(Maureen) Mollie Hunter (McIlwraith) Essay - Critical Essays

Hunter (McIlwraith), (Maureen) Mollie


(Maureen) Mollie Hunter (McIlwraith) 1922–

Scottish novelist for young adults and younger children, playwright, and nonfiction writer.

Hunter is best known for her fantasies, historical novels, realistic fiction, thrillers, and mysteries. Her highly textured prose is often a synthesis of Scottish legend, Celtic myth, and realistic detail. A thoroughly Scottish literary voice, she has successfully captured the imagistic, poetic nature of the oral tradition of the Scottish Highlands. Hunter's knowledge of her country's history and folklore and a deep love for her native land are evident in much of her work. Her philosophy is humanistic, with a great faith in the potential and strength of individuals. The power of love and loyalty and the struggle of good against evil are among her major themes.

The Bodach, published in the United States as The Walking Stones: A Story of Suspense, is an example of Hunter's ability to combine myth and realism in her fiction. Here the author presents an ancient legend and the superstitions of an old man in conflict with modern technology. In addition to being an exciting story, it is a dramatic portrait of spiritual and moral conflict in the mind of its protagonist. A Sound of Chariots illustrates the versatility of Hunter's talent. Classified as modern realistic fiction, the novel explores the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of a young girl growing up in a colony of war veterans. Critics almost unanimously praised the book as a sensitive and powerful portrait of a young adult's coming of age under unusual circumstances. Hunter's views on writing for young adults can be found in Talent Is Not Enough, a collection of essays. Many critics and experts feel that these essays, like much of Hunter's other work, are astute, graceful, and thought-provoking.

Critical opinion of Hunter's work is overwhelmingly positive; she is at this time one of the most highly respected authors of books for young adults. While some of her work is considered too sophisticated for the average young reader, her popularity with diverse segments of this audience suggests that many young people enjoy the challenge, depth of insight, and feeling in Hunter's work. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 29-32, rev. ed., and Something About the Author, Vol. 2.)

The Junior Bookshelf

As may be expected from [Mollie Hunter, The Kelpie's Pearls] is blended from the folk lore of the countryside, the commonsense of Morag—the old woman whose hill cottage at Abriachan forms a perfect setting for the story—and the loyalty of young Torquil, who had a great gift with animals, and who alone stood by Morag when the whole community would have hunted her as a witch.

The author's previous story [Patrick Kentigern Keenan, published in the United States as The Smartest Man in Ireland,] was centered in Ireland, but The Kelpie's Pearls shows that she writes with the same easy confidence in a Scottish setting. Her simple, economic dialogue forms a direct contrast to the fine prose of the descriptive passages which are embellished by a fitting use of imagery.

"For Children under Ten: 'The Kelpie's Pearls'," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 28, No. 5, November, 1964, p. 296.

The Times Literary Supplement

Mollie Hunter's The Kelpie's Pearls is something of a triumph, for fantasy and magic are made to appear natural and inevitable in a modern context of reporters, buses and policemen. Its range is considerable, from humour to suspense and from pathos to something like primitive fear. Characters and landscape are realized with complete solidity, and what begins as a simple Highland story ends as a touching plea for the recognition of natural magic in the midst of mundane things.

"Breaking the Rules: Engagement and Extravaganza in Never-Never-Land," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1964; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3274, November 26, 1964, p. 1081.∗

The Junior Bookshelf

[The Spanish Letters] is a good cloak-and-dagger, the plot moving at a fast pace, the characters reasonably well-developed for this type of book. There is plenty of suspense, although the usual kinds of trick are employed, the holding hostage of a beloved only daughter, and the boy hero's discovery of a secret passage to release her.

"For Children from Ten to Fourteen: 'The Spanish Letters'," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 28, No. 6, December, 1964, p. 381.

Gordon Parsons

The 'Caddies', that strange band of beggars and guides that formed a distinctive feature of sixteenth-century Edinburgh, provide an exciting human flavouring to the vividly realized, physical setting of Mollie Hunter's story of murder, intrigue, treachery and political conspiracy [The Spanish Letters]….

