Peter Dickinson 1927-
(Also known as Peter Malcolm Dickinson, Malcolm de Brissac, Peter Malcolm de Brissac Dickinson) Zambian-born English novelist and author of young adult short stories, novels, and picture books.
The following entry presents an overview of Dickinson's career through 2004. For further information on his life and career, see CLR, Volume 29.
Combining elements of anthropology, history, and adventure, Dickinson's juvenile narratives weave together a variety of wildly disparate elements into engaging, thought-provoking texts for young readers. A two-time Carnegie Medal winner for Tulku (1979), a story set in Tibet during the Boxer Rebellion, and his collection of Biblical stories, City of Gold (1980), as well as a two-time winner of the Whitbread Award, Dickinson is known for placing his young protagonists into complex moral situations, which they are forced to navigate despite their youth and presumed immaturity. Perhaps best known for his 1988 science fiction novel Eva, Dickinson routinely utilizes a narrative framing device that Janice Del Negro has termed "fairy tale anthropology," in which the author creates imaginative alternate universes that both reflect mankind's past and speculate on its future. Dickinson has also authored a long-running series of mysteries for adults, although his literary reputation is principally founded on his diverse children's canon, a collection that placed him on the shortlist for the position of the first British children's laureate in 1999.
Born on December 16, 1927, in Livingstone, Northern Rhodesia (now called Zambia), Dickinson spent the first few years of his life in Africa, occasionally summering at his grandfather's ostrich farm in South Africa. In 1935, his father, Richard Sebastian Willoughby Dickinson, a colonial civil servant, moved the family to Glouchestershire, England, to allow Peter and his brothers, Richard and Hugh, to be educated in their native country. However, shortly after their arrival, Dickinson's father passed away, leaving the children in the care of their mother May. Within a few years, Dickinson earned a scholarship to the prestigious Eton School, graduating in 1946. Dickinson then served in the British Army, working as a district signals officer in Northern Ireland. After leaving the service in 1948, he was admitted to King's College at Cambridge University, where he graduated with a B.A. in English Literature. At the suggestion of a professor, Dickinson applied for a position as an assistant editor with the British humor magazine, Punch. A year after accepting the position, he married artist Mary Rose Bernard, with whom he had four children, Philippa, Dorothy, John, and James. In 1969 Dickinson left Punch after seventeen years to dedicate himself to writing full-time. Armed with a passion for mystery novels and a varied knowledge of history and anthropology, Dickinson published his first novel, Skin Deep, in 1968. The first of six novels in his Inspector James Pibble series, Skin Deep relates the investigations of an unglamorous, self-effacing detective with Scotland Yard, who is called upon to solve the murder of a leader of a tribe of Aborigines translocated to London. The story, although fully targeted towards an adult readership, resonates with aspects of Dickinson's trademark sociological and anthropological concerns that would later be manifest throughout his children's canon. Later that same year, Dickinson published his first book for children, The Weathermonger, the initial volume in his Changes trilogy. The Weathermonger also marked his first foray into alternate universes, exploring the theological questions of a world, presumably a vision of an alternate England, where technology has been banned with an almost religious fervor. In 1980 Dickinson became the first two-time recipient of the Carnegie Medal, which annually honors the best English-language children's book, winning back-to-back awards for Tulku and City of Gold. Alternately, his two wins for the Whitbread National Book Award came a decade apart for Tulku and AK (1990). After Dickinson's wife Mary passed away in 1988, he married American children's book author Robin McKin- ley in 1992, with whom he collaborated on a collection of short stories titled Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits (2002).
Dickinson's young adult novels and short stories feature a mélange of disparate elements—including anthropological theories, Tibetan lamaistic Buddhism, and African child soldiers—forged together in examination of broad issues of cultural socialization, disability, and the future of mankind. His novels often employ alternate or future variations of our universe, which he uses to create conjectural projections of troubling issues facing modern society. Perhaps his most famous novel, Eva, deals with a hypothetical future where all species of animals have become extinct, except for chimpanzees who have gained a level of celebrity in the face of their scarcity. Concerned with such immense issues as the self-destruction of mankind and the ethics of animal experimentation, the story nonetheless maintains a strong appeal to juvenile readers through its protagonist's search for adolescent identity and self-determination. Eva Adamson, the sole daughter of a monkey researcher, lives in a dark, polluted city of a half-billion people. The natural world has been effectively destroyed, except for a few tiny pockets of wilderness, and a sense of somber malaise seems to hang over society. A child of about twelve, Eva is the victim of a gruesome car accident that spares her parents but leaves her body shattered. To save her, Eva's desperate father enlists the aid of a scientist experimenting with mind neuron transference, and Eva wakes to find that she now inhabits the body of one of her father's chimps, a female monkey named Kelly who had once been Eva's playmate. Unable to speak except through a computer, the story charts Eva's attempts to adjust to her new reality even as she enters her own adolescence. Allusions to the Biblical Eve are seemingly unavoidable, particularly given Eva's role as the spiritual mother to a new monkey population that has been transferred to a tropical island where, Dickinson hints, they may be the inheritors of the planet after the inevitable failure of the world's human population.
