A Game of Dark Critical Essays

William Mayne


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

William Mayne is a celebrated and prolific British author of books for children, dating from Follow the Footprints (1953). The majority of his novels are realistic, often set at school or in country towns. He has ventured into fantasy on a number of occasions, beginning with Earthfasts (1966), which is probably his best-known work in the genre.

A Game of Dark is a fantasy of two parallel worlds, one historical, one contemporary. A forerunner of this type of work in British childrens fantasy is Alison Uttleys A Traveller in Time (1972), in which the heroine has to make a choice whether to live in Elizabethan England or to remain in the present. Donald Jackson on two occasions has a similar choice, even though his moments of transition are involuntary. The “game” is to see that the past time is only a game. His first choice, made while semiconscious, is to remain in the game; his final choice is to live in the present.

Unlike in Uttleys fantasy, however, neither of Donald’s worlds is at all pleasant. Both are “dark.” In both, he feels isolated, helpless, and guilty; in both, he sees himself as a failure. In the present, he is unable to help his father, or even to communicate with him, let alone to love him. Whatever he does for his mother or father is less than adequate. In the past, like the lord and townspeople, he is helpless against the worm.

He makes the initial choice to stay in the...

(The entire section is 475 words.)