Mollie Hunter has portrayed an entirely credible society in which not all enemies are without honour. This story … will be seldom found on the library shelf.

Gordon Parsons, "Book Reviews: 'The Spanish Letters'," in The School Librarian and School Library Review, Vol. 13, No. 1, March, 1965, p. 95.

Ethna Sheehan

["The Smartest Man in Ireland" is an] exhilarating adventurefantasy with real Irish flavor in the phrasing; and imagination, humor, gaiety and some underlying sadness in the fabric. Patrick and his neighbors have no doubts about the existence of the "Good People." Everyone who reads the book will know what to do when he encounters these not-so-admirable Celtic fairies.

Ethna Sheehan, "Books for Young Readers: 'The Smartest Man in Ireland'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1965 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 28, 1965, p. 46.

(The entire section is 87 words.)

The Times Literary Supplement

A Pistol in Greenyards confirms the view that, though Mollie Hunter falls short of the magic by which a [Rosemary] Sutcliff or a [Winifred] Bryher turns the raw stuff of history into imaginative gold, she is a fine story-teller, able to shape a plot without loss of historical integrity…. In the story of the short, doomed resistance of one township, and of a boy's fight against a vicious legal system that has his mother in its grip and is reaching out for his own life, the author has given the theme a spring and elation, a narrative excitement, that make this a book to recommend to two kinds of reader. It will thrill the young historian: and history will rub off from it on the reader who believes he is...

(The entire section is 161 words.)

The Junior Bookshelf

[A Pistol in Greenyards] is a most vivid account of the tragedy of the Highland Clearances….

This is a most gripping story, the dignity and bravery of the Highlanders in their doomed fight to save their homes makes one of the best historical tales I have read for some time—and it is a reminder that our national heritage has not always been a subject for pride.

"For the Intermediate Library: 'A Pistol in Greenyards'," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 30, No. 1, February, 1966, p. 58.

(The entire section is 83 words.)

Margery Fisher

For Mollie Hunter, place is as important as people and causes. In The Ghosts of Glencoe she draws an almost unbearably vivid setting for the massacre of 1692—a brutal tale told in a forth-right way. The Campbell's attack on the Macdonalds was for revenge, wrap it up in what political arguments they would; this is her interpretation of the facts, and she has gone back to contemporary documents, army papers among them, for support…. [Ensign Robert] Stewart is one of the heroes of the book and the very pivot of the plot: the old chief of the Glencoe Macdonalds dominates by his personality: but it is not fanciful, nor need it diminish the power of this excellent writer, to say that the spirit of old Scotland...

(The entire section is 141 words.)

The Junior Bookshelf

Despite its inept title, [The Ghosts of Glencoe] is an excellent book, one of the best accounts of the famous massacre. Perhaps being a Scot without being a Campbell or a Macdonald gives the authoress insight without bias. Certainly she manages to convey the character of both Highlander and the Highlands very vividly. She also succeeds in the difficult exercise of presenting a piece of history as a novel that is convincing as a novel without distorting the facts.

"For Children from Ten to Fourteen: 'The Ghosts of Glencoe'," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 31, No. 2, April, 1967, p. 123.

(The entire section is 97 words.)

The Times Literary Supplement

Mollie Hunter, in The Ghosts of Glencoe, gives fictional treatment to an historical event, and one of which every detail has already been closely studied. It would be exceedingly difficult to write an imaginative novel about Glencoe, and Miss Hunter has been content to let the tragedy speak for itself. She has chosen the device of an eye-witness who is not too strong a character to get in the way of the action, although in her concern to rescue him from the effects of his involvement with the Macdonalds she perhaps diverts too much attention from the central tragedy. This is no story for dispassionate treatment, and Miss Hunter rightly declares herself for the Macdonalds without reservation. Her portraits of...

(The entire section is 218 words.)

