like they’re common knowledge. Lenora gets angry and decides that they need to talk to the authors. (Which seems to have been the goal of this book.)

Coren and Lenora get in line to talk to the authors of the books, but when they meet them, the authors also just think they’re fans of the books who are putting on a little skit for them. There’s some banter with the authors (including some inside jokes that Carol and Perry seem to have with each other, like how bad Perry’s handwriting apparently is), and the authors remark how much Lenora and Coren sound like their characters, although they don’t think they really look like them (which is interesting, as if they have a completely different vision of them in their minds). Lenora gets angry with them and accuses them of stealing from their lives to write their books, so she grabs some of the books the authors and signing and runs away with them.

As Lenora and Coren hide from security with their stolen books, they start reading about themselves. They find that the books do describe their previous adventures together, and they seem to capture some of what they were thinking and feeling at the time, but not everything is correct. In a twist that makes this book a little more interesting than it started out, not everything in the books they read is like the real-life Minds books. Lenora and Coren start noticing that Sayley plays a very prominent role and is described in glowing terms and that her favorite word, “scrumptious” appears frequently. Then, Lenora and Coren discover that one of the events at the convention is a worship service for the “Divine Sayley.” One of the other convention attendees tells them that the Sayley in the books was named after the Divine Sayley, who is a real figure in their world, an angelic-looking girl with divine powers, who seems to be a glowing version of their Sayley.

It seems that Lenora and Coren have discovered the source of this strange world and everything that has been happening to them, but how and why did Sayley do it? Or, did she really do it at all? And how can Lenora and Coren get home when their powers no longer work?

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

My Reaction and Spoilers:

First, I’d like to talk about why the authors wrote this book. It’s somewhat of a departure in theme and tone from the rest of the series, and because of that, it annoyed me. At first, I guessed that this book was just the authors’ excuse to have their own characters meet them in the story, to show off a few inside jokes for their own amusement, and to kind of toot their own horns. That sort of story annoys me. I don’t like it when authors do that. When I read a series that I like, I want to do it for the sake of the characters and the stories, not for the sake of the fandom, and any inside jokes the co-authors have with each other are not jokes I am personally in on, so I’m just not going to get the same charge out of them. (There’s an in-joke in this book about Perry Nodelman having some kind of special underwear. I don’t know what it is because it isn’t described, but I’ve seen lots of funny undershorts in those catalogs that come around Christmas, and I don’t really care which pair he owns. Younger readers would probably get more of a kick out of that bit of trivia than I do.)

However, I looked it up, and I found this explanation, written by one of the co-authors, Carol Matas:

Why We Wrote A Meeting of Minds

In thinking about the imaginative powers of the people of Gepeth, it suddenly struck us that they could have imagined us. After all, the Gepethians have the power to make whatever they imagine real, so why not this entire world of ours, including the city of Winnipeg and everyone who lives there–including us? Lenora and Coren are figments of our imaginations–but we might also be figments of theirs. In A Meeting of Minds, that is exactly what happens. Lenora and Coren and the authors Carol M and Perry N come face to face, as Lenora and Coren find themselves stuck without their powers in the city of Winnipeg and unable to get out. Who created whom? And will Lenora and Coren ever manage to escape this frightening city, worse than their worst nightmares? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

That explanation did make me feel a little better about the book, that more thought went into it than just a bunch of inside jokes for fans. The Minds books all focus on the power of the mind and the imagination and the nature of reality. A meta plot, like trying to decide if the authors created the characters or the characters created the author does fit with the theme of the theme of the series, almost like the end of Through the Looking Glass, where the reader is left to decide whether Alice dreamed the Red King or if Alice was just part of the Red King’s dream. However, by the end of this book, the question is resolved, as far as people in Lenora’s world is concerned. According to the story, Sayley really did create Winnipeg and everything in it, including the authors of this book and their books and fandom. There is something a little unsettled about the end of the book, but that’s not what it is.

I can’t talk about my full opinion of this story without some spoilers, though, so get ready: The current problem is actually a plot by Leni and Cori, the annoying doubles of Lenora and Coren created two books ago in the series, although it also turns out that their plot is part of the machinations of someone else.

It’s important to remember that Leni and Cori are basically Lenora and Coren themselves, sharing all of their memories up to the point in time when Lenora created them as separate people, but with twists to their personalities. She created Leni on purpose as a double of herself so she could go off and do what she wanted and people wouldn’t know she was missing, but she made Leni a distinct personality, who would like all of the boring things she didn’t like about managing a household and planning a wedding, so Leni would be happy to stay home and do those things while Lenora herself went adventuring. Cori was an accidental creation, when Lenora’s powers where acting erratically. She was in trouble and wished that Coren was there to help her, but she also wished that Coren was a braver, more action-oriented person, so Cori appeared as a kind of white knight figure to rescue her. Once Lenora created Leni and Cori, she didn’t have the heart to un-imagine them into non-existence because they are now distinct people and personalities by themselves.

Unfortunately, while Leni and Cori are pretty well-suited to each other, they both come with their annoying defects. Leni is frivolous and vapid, getting too wrapped up in petty details, like hair, clothes, and makeup, to care about larger issues. Cori is brave but reckless. He doesn’t have the real Coren’s thoughtfulness and rushes right into danger because his only solution to anything is fighting. Lenora and Coren come to appreciate each other more after seeing what their doubles are like and experiencing their annoying sides. Coren realizes that he doesn’t want Lenora to be like Leni, and Lenora stops complaining that Coren thinks too much. They don’t like their doubles, but the feeling is actually mutual. Because Leni and Cori have personalities that are almost opposite to Lenora and Coren, they find Lenora and Coren as annoying as Lenora and Coren find them, just for different reasons. Cori thinks that Coren is a wimp, and Leni thinks that Lenora is irresponsible and tasteless.

Part of the problem is that, while everyone knows that Leni and Cori are recently-created doubles instead of the real Lenora and Coren, Leni and Cori are still real people with all of the memories of Lenora and Coren. So, while the public and their royal parents acknowledge Lenora and Coren as their real children and the real princess and prince, Leni and Cori are angry and dissatisfied because they are no less “real” and have all the memories of being princess and prince. They are not treated as equals to Lenora and Coren, and their own parents don’t really consider them their children. Leni resents being treated like she’s secondary to Lenora, especially since Lenora made her to be the embodiment of all of the qualities that her parents wished she had. Leni is (for the most part) quiet and obedient, focused on spending all of her time looking the part of a princess, and rarely uses her powers in order maintain the Balance. While all of the preparations are going on for Lenora and Coren’s grand wedding, preparations that Lenora and Coren themselves don’t even find particularly interesting because they just don’t like all of the fuss and pageantry, Leni and Cori are also engaged to be married and actually want the pageantry of a grand wedding instead of the quieter ceremony being planned for them. With Lenora and Coren put out of the way, they can take over the wedding themselves, and Leni thinks that, once people get used to her instead of Lenora, they will think of her as an improvement and forget about Lenora.

Sayley did create the little world of Winnipeg that Lenora and Coren are trapped in as a display, her entry in the A Meeting of Minds contest, but Leni is the one who trapped Lenora and Coren in that world. In another twist, it turns out that Sayley created Winnipeg not as her example of the best world possible but as her example of the worst world possible, which she created for contrast. (Sorry, real world Winnipeg. It turns out that Sayley thinks snow is dreadful, but on the bright side, none of you will ever have to worship the Divine Sayley, which by itself makes real world Winnipeg immediately a better place for everyone.) When Sayley discovers what Leni and Cori have done, she wants to tell Coren’s parents, but Cori reads her mind and Leni banishes Sayley to her own exhibit along with Lenora and Coren.

By Sayley’s logic, what really makes her version of Winnipeg so bad is that nobody there believes in the power of the imagination. Everyone there likes to imagine things and they enjoy hearing about the power of imagination, which is why they are fans of Lenora and Coren, but none of them believe that imagination is real or that they can actually create the things they imagine. Their lack of belief in the powers of the mind is what prevents Lenora and Coren’s powers from working. Even though they worship Sayley as “divine”, Sayley says that they don’t really believe in her, they just consider her to be a symbol. Because of that, nobody there respects the real Sayley or listens to her. Sayley is unable to get the authors, Carol and Perry, to listen to them even though she tries to prove to them that she actually made them because she knows all about the embarrassing pair of underwear that Perry owns. Carol and Perry are still unconvinced and think that Sayley needs “help.”

