Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Lost Child of Lychford, by Paul Cornell

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(Horror; Lychford) Just before Christmas, the ghost of a little boy appears in the vicarage and disturbs the vicar and her two friends. (27,759 words; Time: 1h:32m)

Rating: ★★★★★ Award-Worthy

Sequel to Witches of Lychford (2015). Stands alone, but reading it first might spoil the earlier one. See related articles on
"," by (edited by Lee Harris), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: The evil spirits come at each of the three defenders via their weaknesses. They each shake them off using their unique strengths.

Judith's weakness is her husband Arthur. Not the ghost that haunts her, but the real man whom she loved and still mourns. She can't resist the possibility of reaching him one more time, and so she falls for the trap.

Autumn's weakness is her loneliness. Luke isn't one of them, but he's precisely what she wants, and they tangle her up in him that night in the pub.

Lizzie's weakness is her lack of Christmas spirit, as hinted at in the opening pages. She's crabby about the songs, particularly Greg Lake's, "I Believe in Father Christmas." In fact, the song's lyrics offer a lot of clues about the story. (Have a listen.) With no joy in her, she's getting the Christmas she deserves.

The implication of all this seems to be that this has lowered her spiritual defenses and made her vulnerable to attack. She seems to think this herself by the end of the story when she says that if they come back, it'll be their fault next time, implying it was her fault this time.

With all three of them trapped, they each use their respective strengths to escape.

Autumn, the logical one with faith in science, rescues herself by trying experiments and observing the results. A slap in the face promotes clarity? Keep slapping me! Autumn is key to each of the other two escaping.

Judith, the traditional witch, escapes with help from Autumn. She uses her deep arcane knowledge to find a way out, given Autumn provided a beacon so she could orient herself.

Lizzie, the woman of faith, uses the power of God to disperse the evil spirits, but that's not how she escapes from their trap; it's the little spirit in the child's image that does it, and it's only able to help her because earlier she let it into the church earlier. (And because Autumn brings it to her.) The moment when Lizzie lets the unhappy little spirit into the church is the one point in the early part of the story where she shows the sort of compassion we associate with Christmas, and this is what saves her. The sacrifice of a little spirit in the image of a child frees her from her bonds, and that's about as powerful a Christian image as you can get.

The actual climax of the story is the point where Lizzie blows the evil wedding party out of the church. The subsequent confrontation with the evil couple and the rescue of Jamie is exciting, but less intense, although Judith's arrival is a high point. We learn that these are ancient spirits objecting to the way their world was destroyed by modern people (including fairies). That, more than anything else, seems to be why Lizzie takes pity on the survivor and why her two fellow-witches support her.

At the end, Judith is free of the curse of her dead husband, Autumn gets to have a relationship with Luke after all, and Lizzie realizes that Lake's song isn't so bad after all.

The writing is masterful, the plot includes lots and lots of tension, and the emotional payoff is first rate.

Con: There appears to be no cost paid for this victory, despite Judith's warning early in the story that nothing comes for free.

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Paul Cornell Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB

1 comment (may contain spoilers):

  1. I was really impressed by this one. Getting a three-stranded story into that sort of length takes takes real skill.