The Times Literary Supplement

The perils of scoffing at the fairy world are … brought home hard to Thomas the blacksmith [in Thomas and the Warlock]. A story in the true Gaelic manner, this book is more impressive in some startling individual vignettes—there is a wonderful description of Thomas, with the aid of all the village boys and their watering-cans, fixing a hot iron rim to the smouldering wooden wheel of the warlock's carriage—than in its sum. For will children really believe—and does the author want them to—that through Thomas's power over iron and his true love for his wife not only was the sinister warlock Henry Gifford overwhelmed, but also all the witches and wizards in the whole of Scotland?


(The entire section is 144 words.)

Kirkus Service

[A Pistol in Greenyards is a] tale within a tale: the first an evocation of an 1854 estate eviction (Highland Scots), the second a frame for writing the experiences…. The duplicity of landlords, the cruelty of the law and its enforcers, the vitality of those who must defend a way of life—all enfolds in scene after scene of dramatic confrontation, and it is no mean achievement that the use of a gun for self-defense and protection of family is understood but discouraged. Whether a fifteen-year-old youngster in those circumstances could be so articulate (and literate) with only six months separating him from the events matters little; what emerges is a vivid recounting strengthened by personal reflection and...

(The entire section is 138 words.)

Edward Fenton

The point of view [of A Pistol in Greenyards] is noble and humanitarian. Unfortunately, the style is so pedestrian, the dialogue so stilted and the characters so black-and-white that the story, which would be magnificent were it written with the subtle understanding of a Rebecca Caudill, ends up as melodrama.

Edward Fenton, "Children's Book World: 'A Pistol in Greenyards'," in Book World—Chicago Tribune (© 1968 Postrib Corp.; reprinted by permission of Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post), June 2, 1968, p. 20.

(The entire section is 78 words.)

Diane G. Stavn

[The Ferlie is an] overly long but nevertheless intriguing fantasy with authentic characters, setting and dialect…. The old question of the desirability of perfection is handled freshly here, and the story is sufficiently rooted in everyday happenings and concrete detail to hold the attention of young readers.

Diane G. Stavn, "Grades 3-6: 'The Ferlie'," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the December, 1968 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1968), Vol. 15, No. 4, December, 1968, p. 45.

(The entire section is 86 words.)

The Times Literary Supplement

The detail [in The Ferlie] is right, both human and traditional. The narrative moves in the proper traditional way. But ultimately the story lacks in the telling that proper grace and flow which a fairy tale really needs to make its full effect.

"Ordinary and Extraordinary Powers," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1968; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3,484, December 5, 1968, p. 1376.∗

(The entire section is 67 words.)

John Signoriello

[In The Lothian Run, sixteen]-year-old Sandy Maxwell, a bored and restless apprentice in a law office in Edinburgh, Scotland in the early 18th Century, is afforded an opportunity to escape the stifling confines of his employer's deed room when he is asked to help a customs agent track down a smuggler who managed to escape from captivity just seconds before he was scheduled to be hanged…. Lush with an abundance of gun-battles, escapes, murders and near-murders, this fast-paced story gathers momentum like a freight train and hurls readers into a climax involving no less than a full-scale riot in the streets of Edinburgh. The author's prose is consistently excellent, her characterizations vivid, and her...

(The entire section is 168 words.)

Zena Sutherland

[The Lothian Run is a] romantic adventure story with an element of mystery and some meaty historical background. Few writers today are more skilled in this genre than is Mollie Hunter…. [The] story moves suspensefully through a series of intricate and dangerous adventures and counterploys. Gilmour is a glamorous Pimpernel, Sandy a diamond in the rough, and the villains are absolutely heinous…. [A] rousing tale. (pp. 69-70)

Zena Sutherland, "Children's Books for Spring: 'The Lothian Run'," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1970 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. LIII, No. 19, May 9, 1970, pp. 69-70.


(The entire section is 95 words.)

Kirkus Reviews

[The Walking Stones is a very light fantastic, deftly tripped story that seems to tell itself, to unfold] with no more of a prod than the turn of a page and the surest of elements. There's the old man by the Gaelic name of the Bodach who foresees the bringing of forest, lightning, and death to the glen by three men of the same name; his vision translates into hydroelectric power—first damming, then controlled flooding, then reforestation…. Donald Campbell [is] the Bodach's young friend and protege, awed by the old man's promise to forestall the flooding … and wondering why. But the how is a marvel: a wild now-you-see-don't dodge and chase with the Bodach positioning himself at the floodgates eluding...