Fortunately, there is one person in this world who Sayley allowed to have the power of imagination, Michael, and he believes that Sayley, Lenora, and Coren are all who they say they are. Michael figures out how to help them all to escape from the exhibit, but when they do, they still have to face down Leni and Cori and the evil force that is controlling them – Lenora’s old alter-ego and nemesis, Hevak.

The evil way that Leni behaves in this book is a clue that she isn’t quite herself. Normally, being well-behaved is a part of her personality, and her scruples would prevent her from doing any of the things she did, even though she secretly wanted to in the back of her mind. Hevak explains that, because Leni is another version of Lenora, he a part of her as well as Lenora. When Leni was feeling jealous and resentful about the wedding, it awakened him in her mind, and he used his influence to force her to overcome her normal inhibitions and do what she was thinking of doing. At first, I was thinking that having Hevak come back seemed like a bit of a cop-out and seemed a little like those cliched scenes in anime where the villain changes into their “final form” and reveals their “true power”, but that explanation actually does make sense for the way this world functions.

Just as Hevak and Lenora are poised for their ultimate battle, however, it all just kind of comes to an end. Defeating Hevak proves easier than it seems like it should because Hevak himself has changed, even though it doesn’t really seem like it from the rest of the book. What Hevak decides is that he’s been through just about everything – he tried to create perfection and failed, people have called him evil (because he does evil things), he tried to be perfectly good, and for a long period, he was stuck in a state of nothingness. Now, he wonders what it’s all for. He hasn’t really accomplished much, and he doesn’t really see the point in continuing on this way. He’s thought about it so much that he’d really rather return to nothingness and not have to think about anything. It’s a little anti-climactic for how much of a nemesis Hevak is.

However, Lenora can’t bring herself to imagine him as not existing permanently because he was always an extension of herself, so instead, she takes Michael’s suggestion and sends him to Winnipeg, which gives the authors a chance to make a few more jokes about life in Winnipeg. Michael says that there are many unimaginative people there who spend time not doing much or thinking much, so without his powers, Hevak will fit in nicely and feel comfortable. Sayley promises to make Winnipeg a little nicer than it is now without changing its character completely, giving it other seasons besides winter and making it part of a much larger world, so people in Winnipeg won’t feel trapped there if they don’t like the climate and can experience some variety. Unfortunately, she also says that, since Winnipeg was supposed to be her worst world, she’s going to give the other seasons a downside, too, which is why she decides to invent mosquitos for Winnipeg’s summer. (So, now we all know who to blame.) Michael isn’t worried because he says that people in Winnipeg are tough. I kind of liked Hevak’s banishment to Winnipeg for the humor value, even though it felt like a rather easy wrap-up to the story.

This is the final book in the Minds series, and from the way it ends, I think there could be room for another one after it, even though one was never written. The book ends with Lenora and Coren’s actual wedding, stopping just as the ceremony ends. It appears that they are going to live happily ever after with the form of perfection they’ve selected taking effect as the ceremony ends, but exactly what that means is never clarified, probably because perfection is a difficult thing to imagine and maybe complete perfection is impossible to achieve. Lenora and Coren are both happy, although Coren does have some slight misgivings about whether the perfection is going to be too perfect in some way. (Remember, this series is all about Balance.) However, he brushes his worries aside to complete the ceremony. Then, we don’t know what happens after that. Is their new perfect world everything they’ve ever wanted and keep everyone happy forever, or will there be new, unforeseen complications after their marriage? Would new, unforeseen complications actually make Lenora happier than a completely settled world because she actually likes excitement and new problems to solve? Could that actually be her version of perfection? Is there a chance that Hevak will return from Winnipeg or has he finally found his true niche there, shoveling snow? There are no answers to these questions because the series is over, so we’ll never know, but I’ll leave you with a final thought – this world is all about imagination and the power of the imagination to create, so if you imagine something after this, that’s what you’ve created.

Out of Their Minds

Out of Their Minds by Carol Matas and Perry Nodelman, 1998.

When the book begins, Princess Lenora and Prince Coren are going to Andilla, where their wedding will finally be held. (That seems to go against earlier books in the series, where they were planning to hold their wedding in Gepeth, but whatever. It turns out the Balance that governs this world has decided that it demands it, and so do the authors and story plot.) However, Lenora has been having strange, disturbing dreams about her vanquished alter ego, Hevak.

Lenora is still preoccupied by the concept of the Balance that governs their world and keeps it from descending into chaos because of the powerful mental abilities that the people in their world have. She still feels like the rules that help maintain the Balance are too restrictive, particularly in her home country of Gepeth, and it bothers her that there doesn’t seem to be a system that makes everyone perfectly happy. Somehow, no matter what system people in different countries have, someone is always unhappy or doesn’t fit in with the way the country lives. Lenora dreams of developing a perfect system of life and Balance, providing every individual person with perfect happiness and justice. Fortunately, since the last book in the series, she has come to realize that before she attempts to create a perfect world, she needs to think it over more and decide what a perfect world really looks like and how it should work.

It’s noble goal, and I don’t consider myself a cranky old cynic who hates youthful enthusiasm, but anyone who’s ever tried to get a roomful of people to agree on pizza toppings only to learn that at least one person in that room is also gluten intolerant and can’t eat the pizza at all unless you specifically take that into account at the beginning of the process knows that finding any system that makes absolutely everyone happy is not an easy process. Even putting together a system in which the majority of people are pretty happy most of the time is a major undertaking and involves taking into account various real world conditions and different peoples’ needs, things which Lenora has previously found boring and completely ignored in her lessons. She usually likes to play with ideas and consider possibilities more than getting into the nitty gritty details of how things actually work. I’m saying that she’s got a long way to go.

However, Lenora and Coren soon encounter other problems which are even more pressing than the preparations for their upcoming wedding. Something is very wrong in Andilla. Usually, the people there prefer using their imaginations to change their perceptions of reality rather than doing anything to actually change reality itself. They let their buildings turn to ruins as they live in the mansions of their imaginations, which is why Prince Coren prefers the way people in Gepeth live, actually creating and maintaining real things. (When Lenora sees what Andilla is like, she decides that she’ll never think of Coren as a coward again, as she has in previous books. He is usually more cautious than she is, but Lenora comes to recognize that it has taken courage for him to acknowledge the way his people really live outside of their imaginations instead of trying to hide from it and live in his own mind. It’s a step forward for Lenora.) People in Andilla also use telepathy to communicate directly with each other, mind to mind, rather than speaking out loud, something even Coren finds invasive at times although he uses that power, too. However, the people of Andilla are suddenly losing their ability to communicate telepathically, and their ability to maintain their imagined realities is fading. They’re having to resort to speaking aloud and seeing things as they really are, and Coren’s mother is beside herself. Coren’s father, the King of Andilla, hardly even seems aware of the problem because he has become deeply absorbed in his new hobby, baking things. People in Andilla usually do very little cooking, just turning very basic foods into whatever they want to imagine that they’re eating, but the King Arno has discovered the joy of baking in the new kitchen that Lenora’s parents actually created for his castle out of sheer desperation.

Kaylor, the Thoughtwatcher, who is the person responsible for maintaining Andilla’s version of the Balance, suspects that the king’s recent cooking might be responsible for shattering Andilla’s illusions, but most people don’t think that’s it. Everyone in the country seems to be affected, although King Arno can’t recall his two closest advisers complaining. Actually, he can’t recall seeing them around at all since the trouble began. Actually, nobody else has ever heard either of their names before. Actually, it looks like King Arno probably invented them as imaginary friends when he was a boy, forgot he invented them, and has been following their imaginary advice ever since because it generally seems to work out.

Lenora suggests that, since there don’t seem to be any answers to the immediate problem in the castle, she and Coren should go out to the countryside, meet the people of Andilla directly, and see if there are any answers there. (Plus they can get away from their annoying doubles, Leni and Cori, who were created in the last book, and the argument they’re having over who really owns Coren’s old room and the stuff in it.) Queen Milda and King Arno admit that, although they’ve spoken to many of their subjects with their minds, they’ve never actually met them face-to-face.

As Lenora questions Coren about the people in the castle and life in Andilla, she is also surprised to learn that, although everyone in the kingdom eats an odd kind of blue mush at every meal (while imagining it to be something far better), even Coren isn’t quite sure what the mush is made of and where it comes from. Of all of the people in his kingdom, Coren is the one who was always more interested in living in reality than fantasy and finding out how things really work, and it seems odd to Lenora that he’s never questioned the food that he’s eaten at every meal for his entire life in Andilla. According to Coren, it just appears in vats every day, and people help themselves to it or have a servant bring them some. No matter how empty the vats are at the end of the day, they’re always full the following day, and he has no idea who fills them, how, or why. To his surprise, Coren realizes that he’s never even thought to question it before, although he’s questioned nearly everything else. Lenora starts to wonder if that could be a key to the puzzle and if Coren actually has some kind of mental block against questioning the food, perhaps something his own people intentionally put there in order to keep their country’s version of the “Balance” in place, reinforcing the version of reality they’ve chosen to live in.

