Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

From the onset of The Haunting to its satisfying conclusion, author Margaret Mahy delves into the dynamics of how a family’s secrets, even those deeply embedded in the past, constrain the relationships and inhibit the emotional development of its members. Although written with elements of fantasy, Mahy’s story is firmly based in everyday family life. She downplays setting and focuses on the importance of family interaction, which, in The Haunting, is intergenerational. Mahy portions out family secrets, maintaining a high level of suspense throughout the story. Problems in the Scholar family insinuate themselves into the Palmer family via eight-year-old Barney, who is being haunted. (The Scholars are the late Dove Palmer’s family, the “extra” set of relatives now that John Palmer has remarried.)

The novel opens with Barney experiencing a haunting in which the apparition of a young boy in a blue velvet suit tells him, “Barnaby’s dead! I’m going to be very lonely.” Barney’s hauntings are precipitated by the death of his Great-Uncle Barnaby Scholar. In The Haunting, the key secret, from which others spawn, is the existence of magicians in the Scholar family line. Great-Grandmother Scholar has perpetuated the belief that these magicians are always male. Therefore, when Barney experiences hauntings, family members believe him to be the next magician. In page-turning suspense, Mahy involves all members of the Palmer and Scholar families in helping Barney unravel the mystery of these hauntings. As deeply hidden secrets are disclosed, the mystery and...

(The entire section is 655 words.)