‘Why can’t our job here on earth be simply to inspire each other?’
so said the wonderful Graham Joyce, who has died at the age of only 59.
When there’s so much lightweight and downright trashy fantasy around, it diminishes his achievement to label Joyce as a fantasy writer. His works inhabit the real world in all its banality and ugliness even as they allow fantasy to penetrate its borders. And he understands very clearly that fantasy offers no escape. In his hands, it forces us to look unflinchingly at ourselves, as Fern, the narrator of The Limits of Enchantment,* has to do.
Against the age-old folk wisdom of the healer Mammy – who may actually be a witch, we never really know – are ranged the forces of the NHS, determined to wipe out her practices. Her daughter, Fern, takes the full force of the confrontation. And it isn’t a case of traditional wisdom good, modern bureaucracy bad. Mammy’s practices may do harm, and even when they work, is it only by the power of suggestion? Can the state turn a blind eye to people like Mammy? But what is lost when everything can be codified and regulated and there’s no room for what we can’t explain?
*The Limits of Enchantment (Washington Square Press 2005).