The story is set in Australia, on a five-thousand-acre sheep ranch called Wongadilla. Because people's relationship to the environment is a major theme of the story, the setting is very important. Wongadilla contains a river, creeks, a swamp, forests, and part of a mountain range. It is wild, isolated, and beautiful. Simon, who grew up in a city, is at first alarmed by this new environment. When Charlie Waters, owner of Wongadilla and Simon's distant cousin, says, "It'll be yours some day if you want it," Simon is terrified. He later learns that perhaps no one ever really owns the land, but that we are permitted to be guardians of it for a time. Simon's acceptance of responsibility for looking after Wongadilla is part of his recovery of the idea of home. He had thought home was lost forever with the deaths of his parents.
Wrightson is noted for her excellent prose style. Her diction is simple but effective; it is clear, concise, and exact. She uses many striking images: the wind "drew the fire up the chimney like a corkscrew;" the silence of the mountaintop is "a great quiet, like a roomful of giants thinking;" "the sky was sugared with stars;" "dripping water rang its silver gongs." The rhythm of her language is appropriate to what is being described, and there is variety in her sentence length. Simple declarative sentences are mixed in and balanced with compound and complex sentences. Modes of speech are suitable to the characters talking. The nature spirits speak in a formal, rather archaic mode; they use numerous images, rhetorical questions, and inverted sentences. The Potkoorok says, "Does stone grow? When the wind rubs over it and the rain beats it and the frost squeezes it, does a stone grow bigger? The small Nargun will grow smaller. Watch your toes, Frog Boy or one day they may be bitten." Edie and Charlie both speak colloquially and in clipped sentences: "Just a bit of a storm, it won't last;" "Should be near here;" and "Potkoorok scare you?"
Wrightson uses a variety of incident to create tension and suspense in the plot. For instance, the night that Simon goes out after the storm, he experiences tremendous elation when he sees the Turongs and Potkoorok hiding the road grader. He wants to dance and yell with joy and excitement. But on his way back to the house he encounters the Nargun. He experiences soul-wrenching terror as he waits in the darkness to learn what it is, and then flees in panic. Similarly, Wrightson uses the benign and entertaining mischief of the Potkoorok to counterpoint the serious business of dealing with the Nargun.
(The entire section is 1,138 words.)