Monday, July 20, 2015

True or False: The Book is the Author's, the Story is the Reader's.

Good Book, Bad Author: William Mayne and Hob and the Goblins.

This is how, with the exception of Emil and the Detectives, I choose the books that I review for this blog.

I walk through the stacks.

I pick out three to five books, all vintage.

I take them home, start reading, or rereading as is more often the case, and the first one that captures my interest, I review.

Sometimes I'm familiar with the author, sometimes I'm not.

This week's book was a slam dunk in terms of quality, extremely well-written, imaginative and exceptionally paced.  Fantastic and fitting cover art. Loved it.

Then, I began to research the author.


Let's start with the good…here's this week's review of Hob and the Goblins.

Book #26: Hob and the Goblins by William Mayne (1993), illustrated by Norman Messenger.
140 pages.

Hob is a small creature who lives in the cutch* under the stairs in a family's house. Hob is very old, so old that he was created before there was Thinking, and has had many families.  Hob lives very much in the Here and Now, without distinct memories of his past or much - if any- ability to visualize a future beyond the immediate moment.

Hob's function is to help the families with whom he lives, sleeping in his cutch by day and working largely through the night. There is no wand waving or spell casting, but practical efforts like filling the woodbox for the fire, entertaining the baby, and other mundane tasks. Hob keeps himself invisible most of the time, but it does require effort, and if he is distracted, he will appear to those humans around him. Children will readily admit to seeing him, and while adults may see him, they will still not believe in him.

Hob can be waylaid in his mission to help a family if he is given clothes to wear over his own Hobskin.   As soon as he dons a single garment, he begins to forget about the family and soon goes off on his merry way, full of pride in his appearance and with no thought of any others. As he begins to lose his clothing, he begins to remember that he should be helping a family, but he will be unable to do so until all of the clothes are gone.

This is where the story of Hob and the Goblins begins. After some slight misadventure with a gremlin on a London bus, Hob, who after a century has finally shed the last of his clothing, finds himself in the London home of the Grimes family, parents Charlie and Alice, children Tom and Meg, and their bird Budgie.  Charlie has just been unfairly fired due to a mishap with his bus - caused by the gremlin - and the family makes the decision to move to the country. Charlie is the heir to a cottage that belonged to his great-great Uncle Fluellen, who disappeared a hundred years ago. The name of the cottage is Fairy Ring Cottage.

As soon as Hob hears the name, he is horrified.  The cottage is a wicked place, standing, as it does, over a crock of gold that belongs to, not fairies, but goblins, goblins who make fantastic swords and relish a fight. A hundred years ago, Fluellen, who was a sorcerer, devised what he thought was a foolproof plan to steal the gold away from the goblins and escape. Fluellen knew that to accept a bite to eat would be fatal; he would spend the rest of his existence eating that first meal. Fluellen brought his fiddle, and intended to distract the goblins from the gold by causing them to dance while he made his escape. As time passes differently in the goblin's world, a hundred years later he was still making his escape, but the day of escape was drawing near.

Hob remembers this only in bits and pieces, unable to put all the pieces together because he cannot think, but he knows that what will occur will be very bad, and that in helping the Grimes family that Hob will die, and be no more.

But help he must, and off he goes to the country with the family.  Hob knows that something is not right from the very beginning. Children appear to play with Meg and Tom, children whose fingers are webbed, goblin children. There are strange noises and strange sounds. Rumblings from the basement, shudderings felt throughout the house. It's not the house settling, it's the reverberations of the Goblin King's footsteps, as he approaches the opening in the basement between the worlds of the Goblins and the Grimes. The children acknowledge Hob, and eventually does their mother, but Charlie resists, as he resists anything but everyday explanations for extraordinary occurrences.

The Grimes are visited frequently by Mrs. Idris Evans, who makes most peculiar comments and allows that they should leave.  Idris is really a witch, and was once Fluellen's housekeeper.  She wants the gold  too, as well as the obeisance of the goblins. Idris comes up with a plan to get Hob away from the Grimes, delivering a package of clothing to his cutch via Meg.  Hob, unwrapping the package, puts on the clothing, forgets his family and heads away for London-town.

But something is different this time.  Hob's forgetfulness is not complete. He feels hunger as a necessity, not just as an optional pastime.  He falls in with a group of dwarfs, and at their home in the mountain is forced to work on their forges. The day of his epiphany, that he must return and help the Grimes family defeat the Goblin King, he steals three swords, discards the bulk of his clothing and makes it back to the house just as Fluellen is about to break through, the goblins and the Goblin King hot on his trail.