(The entire section is 321 words.)

The Times Literary Supplement

It takes a remarkable writer to push Mollie Hunter into second place. Here is that rarest of beings, the born story-teller…. The Bodach [British title of The Walking Stones] is a tale of the Highlands and could not belong anywhere else. Mollie Hunter paints a loving picture of her ancient hero, a "type" painting rather than a portrait, for the Bodach is a repository of traditional wisdom rather than a person…. The author sees no incongruity in the mingling of modern technology and ancient sorceries; nor does the reader, captive as he is to the power of her narrative. It is a charming and approachable story….

"Modern Magic and Ancient Sorcery," in The...

(The entire section is 131 words.)

Jane Yolen

Subtitled "a novel of suspense," The Walking Stones is not really a mystery tale. Rather, in a deeper sense, this story of the flooding of a Highland glen by the electric company is about a mystery—the deep mystery of Celtic magic….

Unreal? Not in Mollie Hunter's crisply told tale. Readers, fantasy and fact lovers alike, will be caught up in the reality of unreality. As the Bodach says, "Magic is … something that happens when everything is right for it to happen." And in The Walking Stones the time, the prose, and the story are just right.

Jane Yolen, "Magic and Mystery: 'The Walking Stones'," in Book World—The Washington Post...

(The entire section is 125 words.)

The Junior Bookshelf

The author has a strong feeling for fantasy and an ability for setting the atmosphere for magic and uncanny happenings. In all her books there is only a narrow frontier between the world of the supernatural and the everyday….

The conflict between old and modern beliefs and values [in The Bodach] makes an absorbing story with an eerie atmosphere. The Bodach's mysterious powers will be accepted without question by most young readers because of the author's skill and ability to tell a story.

"For Children from Ten to Fourteen: 'The Bodach'," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 35, No. 1, February, 1971, p. 62.

(The entire section is 99 words.)

Gordon Parsons

It is only the high standard that Mollie Hunter's earlier novels has established that makes one express an edge of disappointment over her latest [The Lothian Run]. The author's native Scotland provides a setting for a fast-moving story … which, from many other pens, would be accepted with enthusiasm. The relatively thin characterization and mechanical manipulation of plot, however, both ring strangely from this writer. (p. 260)

Gordon Parsons, "Book Reviews: 'The Lothian Run'," in The School Librarian, Vol. 19, No. 3, September, 1971, pp. 260-61.

(The entire section is 81 words.)

Sheryl B. Andrews

Combining in [The 13th Member: A Story of Suspense] the feeling for history found in The Lothian Run … with the proven ability—as in The Kelpie's Pearls …—to create an atmosphere of the supernatural, the author has realized a new dimension in her storytelling. Witchcraft and a plot to destroy James the Sixth … mingle with the dawning romantic awareness of two young people to form a tale of intrigue and passion…. The writing is vivid—almost too realistic in certain of the "examination" scenes—while the personalities and motivations of the characters, both fictional and historical, ring true. The relationship between James and [the Earl of] Bothwell is particularly well drawn…. A...

(The entire section is 167 words.)

The Times Literary Supplement

The consummate ease with which the background of this unusual and powerful historical novel [The Thirteenth Member] is set masks the author's careful research into Scotland in the 1590s and the matter and manner of witchcraft. The characters are compelling. Adam, orphaned by a cruel law and now charity boy-of-all-work to Baillie Seton, is bitter towards the world until he unwillingly learns compassion for Gillie, the frail kitchen-maid who will never stand up for herself or resist circumstances. A born healer, Gillie was vowed as a baby by her mother to witchcraft, which she hates, yet is terrified of death if she betrays the coven.

The alchemist-recluse who has taught Adam book-learning is...

(The entire section is 280 words.)