Investigation of the countryside reveals a previously unknown side to Andilla that everyone there has been ignoring, along with the dilapidated condition of their own homes and society. In a place where no community is supposed to be is an entire town of strangely neat, well-kept houses (the only well-kept houses in Andilla) and people all dressed alike whose only goal in life is constant work. The people there, who call themselves Skwoes, seem surprised that Lenora and Coren can even see them. They are the source of the blue mush that the other Andillans eat, although everyone else is unaware of it. The Skwoes are a forgotten part of Andilla’s Balance because everyone is too busy living in their imagination to notice them. Although they feed the rest of the population in exchange for payment from Andilla’s supply of gold, according to an ancient arrangement, they are disdainful of the lazy population they support, who spend their entire time living in their imaginations. (This is when we learn that none of our main characters have any idea what the word “economy” means, not to mention being completely unaware of the fact that Andilla actually has one.)

That explains part of the mystery, but there is still the question of why the Andillans have now lost their powers of imagination or why Lenora’s bad dreams about Hevak are getting increasingly worse.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

My Reaction and Spoilers

Hevak is back … sort of. In the first book of the series, Lenora made her evil alter ego, Hevak disappear. But, we’ve also previously established that everything Lenora creates actually does exist somewhere. Exactly where Hevak went is somewhat nebulous, but he manages to communicate to Lenora that, when she made him disappear before, she accidentally sent him to another world where everything is the opposite of what it is in their world. Hevak says that this world really is the perfect world that Lenora has always dreamed of creating, where everything is happy. He also claims that he has now turned “good” himself and wants to help Lenora make everything in her world “good.” Hevak’s influence has been what has been causing all of this disruption to everyone’s powers, and he begins taking over Lenora.

Lenora does have a genuine desire to make the world a better place. She really always has wanted the world to be better, but what that means changes over the course of the series. At first, Lenora thought that making a better world involved more excitement, more freedom, and fewer rules. In this book, it’s about people loving each other and having all of their needs fulfilled. In the end, the characters aren’t completely sure whether that part was Hevak’s idea or whether Lenora’s desire for a better world was what called Hevak back from wherever he is now, but it does call into question what “good” really is and whether it really is possible to have too much of a “good” thing.

When Lenora, under Hevak’s control, tries to be “good” and help everyone with even their tiniest problems, she does create some fantastic and helpful machines that last even beyond the latest adventure. However, this form of “good” and trying to help everyone goes way too far because it is an extreme form. There is no “Balance” to it. In her “good” form, Lenora unconsciously drains other people of their powers, apparently so she can use them herself to make everyone “happy” and build the perfect world. She uses the Andillan ability to read minds in order to plant the suggestion of love in everyone’s mind, drawing them to her because she is suddenly ultra-appealing to everyone, and to find out what everyone wants and needs. Then, she uses the Gepethian of creation to make everything as everyone wants. Because this is an out-of-balance approach to making people happy, Lenora ends up being ultra-controlling (something she normally hates herself, when she’s in her right mind) of other people, and also because she has this desperate, uncontrollable need to make everyone happy, she struggles to grant their tiniest wishes, whether or not they would actually be good for anyone involved. Some of the wishes people have might make them happy in the moment but would be terrible for them in the long run, like young Sayley’s wish to never stop eating because she’s enjoying the food so much, and Lenora, in her current state, is unable to think beyond this desperate need to just give everyone whatever they want the moment that they want it. Coren, recognizing the problem, tries to free Lenora from the influence of Hevak but ends up under Lenora’s control himself because he loves even without the telepathic influence and the efforts to please everyone and cannot help being drawn to her.

Fortunately, Lenora, being a human girl even with her extended powers, soon begins to find everyone’s constant demands on her overwhelming. Even in the midst of this unbalanced effort to make everyone happy, no one is ever completely happy. Just like in the last book, where Lenora visited the distant past and witnessed a completely out-of-control world where everyone could do absolutely anything they wanted with their minds, it quickly becomes apparent that getting everything a person can think of instantly doesn’t make them happy. No sooner does someone thing of something they want and get it, they think of something else that they also want. Sometimes, people change their minds about what they want because what they got didn’t make them as happy as they expected it would. Human wants and needs and the imagination to think of new possibilities are never-ending. These are the basic reasons why humans never achieve perfect happiness. Eventually, Lenora snaps under the pressure of trying to keep up this impossible system when Coren, who at first only wanted to love Lenora and seemed like he was the only one truly happy with her, suddenly decides that he needs a glass of water and that it must have a straw. Yep, that’s the last straw that finally annoys Lenora enough to break Hevak’s hold on her.

I already mentioned above that creating a perfect system of anything is difficult, especially when you have many people with competing needs and some with needs that are completely unknown. Throughout the series, both Lenora and Coren have been learning more about the way their world and their powers function, which I think is good because it shows character growth. Usually, it’s Lenora who needs to learn something, but in this book, Coren also learns about sides of his own home country that he never knew existed before. There is an entire group of people in Andilla he knew nothing about, and they’re the only reason why there is “Balance” in Andilla and why the system there keeps working (not to mention their “economy”). The Skwoes and the other Andillans are total opposites in the way they live their lives. While most Andillans live in their imaginations to the point where they have completely lost touch with reality and the state they actually live in, the Skwoes have shunned all imagination and creativity in the name of practical work. Both groups are extreme, and up to this point, they have needed to be extreme in order to maintain a Balance with each other. But, maybe they don’t actually have to be that way because Balance can also mean reaching a happy medium. Lenora comes to realize that the difference between the Gepethian Balance and the Andillan Balance is that the Andillan Balance is more communal (although about half of the community was completely unaware of it up to this point), with one group of extremists balancing another group of extremists. In Gepeth, society focuses more on making individual people behave in a more balanced way. In the past, Lenora has found the enforced individual responsibility in Gepeth repressive, but she actually comes to appreciate it as a more balanced approach than the Andillan extremes.

In the end, the different groups in Andilla (now that they really know about each other), begin building a new form of Balance where some of each of their qualities being rubbing off on each other. The formerly purely imaginative Andillans come to see that they do need to face some parts of reality in order to rebuild their crumbling buildings and society, and they work out new contracts with the Skwoes to help them take care of these practical projects. Meanwhile, the Skwoes, freed from the monotony of just producing blue mush (made from some kind of plant material that’s never fully explained), begin enjoying these new work projects and actually not feeling bad about enjoying something for once. This new variety of work has a creative side that reawakens some of the Skwoes’ latent imaginations, and the book leaves the impression that the different Andillan groups will develop and new Balance of creativity and practicality. Also, Coren, who was troubled before about the way his people lived and even resisted using his powers too much because it felt too out-of-balance to him, comes to realize that using his powers sometimes is also part of the Balance and comes to appreciate his own abilities more.

Even though part of this story really reiterated some of the themes of the last book, I thought that it also did a good job of exploring Andillan, delving into how such a world could actually work, and considering new possibilities for it to change. Lenora also becomes more thoughtful as a person in this book. Some of that was partly from her unnaturally increasing need to be “good” and help people, but the characters also consider that it was partly Lenora’s real desire to make the world better that may have accidentally summoned Hevak back. Lenora and Hevak are two sides of the same person (with Hevak being the more unbalanced one in everything he does), so this desire to be helpful is still a part of Lenora’s personality. Lenora also continues to use the lesson that she learned in the last book about the need to think before she acts (although her thoughts are disrupted due to Hevak’s influence), which I also thought was a nice touch of character development. One of Lenora’s before traits was that she was slow to learn and actually resisted learning when it was offered because she was too absorbed in wanting to do whatever she wanted in the moment, so it’s nice to see her growing out of that.

More Minds

More Minds by Carol Matas and Perry Nodelman, 1996.

