Leon Garfield Margery Fisher - Essay

Margery Fisher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Leon Garfield's imagination is disciplined so that the surprises and bizarre events in his stories are properly related to the whole. He makes it seem natural, and yet astonishing [in The Drummer boy], that Charlie Samson the drummer boy, the "golden lad" of the regiment, should be the link between the General who gave orders (or said he did) in anticipation of ambush, his son-in-law who disastrously failed to carry them out and the young soldier whose remarkably unheroic death will deprive the General's daughter of life and love—unless Charlie is prepared to stand substitute…. What is heroism? What is love? How can a mere boy, trained to lead with the sound of his drum, learn to work out his own orders for life? Perhaps none of Leon Garfield's parables of innocence tarnished has been quite as moving or as sharply considered as this one. In his quick, pointed sentences he uses visual images to establish a mood or a scene or to make a point about character; the whole book is imbued with the red and gold of destruction…. It is most particularly an artistic whole, this book, an enormously stimulating and touching one. It will not teach children historical fact but will open the past for them. (pp. 1534-35)

Margery Fisher, in her Growing Point, May, 1970.

[The Drummer Boy] may dismay many a reader whose experience and ability have been limited by circumstance or natural imagination, but the persistence shown by Mr. Garfield in creating his atmosphere is justified in his final effect…. It is difficult at times to be sure where the nightmare begins and where reality ends, and even some of the real people have a nightmare quality which makes them forbidding as well as amusing…. [The] sense of period and of what might perhaps be called human unpredictability are combined to create a moving story in which humour and optimism always underlie the misery and misfortune which in the end are transmuted into a modest happiness while unhappy memories are softened into a sadness left far behind. (p. 164)

The Junior Bookshelf, June, 1970.