Robert Nye

In Wales, you have the Tylwyth Teg, a strange and beautiful supernatural race, unfortunately much given to the stealing of children. In Scotland, a similar reputation attaches to what they call the Sidhe (pronounced "shee")….

Mollie Hunter's "The Haunted Mountain" takes the Sidhe very seriously, as you would expect of an author who makes her home in a remote Highland cottage. The story is a powerful synthesis of legend and actuality. MacAllister, a young farmer living in the shadow of Ben MacDui (a haunted mountain) disobeys the taboo that leaves a field of every farm be unworked in case the Sidhe want it. He is stubborn and ambitious, driven partly by his love for his Peigi-Ann and partly by a...

(The entire section is 327 words.)

The Times Literary Supplement

The Haunted Mountain does not simply retell an old story, but reworks within the framework of a novel the story of Tam Lane, the man stolen by the fairies and released after seven years' bondage by the enduring power of human love. In constructing her framework Mollie Hunter uses many other familiar incidents and motifs from the fairy world…. The deft handling of plot, and the speed and fluency of the narrative, make this an easy read, but in its own fairly slight way it says some important things. About courage and suffering and something too about the dignity and responsibility of being only human?

"Celtic Revivals," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times...

(The entire section is 127 words.)

Eleanor Cameron

Mollie Hunter's two best books, to my way of thinking, are her second fantasy, "The Kelpie's Pearls," and this, her first novel of realism, "A Sound of Chariots." What these two have in common is style, a fine fierce ability to share emotion. In "Chariots," I find an increase in Miss Hunter's ability to go directly to the heart of a scene, to wring from it the final drop of meaning. I find an even more skillful interweaving of sights, sounds and feelings as these would be experienced by a child during a moment that will change that child's life forever.

There is a power at work in "Chariots" that I haven't met in Mollie Hunter's fantasies. And I cannot help but ask myself if this clarity of vision,...

(The entire section is 209 words.)

Lillian N. Gerhardt

The Child Study Association just gave [A Sound of Chariots] its annual award, but it is difficult to understand why: the pace is infinitesimally slow, the main character is a reactor rather than an initiator, the other characters pallid…. Bridie is described as on her way to becoming a writer, a form of creative introversion that lends no energy to this lifeless fiction.

Lillian N. Gerhardt, "Junior High Up: 'A Sound of Chariots'," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the May, 1973 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1973), Vol. 19, No. 9, May, 1973, p....

(The entire section is 105 words.)

The Times Literary Supplement

Only a poet dares try to convey to the more earthbound of us the emotion he experiences when he sees a rainbow in the sky. A scientist, by reference to refraction, can explain all; but with the explanation the great mystery of artistic experience evaporates like a coastal haze.

Mollie Hunter is a poet, with a strong streak of the scientist in her, a streak which she handles with granite firmness while she uses it to explore the very nature of poetic imagination in her new novel, A Sound of Chariots….

A Sound of Chariots is a tough yet tender, humorous yet tragic, sometimes horrific yet always gentle and compassionate autobiographical (surely?) novel….


(The entire section is 280 words.)

Jill Paton Walsh

There is a vast gulf, often remarked upon, between the childhoods of actual children, liable like all the rest of us to the fell grip of circumstance, to poverty, accident and death, and the image of childhood in children's books. Mollie Hunter's [A Sound of Chariots] tackles this gap head on by simply crossing it…. (p. 144)

This is a gripping book, though it has no plot to speak of, and whether it is or not, it reads like an autobiography rather than a 'story'. It has the sharp immediacy, the deep feeling of well-written autobiography. It will surely touch, grieve and interest adolescent readers, as it has your reviewer, but it is hardly a book for the younger child. Oddly, it takes a...

(The entire section is 162 words.)

The Junior Bookshelf

[The reference to Andrew Marvell's poem "To His Coy Mistress" in the title of A Sound of Chariots] is apt, for two reasons. First, the themes of Marvell's poem run through the novel—joy in the body, the struggle involved in close relationships, the need for poetry and exaggeration, the inevitability of death and separation, all within a secure moral context. Second, the book is truly a part of the ongoing tradition of English Literature….

