(Ann) Philippa Pearce Margery Fisher - Essay

Margery Fisher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Just as M. R. James lures his readers, word by word and paragraph by paragraph, till they feel the un-ordinariness of the curtains, the sheets on the bed, the dusty old book, so Philippa Pearce leads us—cunningly, with a disarmingly conversational reporting of people's talk and actions—to a state of acceptance [in The Shadow Cage and Other Tales of the Supernatural]. (p. 3113)

In many of the stories the supernatural element is skilfully projected from the recognisably ordinary behaviour of ordinary people, part of the fabric of themselves.

This novelistic element makes Philippa Pearce's stories subtly different from those of M. R. James, while inviting comparison for certain qualities of elegance and concentration in the writing. There are other tales in her book whose supernatural apparitions are extra-human in every sense…. The shiver, the shock of surprise, always come slowly, after an everyday setting has been firmly established—a village school, a mill on the river, a bungalow "in the middle of nowhere in particular". Such clichés of "ghost stories" as attics or isolated, shrub-shrouded mansions, come up as good as new with Philippa Pearce's polishing.

People, their sad or wicked memories, their present alarms and astonishments, are the activators of the stories, but places supply their inspiration and their poetic force. Perhaps the most tightly wrought of all, The Running-Companion, shows this fusion of person and place at its most remarkable. (pp. 3113-14)

The plain, measured, disarmingly simple voice of the storyteller quickens and deepens towards the foreseen yet shocking climax. Philippa Pearce works her illusions with the greatest skill, now stating, now surmising, now dropping the lightest of hints, always mindful of the fact that the supernatural belongs to the natural. (p. 3114)

Margery Fisher, "Special Review: 'The Shadow Cage and Other Tales of the Supernatural'," in her Growing Point, Vol. 16, No. 1, May, 1977, pp. 3113-14.