Since the last book in the series, Princess Lenora and Prince Coren have become engaged. Prince Coren has been living at Princess Lenora’s family’s castle in Gepeth while they get to know each other better and begin planning their future lives. Prince Coren appreciates the real and solid style of life in Gepeth, which is very different from his own country, where people use their special mental abilities to live in their imaginations, never creating anything real. Princess Lenora has calmed down somewhat since their last adventure, brought on by the alternate version of herself that she accidentally created because of her over-indulgence in using her special abilities to bring things that she imagines to life. All of the people in Gepeth have that ability, but Lenora’s abilities are especially strong. Also, everyone else in Gepeth controls their abilities more in order to maintain the common reality that they all share and prevent the state of reality from collapsing into chaos – what the people of Gepeth call “maintaining the Balance.” After seeing what the dark side of her own mind can do if not managed properly, Lenora has been limiting herself only to creating small things with her imagination, like special desserts for her and Coren to enjoy.

However, news comes that a giant has been attacking the land, and even though the people of Gepeth have tried to use their special mental abilities to make it go away, it seems immune to them. It sounds frightening, but Princess Lenora always craves excitement and insists that she be allowed to try to solve the problem. After her past escapades, her parents and others don’t fully trust Lenora, and they tell her that there’s no way that they’re going to let her try to deal with the giant. They even suspect that perhaps the giant is a figment of Lenora’s powerful imagination, run amuck again. Only, that isn’t the case, this time. Lenora is just as surprised as everyone else by the news, and she’s determined not to be left out of the excitement. While everyone else tries to think of some boring, sensible solution, impatient Lenora tries to work out a plan of her own that will allow her to have the adventure she craves.

The plan Lenora chooses is to create an alternate version of herself with her imagination. This double of her will stay with her parents and Coren, doing what she’s supposed to do and being bored, while the real Lenora sneaks out to go on a wonderful, exciting giant hunt. What could possibly go wrong? Seriously, Lenora, what could possibly go wrong after you discovered an evil alternate version of yourself in the last book, created by indulging the dark side of your imagination and your selfish, immature tendencies?

To be fair, Lenora quickly realizes her mistake when she creates an exact duplicate of herself and starts to worry that her duplicate might want to get rid of her and take over. She makes her duplicate disappear just in time, right before her duplicate tries it. (Nice going, Lenora. You’ve proven once again that you can’t really trust yourself.) Instead, Lenora decides to create a duplicate of herself who looks like her but has a very different personality, the sort of girl who enjoys the boring tasks her parents want her to take an interest in and all the minutia of the wedding planning. When Coren meets her double while talking to the man in charge of handling the wedding arrangements, he notices an immediate difference in her. For the first time, Lenora suddenly seems to care about things like pew ribbons and italics on wedding invitations. At first, he thinks that Lenora is being sarcastic about how exciting wedding planning is compared to chasing a giant, but a peek into her mind doesn’t reveal any sarcasm or duplicity from “Lenora”, something that really puzzles Coren. He becomes increasingly suspicious as Lenora’s out-of-character behavior increases, and she starts calling him by the pet name “Cori” and insists that he call her “Leni.” Lenora’s friend, the healer Lufa, has also noticed “Leni’s” odd behavior, but they are soon distracted when a tornado strikes the city.

All over the kingdom of Gepeth, strange things are happening that shouldn’t be happening. The Gepethians work hard all the time to keep their kingdom orderly and predictable, to “maintain the Balance.” Normally, they even control the weather. Mostly, the weather is wonderful, and because plants need watering, it rains every Sunday between two and six o’clock. They never have tornados, and few people have even read enough old books to know that word.

As Lenora journeys to find the giant, she also encounters unpredictable weather in the form of a snow storm. She is forced to seek shelter with a family of farmers, and none of them has any idea what the snow even is. Although the farmer’s wife has reservations about using their special gifts, both her husband and Lenora try to imagine the snow away and are unable to do it. Like the giant, it seems unaffected by their powers. After awhile, the snow suddenly disappears, but it’s one more sign that something is terribly wrong in Gepeth.

In fact, it’s not just Gepeth that’s in danger. In Coren’s home country, Andilla, where people live mostly in their imaginations instead of in the world as it really is, people are increasingly finding their thoughts and imaginings are getting scrambled. People fantasies are intruding on each other’s, and when Coren’s father attempts to communicate with Coren mentally, his thoughts get jumbled with someone thinking about cooking.

It seems that the Balance is out of balance everywhere, and the usual mental gifts that people use to keep the Balance are no longer effective.

My Reaction and Spoilers

I have to admit that I don’t have nearly as much patience with Lenora as I did when I read these books back in middle school. In the beginning, Lenora is impatient with everyone else for wanting to think before acting, like that’s a bad thing, but she also worries that, after their thinking, they’ll actually come up with a solution to the giant problem before she has an opportunity to get involved herself. Oh, noes! First, she thinks that thinking is bad, which is a sure sign of stupidity and that she has learned nothing from her previous misadventures, but also, she seems aware that this thinking that she hates is actually pretty likely to produce a solution. Lenora doesn’t really want to solve problems; she wants to enjoy them, and that’s a large part of her problem. For a young teenager, this attitude can be accepted as just part of Lenora’s character and taken to be just the catalyst for the rest of the adventure, but for an adult, it’s just a sign that Lenora never learns. She’s in her late teens, contemplating marriage and the future ruling of her kingdom, and she never learns. Deep down, she kind of seems to know better, but she doesn’t want to think. It’s maddening. Of course, part of that is because I can tell that the stories in this series kind of magnify “typical” teen traits of impulsiveness, rebelliousness, and lack of full understanding of the world and then put them into this fantasy setting. When I was young, I was more fascinated by the dynamics of Lenora’s world and figuring out how it worked than noticing the teen tropes, and now the teen tropes are annoying me. I’m actually more annoyed by the tropes and this sense I have that the authors probably expect adults to nod their heads and think, “typical teen” than I am by Lenora herself because I think that some of her behavior is that the authors set her up to be this cardboard cutout of a “typical teen” who sometimes goes wild with her powers than a fully developed character. I feel like her personality needs more depth and nuance.

Before the book is over, however, Lenora becomes a little more interesting as she has to deal with certain situations on her own, and she begins to see the sense in using her brain to solve problems, by thinking, not just impulsively pulling things out of her imagination. It’s partly when she accidentally creates a duplicate of Coren who is more physically brave and impulsive than the real Coren that she realizes the benefits of thinking things through before acting. She also comes to realize that some of what she thinks of as Coren’s “annoying habits” are actually positive traits. She occasionally wishes that Coren would worry less and be quicker to act, but after seeing what this opposite Coren is like, she comes to value the real Coren that much more. Fortunately, the second Coren, who likes to be called “Cori”, turns out to be a perfect match for “Leni.”

I thought that the relationship development between Coren and Lenora was good, although Lenora admits, even to herself, that she is deceiving him with her double, they are separated for part of the book. The two of them still love each other, even when they sometimes disagree or drive each other crazy. Coren understands Lenora, although he doesn’t agree with her, which is commendable. He knows that she craves adventure, excitement, and travel, all things that he could happily do without, preferring a more comfortable, settled life. He tries to explain to Lenora that, once the two of them are married, they will have the power to organize their lives together as they see fit. If Lenora wants to travel through the kingdom, dealing with problems and settling disputes, while Coren stays home and manages the life of the palace, he would be perfectly happy with that arrangement. It’s the opposite of what Lenora’s parents expect, wanting Lenora to tend to domestic matters and raising her future children, but as Coren points out, it’s more important that they arrange their lives and relationship in a way that suits the two of them and how they want to live. Lenora also comes to realize that she loves Coren being the person that he is, especially after meeting the incarnation of her fantasy about what Coren could be.

Overall, I often have the feeling that Coren is a more developed, nuanced character than Lenora. I think it’s partly because he is a more thoughtful person, and than gives him depth. He has now lived in two lands which are very different from each other, and it’s given him more perspective on the nature of reality and how people interact with it. He has not only seen different ways of living and experienced different ways of thinking, but he’s processed it and come to conclusions about it. That’s growth and character development. Lenora, on the other hand, has to be practically hit over the head by any situation in order to take it in and learn anything from it, and a large part of that is, unfortunately, plot device and the authors’ need to keep her in this impulsive, rebellious teen way of thinking.

That being said, this book does make it clear that Lenora is not the only person in their land who is dissatisfied with things being the way they are. People are unhappy and somewhat stressed because life in general has become entirely too predictable. People don’t travel to other places because they’re expected to be settled and enjoy the “perfect” conditions exactly where they are. They don’t see or experience new things during the general course of their lives. People don’t even control the names of their own children, which also seem to be granted to them as part of the “Balance.” It never even rains unexpectedly in Gepeth. Maintaining the “Balance”, the stable life that people in Gepeth know and value, involves strict control, but it seems that their control has gotten entirely too strict. Their efforts to avoid chaos have pulled things too much in the other direct, over-control, and over-control isn’t really “balanced.” Lenora thinks of her parents and the other leaders of their community as “bullies” for forcing people to live in a system where nobody is really happy. They try to explain to her why it’s necessary, but Lenora doesn’t want to listen until she sees for herself what the world is like with no Balance at all.