The depths of grief and frustration are looked at head-on, without sentimentality, as well as achievement and joy. Mollie Hunter has told her story superbly, with power and grace.

"For Children from Ten to Fourteen:...

(The entire section is 122 words.)

Susan Cooper

Mollie Hunter's "The Stronghold" takes an enormous leap back in time….

The force of Druidical magic and the mercilessness of tribal ritual, are effectively shown without sadistic over-emphasis on detail. And the story of Coll's generation coming of age entwines neatly with the building of the first broch, and the rejection of an ambitious traitor. This … is a good book: well-written, original and convincing.

Susan Cooper, "Strains of Mark Twain," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1974 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), May 1, 1974, p. F5.∗...

(The entire section is 94 words.)

Eleanor Cameron

[With "The Stronghold"] Mollie Hunter has given us a tumultuous yet clearly conceived and tautly constructed novel, narrated in one evoking scene after another in which there are always the swift, telling touches of detail regarding a movement, an expression, a change of mood, the precise shading of colors, the precise timbres of sounds. Too often in historical novels any lasting impression of individual characters is lost in the welter of events. But Coll, the girl Fand …, the fanatic Domnall, the traitor Taran, old Nectan and his wife Anu …, all are given tremendous vitality through the artistry of Mrs. Hunter's telling. An outstanding historical re-creation. (p. 10)


(The entire section is 131 words.)

Margery Fisher

The Pictish broch, in spite of its likeness to the great Mycenean beehive tombs, is unique in its extraordinarily simple and effective defence-plan, and local enough to justify Mollie Hunter's attribution in The Stronghold…. In a long, entirely circumstantial novel, the author justifies her belief that the stone-built defensive tower "must … have been an idea before it was a fact; an idea springing from one single brilliant mind"; and in showing how Coll plans his tower, collects materials, stands firm against the opposition of the conservative Druids, she shows us also, most plausibly, what tensions and relationships must have existed in a world where superstition constituted as great a danger as the...

(The entire section is 170 words.)

David Churchill

The brutal eviction of the tenant farmers of Greenyards, a valley in the Scottish Highlands, provides the core of this entirely absorbing novel [A Pistol in Greenyards]. The sufferings of the people are told through the eyes and experiences of one boy, who dares to draw a pistol in defence of his family, when the Sheriff-Officer comes to dispossess them so that the land can be sold for sheep grazing….

The valley community is warmly evoked and the acts of simple heroism and affection are as effectively conveyed as the dreadful attack on the women and children which the Sheriff's men carry out. In all respects this is an outstanding book and must be strongly recommended….


(The entire section is 133 words.)

Mollie Hunter

[It was] at the insistence of my two young sons that I wrote my first children's book, they being much charmed with two short stories I had written for them in a style which was then new to me.

There was an old, old device, however, at the heart of this style; the device on which I have since hung all the books my publishers call fantasies, and which I have borrowed from Celtic folk-lore.

A voice is implied, and as in folk-lore, the voice sounds as if recounting a familiar and accepted tale in which fact is seamlessly integrated with fancy. The modern story-teller, however, does not have an audience conditioned to accept and believe in all those incidents of the supernatural which...

(The entire section is 3350 words.)

Robert Bell

Mollie Hunter has already written successful junior novels set in the Orkneys and Shetlands. This latest one [A Stranger Came Ashore] is a product of her study of the Shetland lore and legend concerning the Selkie Folk, who are the seals that live in the waters round the islands….

The author adapts her style in a remarkably effective way to convey the tension of the story and the impact of its climax. The language is direct, commanding and evocative, and she has a quite outstanding gift for conveying atmosphere. The book will certainly be voted a winner.

Robert Bell, "Eleven to Fifteen: 'A Stranger Came Ashore'," in The School Librarian, Vol....

(The entire section is 114 words.)

