One of William Mayne’s many qualities as an author for which critics have often commended him is the almost poetic quality of his prose. This is nowhere more clearly seen than in his depictions of the Yorkshire Dales, both in their Brontë-esque remoteness and grandeur and in the details of a working sheep farm. Although farming is a struggle in the stony and barren soil and with the predations of foxes in the henhouse, what comes across in the novel is the settled and contented nature of the inhabitants, their natural intelligence and sympathies, and the depths of their roots. The novel is set in the summer, and Mayne’s description of the sunlight, moonlight, and starlight, the cloud formations and visibility, inform the whole atmosphere. Readers can sense how Mary believes so easily in fairyland; the setting itself, as described by Mayne, is magical.
In addition to geographical remoteness, strangeness is also provided by the use of local dialect, especially by Peter and Charley, the farmhand. Mayne, who is from Yorkshire himself, has an unerring ear for this dialect. His narrative descriptions contrast with the dialogue in their complex and detailed visual imagery, which gives the style its particular poetic quality. The dialogue, of which there is a generous amount, also has a fantastical quality at times, as the motifs from the legend color the subject matter and the thought patterns of the children.
Although the setting is depicted as...
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