Although her novels are set in New Zealand and her genre is fantasy, Mahy’s characters search for identity, encounter jealousies, and suffer alienation, self-doubt, and the same general agonies that seem to be the universal phenomena that people experience during life’s transitional phases. In The Haunting, she includes adults whose emotional and social development has been interfered with. She focuses on alienation, loss, misunderstandings, incomplete information, and the consequences of denying a special gift. Her resolutions depend on reaching into the past and inviting it into the present in various ways. In The Haunting, Mahy uses Barney as a vehicle to introduce magic, which becomes the catalyst that releases past secrets. As bits and pieces of the past come together, emotional and social development resume.
Two themes that Mahy addresses are loss and alienation. The Palmer family lost a wife and mother. John Palmer, left with his grief, his job, and three children to rear, turned inward and moved forward blindly, never addressing his grief and not knowing how to help his children through their difficult time. So, in a real sense, until John remarried and Claire became the new wife and mother, Barney, Tabitha, and Troy lost communication with their father. As Barney’s hauntings continue, Claire becomes greatly concerned about him. At dinner one night, Troy assuages Claire’s concern that she is not being a good mother. She explains Barney’s fears about Claire’s pregnancy and delivery. She reassures Barney, telling him that Dove had a weak heart “but that Claire’s got a heart like an ox.” She...
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Margaret Mahy’s novels for juveniles and young adults are filled with magic, wonder, unlikely encounters, and twists of plot and are enriched by her carefully crafted dialogue and descriptions—all of which bring a special wonder and sense of empowerment to her protagonists, leaving the reader both swept up in the magic of the story and feeling uplifted through her positive imagery. Examples of other novels in which she sets up situations that must be resolved by examining the past are The Changeover: A Supernatural Romance (1984), Aliens in the Family (1985), The Catalogue of the Universe (1985), The Tricksters (1986), and Memory (1987), to name a few. She develops plots with the adroitness of a mystery writer; there is usually a twist that the reader would not have anticipated. The breadth of her erudition and her unusual imagination make her a master storyteller and her books a delight to read. Because of her consummate skill as a writer of fantasy who grounds her works in reality, Mahy gives her readers a broader understanding of the complexities of the world that they inhabit.