The Junior Bookshelf

[A Stranger Came Ashore] is not quite the work expected of a Carnegie winner, but it would make a lesser reputation. The hero is not young Robbie Henderson, who does some brave deeds, but Shetland. The scenery and the culture of the land, and the music of the surrounding sea, pervade the story, bringing an originality of colour to a rather conventional theme…. The writer sets the drama of the narrative effectively against the homeliness and simplicity of the island and its inhabitants, drawing the readers by degrees into a feeling of involvement in the beautifully primitive society. As an example of controlled development it could scarcely be bettered.

"'A Stranger Came...

(The entire section is 121 words.)

Kirkus Reviews

[Talent Is Not Enough consists of five] essays based on a 1975 series of lectures in America and ranging from the moral obligations of a writer for children to the opportunities for language enrichment afforded a Scottish writer with access to English, Gaelic, and Doric dialects. Admirers of Hunter's fiction will be impressed by the depth of her research and by her thoughts on the sources of fairy lore; would-be practitioners of the junior fantasy or historical novel would do well to consider her technical analyses of these genres; and her thoughtful remarks on what is suitable and unsuitable in children's literature (she draws a tentative line between the normal and the aberrant)—though retaining some of the...

(The entire section is 162 words.)

Mary M. Burns

[Talent Is Not Enough: Mollie Hunter on Writing for Children] emerges as a major study of the writer's craft, concerned with but certainly not limited to the art of writing for children. All too frequently, such books fall into one of two categories: the conventional "how-to" guide with emphasis on practicalities or a semi-autobiographical apologia for the writer's own productions. Rarely do such accounts, however interesting, transcend immediate concerns and deserve commendation as statements of sound critical principles. The publication of Mollie Hunter's observations and commentaries is one of these rare events. As a writer of fantasy, realistic novels, and historical fiction, she has the disciplined...

(The entire section is 194 words.)

Paul Heins

Mollie Hunter is best known for her historical narratives and fantasies for young people, but her present essays [collected in Talent Is Not Enough: Mollie Hunter on Writing for Children], originally delivered as lectures, pertain to the writing of any work of fiction, juvenile or adult. This gifted practitioner of the art of writing children's books assumes that there are natural and necessary connections linking the various areas of all good writing. She traces the filaments binding folklore to storytelling, storytelling to the experiences of an author, and an author's experiences to the sudden apprehensions often kindled by words in both writers and children.

In A Sound of Chariots,...

(The entire section is 375 words.)

Peter Hollindale

Mollie Hunter is by general consent Scotland's most distinguished modern children's writer…. [She] is read with pleasure not only in her own country or by the offspring of expatriate Scots, but by legions of young children whose prior knowledge of Celtic legend is nonexistent, and by older readers whose acquaintance with Scots history is at best rudimentary. (p. 109)

The fact is that one cannot talk about Mollie Hunter without talking about Scotland. If one finds her work parochial, one finds Scotland parochial. If one is surprised by the international interest shown in her work (given, of course, that it has the major intrinsic qualities that I for one believe it has) one is surprised that...

(The entire section is 3471 words.)

Gordon Parsons

The Ghosts of Glencoe embodies most of the strengths that we associate with writing for children of a more confident day—pace, sustained excitement, clearly defined characters and a happy ending which is in no way marred by the moral questions raised by the subject, even though that subject may be the treachery and the gratuitous and bestial violence of the massacre of Glencoe.

Gordon Parsons, "Eleven to Fifteen: 'The Ghosts of Glencoe'," in The School Librarian, Vol. 25, No. 4, December, 1977, p. 353.

(The entire section is 81 words.)

Norman Culpan

[In The Wicked One action] is fast, events are credible and consistent given the magical premises, and a dry humour unobtrusively pervades the whole…. Tone and style I found most attractive: apparently casual but always economical; simple but neither patronising nor banal; sympathetic but never sentimental: a good story.

Norman Culpan, "Seven to Eleven: 'The Wicked One'," in The School Librarian, Vol. 26, No. 2, June 1978, p. 42.

(The entire section is 65 words.)

Stanley Cook

It was providence that the book of Mollie Hunter's I read last was A Sound of Chariots. It is the author's answer to the questions that build up in covering the range of her works. She is a most compelling storyteller, yet sometimes one senses she is having a butterfly's troubles with its chrysalis in her use of the formulas of children's fiction. A Sound of Chariots is an emotional autobiography apparently and an apologia….

