William Mayne Margaret Meek - Essay

Margaret Meek

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The pace of the plot of William Mayne's latest tour de force [The Battlefield] is slow and measured, country style…. The climax is conceivable only because by the time it comes the girls have woven themselves into the readers' consciousness by the quaint acuteness of their speech, their 'cleverness' in the northern sense. The author exploits the way they experiment with language before reality encroaches on metaphor. The result is an exploration in depth of sense experience, almost Keatsian in its richness, laced with good humour and memorable characters. I smell that shepherd yet. (p. 111)

Margaret Meek, in The School Librarian and School Library Review, March, 1968.

The plot of The Battlefield is slight: two children with the help of a local tractor-driver unearth an old cannon and spend a night in a tower which is transplanted from the battlefield to the village green. The characteristic touch of Mayne magic is there: how else could a solid stone building move?

A look at the quality of the writing itself, however, confirms once again the reason for Mayne's impressive achievements. Characters are illuminated in a phrase; an adjective brings a noun sharply to life; a verb propels action into conviction—"the saw complained"; "a newly cleaned tooth felt smooth and cool and wideawake"; "Bullocks are great elbow-tasters".

Perhaps the weak jokes of Lesley and Debby will please children more than they will sophisticated adults. But any astute reader, young or old, will recognise the fidelity of Mayne's picture of the Yorkshire village where the story is set and of the local folk who live there: inn-keeper, farmer, stone mason, shepherd.

The subtle, quiet handling of suspense through the story will not be apparent except to the most perceptive young reader and one is left with a feeling that only boys and girls as bright as Debby and Lesley are likely to appreciate the richness of this accomplished book. (p. 117)

The Junior Bookshelf, April, 1968.