Too much chaos is the entire reason why Lenora’s people created the Balance in the first place. As Lenora and her friends try to unravel the mystery of why the Balance itself is falling apart, Lenora discovers that she herself is accidentally the cause of it. When she left the world that her alter ego had created in Grag leaderless in the last book, the people living there decided to try living in anarchy. It was fun for them for awhile, doing anything and everything they wanted with no rules, but then they discovered that they also had the power to make things they imagined become real. They used their powers, experimenting with them freely, and things got out of control. The chaos from Grag has since been spilling over to other worlds, disrupting their Balance. But, just as Lenora discovers that she is accidentally the cause of the problem, she also turns out to be the accidental solution to it.

Lenora gets to see what the world was like before the Balance was created. This is the book that implies that Lenora’s world is actually our world, but in the far distant future, after people evolved to have special mental abilities. When she goes to the past, a boy tells her that it’s the 21st century. Her past is our current time, which is also chaotic, but for very different reasons than in the book. The people in the 21st century have no control over their abilities, and the fabric of reality changes almost constantly because no one focuses on any one version of reality for any length of time and there is no agreement from anyone on what reality is or should be. In an odd way, I do find that appropriate for today’s conspiracy theory atmosphere. (For the umpteenth time, no, coronavirus is not man-made as a biological weapon in order to control people and make them “live in fear” like something an evil overlord from an ’80s cartoon would do, and it would be the world’s stupidest biological weapon if it was. Only an idiot would both create and release a biological weapon they didn’t already have a cure or vaccine for so they could make sure that they themselves didn’t get sick, and you’ll notice that no country or group of people has been spared. Releasing the disease first and vaccinating after would be like burning the village first and then looting it. Some things just have to be done in order, or they don’t work. I’m not impressed by this theory in any way, and I’m not going to be. I think people who make real biological weapons put more thought into it than people who make conspiracy theories. A person who really wanted to control others wouldn’t care so much whether or not they stayed in their homes but about what they were thinking and whether or not they had access to outside information, so it would be smarter for them to try to bring down the Internet or restrict access to it. Or maybe just use it to spread wild conspiracy theories to confuse people about the nature of reality or, better yet, help them to confuse themselves while avoiding responsibility for it. That’s also a form of control, manipulating people mentally and emotionally. Think about it.)

However, the past of Lenora’s world is like that if people had the actual ability to change reality for not only themselves but everyone else around them just by thinking something. Buildings constantly change shape there or turn into trees, and people become animals or wheels so they can just roll down the street. Sometimes, it rains candy, and sometimes, a giant worm destroys buildings. It’s pure chaos, and in the time that it takes for Lenora to notice each change, it suddenly changes again with someone’s next thought, leaving everyone unable to understand anything that’s going on or get any kind of grip on reality. (Personally, I would picture a world like this as being something like a physical version of absolutely everything that has ever appeared on the Internet without any moderator interference, but because this is a middle school level book, no one is naked or having sex in this world, at least not where Lenora can see it, thank goodness. There is a hint that people are definitively thinking about it, though, when everyone gets a peek into everyone else’s mind, and Lenora’s mother is appalled at some of the filthy things that people think.) In order to solve the problems with the world, Lenora has to reconcile her own feelings about the Balance and decide what sort of reality she would really prefer to live in. The fact is that people in this past world, where they could do and be absolutely anything they want whenever they want hasn’t made them happy. Part of the reason why things change so rapidly is that people discover that they’re not really happy with anything they create. No matter what it is, it’s never as good as what they originally imagined, it doesn’t change their emotions, and because the human imagination is limitless, they can always think of other possibilities to try that never turn out any better than what they did before and still leave them feeling unfulfilled … much like Lenora’s alter ego, Hevak, previously kept changing his/her perfect world because he/she never felt like she reached perfection in anything or like how Lenora’s creation of herself as the perfect princess she thought other people wanted is annoying and too absorbed with frivolous things or her fantasy of the perfect Coren turned out to be a dangerously rash bonehead because he never stops to think before he does anything. Maybe happiness isn’t really about getting everything you want (or think you might want) in the moment you want it but learning to stop and genuinely appreciate what you actually have. One 21st century person, reading Lenora’s mind, sees that she’s thinking exactly that and confirms that this is a problem. As exhilarating as Lenora finds this chaotic past, she begins to see the problems with it. It’s a very free place, but the truth is that it’s not perfect, either, by any stretch of the imagination.

In an ironic twist of fate and time loops (spoiler), it turns out that Lenora herself is the one who created the original Balance, producing the very world that she finds dull and stifling. When she was feeling overwhelmed by the chaos around her and even in her own mind, she conjured up a vision of home, and to her surprise, everyone liked it. It was the one world everyone could agree upon. It’s not perfect, and that still worries Lenora. At times, it’s overly controlled, and there is still room for improvement, but faced with that crazy, random chaos, it was a vast improvement. There was also some room in the Balance for people to gather in groups that wanted to do things in somewhat different ways, which is why people in different countries live in different ways or seems to have different mental abilities. The Balance feels rather controlling (especially to people who think like Lenora), but it does have some built-in flexibility. What Balance or Equilibrium or control feels like or requires is a little different everywhere, as each community interprets it, and there are some people who feel like misfits in their own land because they prefer the way other places do things, like how Coren really prefers the lifestyle in Gepeth to Andilla, where he was born. So, Lenora’s problems with the Balance might not be so much because Balance itself is a bad idea but that the way it’s implemented in Gepeth is a little too restrictive, and she would really prefer a slightly different type of Balance.

Because Lenora is kind of painted as this typical rebellious teen character, it seems that her acceptance of the concept of Balance stands for growing up and accepting adult responsibility and the rules and limits that come with it. When Lenora gets the chance to see inside her father’s head during the chaos, it turns out that he actually does feel the same way that she does about some things. He finds some of the processes involved in ruling boring and annoying, and he sometimes gets impulsive thoughts, like sending someone he doesn’t like to the bottom of the ocean. It’s just that, under normal circumstances, he doesn’t act on any of these thoughts or try to make them reality because he understands the heavy consequences that come with his actions and why it’s better to control his impulses. He understands the chaos that Lenora needs to experience for herself in order to understand the need for Balance. Lenora comes to realize that she does need some measure of control and stability after being confronted with a reality that is utter chaos. Like someone on an old episode of MASH said, “It’s easy to play the clown when you don’t have to run the circus.” Lenora likes excitement and a dash of chaos until everything is chaos, and she has to be the one to stop it and put things in order. But, I think that the book does pose questions and ideas that go far deeper than a teen learning to settle for some for the duller aspects of the adult world and responsibility. What is the real nature of reality? What level of control do we all really have in life, and how much do we really want? What do we really want our world to be?

Now, it’s possible that Lenora could still make some adjustments to the Balance. In the end, she still wants to do that. It’s possible that life in Gepeth could be a little less controlled. Maybe it doesn’t always need to rain on Sunday, or it could rain twice a week sometimes instead of once. Maybe a surprise rain storm could be fun, even if it does spoil your planned picnic because you end up staying inside and telling ghost stories with your friends and have more fun in an unexpected way. Maybe people could have some different names from the ones that they usually use and even come up with some better ones as well as a few that turn out hilariously bad. Maybe a dash of imperfection and unpredictability would make life a little close to feeling perfect … but maybe accepting that no version of life is ever completely perfect or makes everyone completely happy all the time might be the best way to start.

Everyone reading this lives in a world that is partially controlled by rules and limitations and is partially chaos, where things happen that nobody predicted and predictions are sometimes wrong. Is everyone here happy? Not everyone, and certainly, not all the time. In fact, much of the time, a lot of aren’t particularly happy or entirely satisfied, even by our own personal decisions, which don’t always turn out the way we imagined they would when we made them. But, there are things, even in the middle of chaos or while dealing with the little rules and hassles of daily life, that are still good and make us feel happier. Life isn’t all great, but it’s not all bad, either. Sometimes, we get sudden shocks that lead us to rude awakenings, and sometimes, we’re pleasantly surprised. Everyone strives for balance in their own way, but whether or not we ever achieve perfect balance (we probably won’t), we could still appreciate some of the better things we do have and out own potential to improve. We can develop a kind of mental balance, even in an imperfect world.