The movement of Mollie Hunter's work is from the historical to the supernatural, to an Old Testament position where natural and supernatural rub shoulders in daily life…. The position is given in terms of the 'old religion' that Christianity superseded, but its...

(The entire section is 952 words.)


A certain simplicity of explanation, an occasional withholding of details—what the heroine's father died of, for instance—identify [A Sound of Chariots] as a work for children. And Mollie Hunter is, of course, an accomplished writer of children's books…. [Her books] are heavily plotted and detailed, with a clear, unobtrusive style and a sure sense of storytelling. But A Sound of Chariots is a remarkable departure. It seems clearly to be her own story, and while she sustains the narrative at a level comprehensible to children, the writing is dense with lush language and startling, impressionistic passages of discovery and meditation. What's more … she writes a story that traces the gradual...

(The entire section is 499 words.)

Janet Hickman

Certainly it is hard to imagine how one could bring more of self to writing than [Mollie Hunter] does. Cultural heritage, life circumstances, love of language, passionate convictions—all the influences on the storyteller are in the stories. (p. 302)

If you cannot visit Scotland for yourself, Mollie Hunter's books are an agreeable substitute…. All of her writing demonstrates her deep feeling for the land where she was born….

The settings of her books are not just faithfully represented, they are evoked….

It is not only the author's ability to call up the sights of her country that makes Scotland so memorable in her books. She has long been interested in its...

(The entire section is 494 words.)

Chuck Schacht

The usually reliable [Mollier Hunter's] latest [The Third Eye] can best be compared to haggis, a uniquely Scottish dish made primarily from sheep organs; it may be appreciated in its native land, but is unlikely to appeal to the appetites of young readers on this side of the ocean. What plot there is revolves around young Jinty Morrison, the youngest of three daughters in a poor but proud Scottish family during the Depression. Her Third Eye (psychic sensitivity) makes her especially aware of the troubles of people around her…. The tale is told as a series of flashbacks by Jinty, but precious little of interest occurs to her throughout and the various plot threads are neither well integrated nor...

(The entire section is 174 words.)

The Junior Bookshelf

What a fine writer Mollie Hunter is! One might think that, with her preoccupation with the Scottish scene, her stories might slip into monotony, but not a bit; she is most resourceful in finding new themes, springing naturally from the conflicts generated between people and their environment.

The Third Eye is largely about a place, Ballinford in West Lothian…. The action is seen through the eyes of Jinty Morrison, youngest of three girls, not the brightest but the most sensitive. Jinty is fey. Her love for her mother is mixed liberally with fear, and Mistress Morrison is certainly a difficult woman, and one with a past. I guessed the secret which made her so horrible to live with quite early...

(The entire section is 300 words.)

Margaret Meek

The grainy texture of the narrative and the evocation of doom (in the sense of judgement) are excellently done [in The Third Eye].

The action takes place in 1932 when Jinty is made to recall a series of events leading to the death of the earl, in whose hands lies the fate of his retainers…. Despite the author's skill in keeping the resolution of the puzzle right to the end, the way in which Jinty unravels the threads of her awareness is too predictable, too circumstantial. In short scenes, mother and daughter encounters, the book has power, but the fatal spell cast by the rich and authoritative detracts from the real heart of the matter, the simpler but more convincing annals of the poor....

(The entire section is 139 words.)

Margery Fisher

The Third Eye [is] an extraordinarily vivid and impressive study of a family and a community in a Scottish town in the 1930's. Attention is held from that first sentence right up to the end of the book, by which time we have learned why Jinty had to be questioned and how her answers contributed to the explanation of a tragedy which affected the whole of Ballinford, the presumed suicide of the Earl. I said 'we have learned' but I think 'discovered' would be a truer word, for Mollie Hunter works out her plot so expertly and directs her narrative so firmly that we are drawn completely into the book, getting to know the characters in the slow, partial manner of real life. This is a book for an active and...

(The entire section is 226 words.)