The family had been about to leave, but now all, including Tom and Meg, are engaged with fighting off the goblins, Goblin King, and witch. Fluellen has made it through with the crock of gold on his back, but the magic of the goblin world is gone, and he transforms before their eyes into an old, old man. The floor of the basement is thick with goblin blood as goblins slice quite neatly. Hob has blown himself up to the same size as the Goblin King, over seven feet tall, and triumph appears imminent, but then the Goblin Kings escapes outside.

Only, to be faced with the Bus, specifically Charlie's old bus. His boss has come to the cottage to ask Charlie to come back to his job. It seems the entire fleet has been afflicted by the same troubles as Charlie experienced, so they know now that Charlie is not the culprit. While conveying this to Charlie, the bus takes off on its own, circling the house, hinting its horn, flashing its headlights. The bus is not acting of its own accord, of course, it's the gremlin driving the bus, the same one that caused trouble for Charlie back in London.

The gremlin redeems itself here by driving straight into the Goblin King, forcing it to explode and destruct.  Calm once again the order of the day, the family, with Hob, retires inside for a cup of tea.  Alice has already got the fire started, using the old leaves from the old pot on the table, a pot that only moments before had been filled with goblin gold.

Hob and the Goblins at

And now the bad, the very bad.

The back jacket flap of Hob describes Mayne as a winner of both the Carnegie Medal (1957 A Grass Rope) and The Guardian Children's Fiction Award. Alison Lurie, co-editor of the Garland Library of Children's Classics (1990) and frequent reviewer for the New York Review of Books, described his work as "some of the best fantasy and time-travel fiction to come out of England since Tolkien."

Mayne was born in 1928 in England and wrote over 130 books for children. He was regarded as one of the finest writers in children's literature by any number of respected authorities, and was enjoying the life of an eccentric bachelor and all around character from his home in the village of Thornton Rust on the Yorkshire Dales in England.

Then, in 2004 he was convicted of indecent assaults against a number of young girls, dating back over 40 years.  He served a two and a half year prison term and was released, his career gone and reputation destroyed.  He died at the age of 82 in 2010.

I have no interest in writing about William Mayne.  If you are interested, you can read his obituary here, as published by The Independent.  Unlike a host of other criminal acts, including murder, child abuse has no mitigating circumstances. Ever.

So, where does that leave the books?

A book is not its author, and a story belongs to the reader.  The minute a child picks up a book and begins to read, the words on the page belong to them, and the story they take away from the book is uniquely theirs.

Hob and the Goblins is a wonderful book.  Wonderful books should be read.

So, what do you do as a librarian with a wonderful book written by a despicable author?

I surfed the Internet for articles concerning good books written by bad people (a simplification, yes, but I found relevant articles).  Opinions were all over the board; I tried to include articles that covered the spectrum, which are listed below.

The Author Abused Children: Should We Read His Books? from The Guardian. (re: Mayne)

Good Art, Bad People  op-ed at New York Times.

Bad Deeds Don'r Ruin Great Art  from Time magazine.

When Great Art Happens to Bad People from The Atlantic magazine

When Bad People Write Great Books from Salon.

Op-ed on Marion Zimmer Bradley from the Washington Post.

Rape, Abuse, and Marion Zimmer Bradley by fantasy author Jim C. Hines.

Very few of Mayne's books are available in my area libraries, aside from Hob, out of 130 books representing over forty years of writing, the choices were the picture books Lady Muck, Pandora, Tibber, and Barnabas Walks.

And that's all.


  1. Yes, it's a terrible shame. I grew up reading William Mayne's books, loved them for the wonderful writing and the intelligence he expected from his readers. 'Earthfasts', 'It', and 'Winter Quarters' are still on my shelves. (I haven't read the 'Hob' books.) But now, knowing what the author did, I find them difficult to re-read. One needs to trust an author's voice, and there's such a disconnect between the good voice of the Mayne who writes, and the person he must actually have been. So the trust is lost. When I read them now I'm questioning my belief in the narrative and the voice. They were good books. He spoiled them.

  2. Many creative people are also troubled people. The issue is more with us, their audience, wanting to idolize the artists. I prefer to look at the art, made in moments inspired and insightful, and not "hang out" with the artist.
    But then there are things too awful that will spoil the work even for me, who can separate the person from some of their actions. Everyone has these lines, and where yours are is personal.

  3. It has recently become a public issue again. Bill Cosby's work is still funny...but now one wonders if one is still allowed to laugh. On the other hand, Hemingway was a jerk of extraordinary magnitude, but few (if any) suggest that he should not be read. And there's the pseudonymous Forest Carter, author of THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE, who was revealed as a lifelong racist. Or H. P. Lovecraft, who was also a racist in many respects. We each have to make our decisions on what we are willing to read after we learn bad things about its creators.