Of Two Minds

Of Two Minds by Carol Matas and Perry Nodelman, 1995.

Princess Lenora lives in a world where people can make things from their imaginations real just by thinking about them. This is a common “gift” that everyone in her country has, but the thing that really upsets Lenora is that people aren’t allowed to use their “gift” whenever they want to. Lenora’s parents are frequently upset with her for disrupting their calm, orderly world with her wild fantasies. They remind her that the reason why they have these rules was that their world was in chaos before people learned how to use their “gift”, and the chaos was only resolved when everyone agreed to maintain the same reality so they could all live in a safe, stable world that makes sense. They call this maintaining “the balance.” However, Lenora thinks that this stable world is boring and laments that there are never any technological developments or anything really interesting or exciting, like in the fantasy books she reads.

At this point, I pause to reflect that, in real life, we don’t have a world where people can change the nature of reality just by picturing something, and in spite of living every day in a common reality, our world still doesn’t completely make sense, people can have very different interpretations of things that are happening as if they lived in completely different realities of their own making, the idea that everyone could agree on one shared reality to create for any length of time sounds unbelievable, and when “exciting” things happen in world events, they are often not “interesting” or pleasant. Lenora is a teenage girl who doesn’t have a lot of experience yet in worlds that her people maintain in order to stay safe and sane or that she has not created herself and had control over. That’s about to change.

While everyone in Princess Lenora’s world has mental “gifts” that allow them to make imaginary things real, Lenora’s abilities are stronger than most, and her parents worry that her powers are getting much stronger. Lenora has trouble resisting the urge to imagine things and make them real, and although she loves doing it for the excitement and sense of power it gives her, it’s starting to scare her because it feels like her fantasies are starting to control her instead of her controlling them. Her fantasies have started to take darker turns, and frightening things are starting to become real, and she’s not even sure if they’re really coming from her mind or not. Because Lenora is turning seventeen years old, her parents are in the process of arranging a marriage for her to a prince from a neighboring kingdom, and they hope that marriage will help settle her down. However, Lenora isn’t so sure about the marriage or her increasingly difficult to control powers. When she talks to the healer, Lufa, about it, Lufa says that it’s not unusual for young people to experiment with their mental powers and that Lenora’s disturbing fantasies are coming from a dark part of her own mind that she will have to learn to control. She offers to spend some time working with Lenora and helping to develop her control.

Meanwhile, Prince Coren, Lenora’s betrothed, is having his own doubts about the impending wedding. In the first place, he thinks that he isn’t very handsome and isn’t sure that Lenora is going to like him. In the second place, he doesn’t really like change. Change makes him very nervous, although he doesn’t like the way things are in his kingdom and has felt for some time that things really need to change. People in his kingdom, like in Lenora’s, have special mental gifts, but they work in somewhat different ways. The people in Lenora’s kingdom, Gepeth, have the ability to change the nature of reality with their imaginations but often restrain their abilities in order to live in a common reality. In Coren’s kingdom, people have the ability to make things they imagine look and seem real, but they cannot actually change the nature of reality itself. They don’t bother to restrain their abilities at all, preferring to live in their imaginations. They don’t bother to keep their homes and buildings in good repair, just imagining that they live in opulent mansions and sleep in soft beds when their buildings are actually crumbling and they sleep on the ground. More than anything, Coren wants to build and enjoy something real instead of living in this imaginary world that he knows is not real at all. Also, Coren’s people have the ability to read each other’s minds, and they do it all time. The mostly talk to each other directly in their minds, not out loud or face to face, and they’re also in the habit of snooping and eavesdropping on each other’s thoughts. Coren tries not to be so obtrusive, and while his parents have some concerns about him marrying a girl who can’t speak mentally, Coren finds the idea a relief. Still, he’s not quite sure what to expect of Lenora or sure that she’s going to approve of him.

As Coren and his family approach Lenora’s kingdom, and he thinks and worries about meeting Lenora, he begins accidentally joining Lenora’s thoughts and fantasies. He begins getting a taste of what goes on in Lenora’s thoughts and imagination, and for a person who craves stability as much as he does, it’s unsettling.

It turns out that, although Lenora’s parents have mentioned marriage to her before, she has not been informed that her intended husband is on his way until he actually arrives. She is shocked and angry when her father suddenly springs Coren on her without warning, and Coren’s parents are dubious about this marriage when they discover that Lenora was not even informed that it was going to take place. They read the Lenora’s father’s mind and learn about Lenora’s previous antics with her powers. Coren begins having serious doubts about this marriage, and so do his parents, although they kind of admire Lenora’s imagination since they live in their imaginations much of the time.

Lenora, in a desperate panic to escape this unwanted marriage, tries to figure out what to do. She thinks about imagining a change in the world so that she won’t have to get married, but she knows that her father is still powerful enough to stop her. Then, she thinks about creating a world of her own with her imagination that she can jump into, but strangely, Coren ends up playing a role in everything she imagines. Even though she doesn’t want to like Coren, she feels strangely drawn to him. Since she can’t seem to escape thinking about Coren, she decides to physically run away and visit other countries, but she’s caught before she gets out of the palace.

Lenora’s father informs her that, because of her reckless behavior and increasing powers, they’ve arranged for her to marry Coren the very next day, and after their marriage, they will go to live on an island their kingdom controls with guards to prevent her from leaving or using her powers to escape. Lenora and Coren are to live on the island until after the birth of their second child, in the hopes that Lenora will settled down and get control of herself through her family responsibilities.

It seems like Lenora is trapped, but during the wedding ceremony, a portal to another world opens up. Lenora feels like someone, although she doesn’t know who, is offering her a chance at escape and decides to take it. However, as she goes through his portal, Coren tries to stop her, sensing that it’s dangerous, and he’s pulled in with her. The two of them find themselves in a world with an unknown creator, and for the first time in her life, Lenora’s powers don’t seem to work, so she can’t get them home. At first, Lenora is charmed by this seemingly perfect world full of interesting people and with the promise of newfound freedom. However, Coren is dubious and, although his powers are also gone, has the troubling feeling that they are in danger. What is this world, and who wants them there? If they’re ever going to return to their own world, they will have to face a dangerous enemy … and the darkest corners of Lenora’s own mind.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

My Reaction

I first read this book when I was in my early teens, back in middle school, and I think that’s the right age group for this book. Princess Lenora is a daydreamer, like many teenage girls, but unlike most teenage girls, she has the ability to make the things she daydreams about become reality with just a thought. It’s pretty normal for people to imagine all kinds of things, just as passing thoughts, even dark things. If Lenora lived in our world with fanfiction.net, FictionPress, and Wattpad and similar sites for amateur writers, my guess is that she’d be spending much of her time writing stories to post online, like fan fiction and creepypasta, and few people would think anything of it because she would have friends doing the same thing. In a few years, they would probably either graduate to newer sites, like Inkitt, start their own blogs, work on getting books published, or just get busy with their lives, college, and career and let the hobby go for awhile. Instead, because Lenora lives in a world where people’s imaginations change the shape of reality itself, Lenora’s unchecked imagination poses a real threat to people around her and the fabric of reality itself.

Lenora’s parents try to rush her into marriage and family life in the hope that it will curb her dangerous tendencies and teach her some self-control (like people getting married too young never backfires horribly) and get her over this self-insertion fantasy stage she’s in, but in a way, that’s exactly the problem. Many of Lenora’s fantasies, especially the dark ones are about control. I didn’t think of that much when I first read the book as a young teenager. Mostly, I just liked the concept of a world where people could change reality just by thinking about things and the exploring the concept of what that ability could lead to. Much of the story is about that, but also, many of Lenora’s darkest fantasies are about power and control, things that she both resists in her daily life and craves for herself. A lot of teenage rebellion is about control – who has power over whom and where the boundaries lie.

Teenagers are at that phase of life where they’re almost legal adults. Physically, they can do most of the things that full adults can do, like drive cars and get themselves around town to go places they want to go, but yet, they can’t legally consent to certain things, and they’re still required to ask their parents’ permission before making even basic decisions about their weekend plans, and their parents are often telling them what they think they should do for their futures in the way of jobs and education. It can be a frustrating experience, knowing that you have the ability to go out, have adventures, and explore what life has to offer but yet not really being allowed to get out there and do things. There are practical reasons why teenagers can’t act on every whim that enters their heads. For one thing, life requires money. There are few things that don’t cost anything, and you need some time to build resources. For another, people won’t hire you for just any job because you showed up and said you wanted to try it. Most jobs require a certain level of education and/or experience, and teenagers just haven’t had time to acquire it yet. They have to find lesser jobs first and continue their education or get some professional training. Also, when it comes to marriage and other deeply personal decisions, there are serious life consequences to the choices you make. Adults hope by making young people wait for things and build their lives gradually, they’ll get a better sense of who they are, the lives they want to lead, and the consequences of the decisions they’ll make. It doesn’t always work because I’ve seen even older adults make some pretty weird decisions, but that’s largely the goal.

People have a tendency to try to control those who don’t seem to have the ability or desire to control themselves, and that’s really the phase that Lenora is in. Lenora’s young powers are growing, and she wants to test them and see what she can do with them, to explore her deepest thoughts and express herself and make her mark on the world, but her parents and the society she lives in actually can’t let her do that as much as she wants because of what it would do to everyone around her and the very world they live in. Most people, teenagers or not, have some private thoughts or fantasies that they would never want to share with the world, but Leonora’s fantasies become the world around her. They don’t stay private because they don’t stay only in her mind. When Lenora’s fantasies come to life, she pulls real people into them, giving them a genuine stake in having some say over them and trying to limit or stop them. It’s not just that she disrupts people’s lives and inconveniences them, but she can put them in very real danger and actually poses a threat to their very existence. Lenora doesn’t fully consider what her flights of fantasy do to other people, such as when she temporarily sends her mother into a gray void at the beginning of the book so she can pretend that she has the family’s castle to herself or when she briefly considers a fantasy where her parents would be living in poverty at her mercy and charity so she could control them instead of the other way around, until she finds herself at the mercy of someone she can’t control. Sometimes, people don’t understand what they put others through until they have to live it themselves. You’d think, with as much of an imagination as Lenora has, she could put herself in someone else’s place, but she doesn’t develop that kind of empathy until she sees what it’s like to deal with a person who completely lacks it.

If Lenora could have a creative outlet for her energies, getting her ideas out on paper, writing stories to share, or exploring her visions through art, her life would be different, and she probably would feel less frustration. The purpose of imagination and daydreaming are to let people explore concepts and consider different things that might happen, both good and bad, without acting anything out in the real world. It gives people a chance to think things through and consider what could happen without risking bad consequences from actually doing anything. I’m not a very adventurous person in real life. I don’t like camping or hiking, I’m afraid of heights, and there are things that I actually can’t do physically. But, I don’t mind vicariously experiencing things through stories, where I can have a safe kind of adventure. However, Lenora has that problem where, if she imagines things too hard, they become real. Her people call it a “gift”, and she doesn’t always see it as a problem, but it really is because it removes that important safety net between thinking and acting, and when Lenora’s darker thoughts take over, it poses a danger to everyone. Since Lenora has fantasy books that she likes to read, it does seem like her people have a sense of creative writing and the arts, and there are times when Lenora considers things that she could make real but doesn’t, so her people can apparently control their thoughts enough to pick and choose what to make real and what to leave as fiction. It seems that Lenora does have the option of writing stories as a creative outlet, but this craving for a sense of power and control and the ability to make some real change in the world are what keep Lenora from just writing fan fiction and tempt her to play with the nature of reality itself.

Spoiler:

The spoiler for this story is that Lenora’s greatest enemy is another version of herself, the dark version from the back of her mind who can’t be controlled, who doesn’t care about other people, and insists on getting everything his way. (Lenora’s dark version is a man, the idea being that this Lenora turned herself into something completely opposite to what she used to be in order to have a more powerful image.) What Lenora and Coren both need to find is the Balance that Lenora’s society tries so hard to maintain. She comes to have more respect for the people and worlds that she has created, seeing them as real beings with feelings instead of playthings to be cast aside when she becomes bored of them.

Coren also turns out to be a nice counterpart to Lenora. In the beginning, all he wants is a safe, stable, comfortable life in the real world instead of the world of imagination, where his parents live. In the end, he realizes that he needs to find a balance between the two himself. Although Lenora’s imagination is what gets them into trouble, he comes to realize that not all of what she created is bad. Lenora (and even her dark side) comes up with genuinely good ideas. Coren’s praticality and Lenora’s flair for adding a dash of excitement and color to life complement each other well, and in the end, they decide that they love each other. They would make good life partners because of their ability to bring out positive traits in each other and provide some balance to each other’s lives, but the book ends with them deciding that they want to get to know each other better before actually getting married, which is a practical thought.

In the Circle of Time

In the Circle of Time by Margaret J. Anderson, 1979.

This is the second book in the In the Keep of Time Trilogy. There are a couple of characters from the first book that appear in this one, but most are new.

Robert lives on his family’s farm outside of a small town in Scotland.  He loves to draw, but his father doesn’t think much of Robert’s art.  He wants Robert to take over the family farm when he’s grown, especially since Robert’s older brother, Duncan, disappeared two years earlier.  Everyone assumes that Duncan just got tired of the farm and ran off to the city to find work, but Robert has trouble believing that.  Duncan always loved Robert and looked after him, and Robert can’t believe that Duncan would just run off without even telling him.

One day, Robert goes to the ancient circle of stones that stands near his town, known as the Stones of Arden, to draw before school.  There, he happens to meet Jennifer, an American girl who has recently moved to the area because her father is working in the nearby city.  Jennifer has an interest in archeology, and she points out to Robert that there are depressions where there used to be stones in the middle of the circle that aren’t standing anymore.  She persuades Robert to help her do a little digging to see if they can find them.  As they dig, a strange fog comes in, and Jennifer sees a vision of dark-haired people also digging.  However, no one is really there because the ground where they were digging is undisturbed.  Robert doesn’t see the people, but he believes Jennifer when she tells him what she saw.  There are a lot of strange stories about the stones, and Robert has heard many of them from his grandfather.

Jennifer, although spooked by what she saw, refuses to believe any superstitious stories.  She persuades Robert to come back to the stones with her so that she can take another look at them.  However, when they do, the strange fog comes, and the kids suddenly find themselves many years in the future.

The kids learn where (or when) they are when they meet a boy named Karten, who was digging in the spot where Jennifer had seen him digging in her earlier vision.  He tells them that the year is 2179 (two hundred years after the book was written).  The kids can suddenly hear the sound of the ocean from the stones when they couldn’t before, and when they ask about it, Karten tells them that the polar ice caps melted in the 21st century, raising the level of the ocean and bringing the water much closer to the stones.

The future is a harsh place, and Karten fears the people he calls “the Barbaric Ones.”  The Barbaric Ones are people from “across the sea” who, as Karten and his people explain, “have retained the ways of people who lived long ago. They are interested in wealth and machines and factories.” The problem is that resources are in short supply, so the Barbaric Ones kidnap people to use as slaves, gathering as much of the scarce resources as they can to sustain their standard of living.  Karten and his people don’t want to fight the Barbaric Ones if they can avoid it because they have lost people who tried to fight them and because they believe in the values of love and trust above all.

Jennifer is quick to insist that she and Robert return to the stones where they entered this strange and disturbing future, but Robert persuades her to stay awhile and meet more of Karten’s people. Karten particularly tells them about an older woman who told him before about other people from the past who came to their time (the kids from the first book in the series), and Robert is hopeful that this woman will not only be able to tell them how to get home but maybe also what happened to his brother, Duncan. Robert has started to suspect that when Duncan suddenly disappeared, he may have come to the this time period the same way he and Jennifer did and may still be there.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

My Reaction:

I don’t generally go in for dystopian novels because I find them depressing. The real world has enough problems without trying to imagine new and worse ones. However, I do find it interesting that this book, which was written a few years before I was born, has a vision of the future that specifically addresses things that are of major concern to people in the early 21st century. It imagines that the polar ice caps have melted and the sea level has risen. Many of the old coastal cities are gone, and there are new cities and communities in areas where there weren’t before.

Because of what’s happened, the world’s population has kind of separated into two parts that have different ways of coping with the situation. The “Barbaric Ones” are much more technology-oriented, but what makes them barbaric is the way they exploit other people to serve their purposes and support the lifestyle that they want to maintain, which is much harder to maintain in this new future. Karten’s people, on the other hand, have developed a more old-fashioned, communal style of living. In fact, it’s unusually communal, to the point where young children are raised collectively by the adults of the community, nobody really knowing or caring about who their birth parents are. When children are nine years old, they select families they want to join, usually because of similar interests they have, and are raised as children of that family. Karten also likes art, and so he joined a family of artists.

These two types of societies are extreme in their views and lifestyles, polar opposites of each other, and neither is really the sort of society that Jennifer or Robert want to be part of. Jennifer is unnerved that people in Karten’s society don’t really know or care who their parents are and just kind of pick families for themselves without attachment to their birth parents. It just seems unnatural to her. Karten explains that their view is that children belong to the community as a whole. If everyone is part of the same big community, what does it matter who they live with? Their concept of marriage or partnership is never fully explained, but there don’t seem to be any rules or even social conventions about who can live with whom. One girl, called Lara Avara, tells Jennifer that her chosen parental figures/mentors are a pair of women, which surprises Jennifer, who thinks of family in terms of mothers and fathers, one of each per family. However, the future people have a different concept of family that seems to be centered more around sharing personal interests, with no particular conventions around how the family should be shaped. The chosen parental figures/mentors raise the younger members who chose to join their family, teaching them skills and professions they have mastered, according to their interests. It is not explained in the story if these older women are or were married or lovers, and it doesn’t seem to be important to any of the characters in the story, either. Lara Avara just tells Jennifer, “There cannot be rules deciding whom you love and from whom you learn.” I see one disadvantage to not knowing who one’s parents and full-blooded siblings are because there would be no way to ensure against incest, which is worrisome because that tends to bring out certain genetic health problems and weakens the genetic pool of the community, especially if it goes on for generations (unless this society has thought of that and just doesn’t mention their solution during the course of the story – maybe the elders of the community who remember who has the same birth parents and who doesn’t intervene if siblings try to match up with each other). In some ways, Robert is attracted to this style of life because it would make things easier for him. In his own time, his family undervalues his artistic gifts and his unpleasant, temperamental father forces him to do hard physical labor on the family farm. There are times when Robert would love to exchange his problematic family for one that would help him hone his craft and appreciate his personal talents.

For awhile, Jennifer worries that Robert likes these future people so much that he wants to stay there, and she’ll be stuck in the future with him. Unlike Robert, Jennifer is close to her family and happy in their time, and she wants to go home. The two of them are accidentally separated from each other when a character from the previous book in the series (Ollie) brings Robert back to their own time without Jennifer, through the tower that the previous set of characters had used for their time travels. As Robert figures out how to rescue Jennifer from the future, he discovers the truth about Duncan, who has not traveled through time at all (although it looked like that was the way the story was going to go) but really did run away from home, as people thought he did. Like Robert, Duncan was also unhappy about their home life. Although Duncan is better suited to the farm work than Robert, he also found life there stifling, constantly having to work for their father and deal with his angry moods. Their father’s attitude problems are what makes the farm life difficult for both boys, and Duncan also seems to have been feeling overworked and unappreciated. Although life as a teenage runaway has been difficult for Duncan, he has at least managed to find work (paid, unlike the farm work he was doing for his father, and payment is a monetary form of appreciation as well as providing the worker with a living) and the freedom to begin building a life of his own.

Rescuing Jennifer means returning to the stone circle where their time travels began. After Jennifer returns home to their time, she and Robert talk about their experiences. They feel badly that they were not able to help the future people more with their problems and dangers, but Robert says that maybe what’s important is what they’ve learned from the experience themselves and how it’s changed them. Their problems (just like Robert’s brother, Duncan) have always been in their own time, and they have to live their lives in the present. What they do in the present may also change the future and help make it a better place. By the end of the book, Duncan returns to his family’s farm to tell his parents that he’s all right. Duncan will not work on the farm again, as he once did, but he decides to take a new job nearby and help out on the weekends, which will make things easier for Robert. Their family has some healing to do. A talk with Robert’s grandfather also reveals that other members of Robert’s family have traveled through time in the stone circle, and although Robert’s grandfather did his time traveling many years earlier, the vision he got of the future was actually after Robert and Jennifer’s adventures. They can tell that it was further along in time by the people and things he saw, and it reassures them that their future friends will be all right in spite of everything.

The Lost City of Faar

Pendragon

The Lost City of Faar by D.J. MacHale, 2003.

Press and Bobby have followed Saint Dane to the territory of Cloral, a world completely covered by water and occupied by peaceful people who live in floating cities.  Of course, with Saint Dane on the loose, things aren’t going to stay peaceful for long.  An entire city of people are killed when they eat poisoned food, and it looks like Cloral’s entire food supply may be in danger. 

Saint Dane is commanding a group of pirates raiding cities for their food supplies.  Among the dead is Cloral’s last Traveler, and his successor is his son, Spader, who has no idea what the Travelers are or what kind of dangerous mission awaits him.  Spader takes his father’s dead very hard and vows revenge upon Saint Dane.  As Bobby, Press, and Loor, who Bobby introduces to Spader in order to help explain who Travelers are, acquaint Spader with his new duties as the Traveler of Cloral, they try to convince him that preserving the peace of Cloral is more important than seeking revenge.  Spader is hot tempered, and they try to teach him to use peaceful means to combat Saint Dane, who has superior strength, anyway. 

Before he died, Spader’s father left behind one clue to the solution of their problems: a reference to the lost city of Faar, apparently the last city on dry land on Cloral. According to legend, it sank many years ago, but its advanced civilization may not have been completely destroyed. Centuries ago, the water level of Cloral rose, and the people of Faar realized that their city would soon be underwater.  They built a dome to protect their city, and they have been secretly helping the people in the floating cities by tending to their underwater farms and sharing technology with them.  However, they have been afraid to openly reveal themselves to the rest of Cloral because they were worried about their culture becoming contaminated. 

When Press, Bobby, and Spader tell them that Saint Dane knows where they are and is on his way to destroy them, most of the people flee the city.  The dome is broken, and it looks as though they will be unable to retrieve the equipment that the people of Faar were going to give them to save Cloral’s food supply.  However, the one person who remained in Faar and was killed was talking about making Faar “transpire.” Bobby, wanting to fulfill the dead man’s mission, activates the machinery to make it happen.  It turns out that the people of Faar have made it possible for their city to detach from the ground and float to the surface, like the other cities of Cloral.  Faar and its people have now rejoined the rest of Cloral, and they are able to retrieve the machinery they need.  Sadly, Spader tries to chase down Saint Dane as he escapes through the flume, and Press is killed saving him.  Spader volunteers to accompany Bobby on his mission to stop Saint Dane.

Throughout the books, Bobby, like Spader, has to come to terms with the fact that his life and his entire identity are not what he has always thought they were. Other Travelers also go through the same process as they learn about what it means to be a Traveler and to accept the mission of the Travelers. All through the series, there are other revelations about the nature of the Travelers themselves and how they came to be.

The book is available to borrow for free online through Internet Archive.

The Merchant of Death

Pendragon

The Merchant of Death by D.J. MacHale, 2002.

Bobby Pendragon is a normal fourteen-year-old boy, or at least he thought he was.  One day, his mysterious Uncle Press shows up at his house right before he’s supposed to leave for an important basketball game at school and tells him that he needs his help and that Bobby must come with him right away. 

Although Bobby doesn’t know what is going on, he goes with his uncle and begins a terrifying journey to another world.  His uncle reveals to him that they are both Travelers, members of a select group of people who can use gateways called flumes to travel across time and space to other worlds.  Worlds everywhere are in chaos, and an evil Traveler called Saint Dane is manipulating events to cause more chaos and destruction.  On the world of Denduron, the decadent Bedoowan society is oppressing the Milago miners, and thanks to Saint Dane, their world is about to erupt in warfare unless Bobby and his uncle can stop it.

Bobby and his uncle are separated for a while when some Bedoowans capture Uncle Press, and Bobby meets up with fellow travelers Osa, Loor, and Alder.  Osa, the most experienced Traveler, is killed trying to protect Bobby, and Bobby makes some mistakes that make the situation worse, including having his friends back home send him some items that are advanced technology to the people of Denduron. 

The Milago have discovered an explosive mineral called Tak, and they are using it to build a super weapon to wipe out the Bedoowan.  Saint Dane is trying to increase tensions between the two groups of people so that they will use this weapon, which will lead to the destruction of their world … unless Bobby and his friends can stop it.

This series reminds me a little of old movie serials, like Flash Gordon, where the good guys must defeat an evil overlord, free people from oppression, and bring peace to warring groups.  However, like with Flash Gordon’s evil nemesis, Ming the Merciless, Saint Dane has a way of escaping even when our heroes have put a stop to his plans. By the time matters are straightened out with the Bedoowans and the Milago, Saint Dane has escaped to another world, and Bobby and his companions must find him and stop him from causing further destruction.

The book is available to borrow for free online through Internet Archive.