In Eva and throughout his juvenile canon, Dickinson has experimented with the concept of nation-building, where he introduces readers to the society and mythology of alternate worlds to better illuminate aspects of our own reality. In A Bone from a Dry Sea (1992), Dickinson offers a parallel tale of two girls, the prehistoric African girl Li and the contemporary British child Vinny, separated by the scope of potentially thousands of years. Vinny is on an archaeological dig with her estranged father in present-day Africa on the site where Li's tribe of so-called "sea-apes" once lived centuries before. As the reader witnesses Vinny's attempts to rebuild her relationship with her father, Li—who shows greater potential for higher thinking than most of her people—struggles to lead her ravaged tribe inland after a devastating natural disaster. Eventually, after a series of alternating chapters, Vinny finds a necklace that belonged to Li and realizes she has the potential to completely alter anthropological theory with her discovery. Similarly, Dickinson's "Kin" series of young adult novels—beginning with Noli's Story (1998)—recounts the attempts of prehistoric children to establish their own society after being separated from their tribe. The Ropemaker (2001), though set in an alternate reality, further demonstrates aspects of society-building with its tale of two children's journey through a dangerous and magical empire. Beyond Dickinson's propensity for stories detailing the clash of cultures and societal evolution, he also shows a striking propensity for the disadvantaged child. Throughout his books, he features a variety of child protagonists with varying aptitudes and circumstances. For example, the hero of Annerton Pit (1977) is blind, but he still manages to play a vital role in saving his grandfather from the grip of overzealous environmental terrorists. In Heartsease (1969), narrator Margaret's brother Tim is mentally challenged, but together they are able to save a fugitive from the anti-technology mob that wants to destroy him. Many of Dickinson's characters also come from difficult personal backgrounds; the young protagonist of AK must fight for his life as a child soldier in the midst of an African revolution, and the narrators of both Tulku and The Tears of the Salamander (2003) are orphans.
Dickinson has been ranked among the most honored contemporary British children's authors, having been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal nine times and winning the award twice. Reviewers have commended his skillful prose and perceptive insight into the minds of his young readers, even though his narratives often utilize atypical subject material for children's texts. Judith V. Lechner has described Tulku as "a page-turner that high school students with a taste for the philosophical will especially love, particularly given its elements of danger, the intriguing character of Mrs. Jones, and the fascination of the Tibetan monastery." In reviewing Inside Grandad (2003), the story of a boy, Gavin, whose grandfather—and best friend—has suffered a stroke, Publishers Weekly has noted that the story's "depiction of the silent pain of one who sits bedside in a hospital, hour after hour, with only the most tenuous strands of hope, is heartbreaking." Assessing Dickinson's most recognized work to date, Betty Carter has argued that, "the topics raised in Eva transcend the fleeting concerns of adolescence. Dickinson shows tremendous respect for his readers and their ability to grapple with hard issues that range from euthanasia to the influence of the media. He is as unflinching in his descriptions of the future as he is in Eva's metamorphosis. He gives readers no logical wiggle room in which to build a softer interpretation of this deteriorating society. They can question, challenge, regret, confront, dismiss, or accept it, but they cannot change it. They may, however, consider their own futures."
Juvenile and Young Adult Works
*The Weathermonger (young adult novel) 1968
*Heartsease [illustrations by Robert Hales] (young adult novel) 1969
*The Devil's Children [illustrations by Robert Hales] (young adult novel) 1970
Emma Tupper's Diary [illustrations by David Omar White] (young adult novel) 1971
The Dancing Bear [illustrations by David Smee] (young adult novel) 1972
The Gift [illustrations by Gareth Floyd] (young adult novel) 1973
The Iron Lion [illustrations by Marc Brown] (picture book) 1973; revised edition, illustrations by Pauline Baynes, 1984
Chance, Luck, and Destiny [illustrations by David Smee and Victor Ambrus] (young adult novel) 1975
The Blue Hawk [illustrations by David Smee] (young adult novel) 1976
Annerton Pit (young adult novel) 1977
Hepzibah [illustrations by Sue Porter] (young adult novel) 1978
The Flight of Dragons [illustrations by Wayne Anderson] (young adult novel) 1979
Tulku (young adult novel) 1979
The Seventh Raven (young adult novel) 1981
Healer (young adult novel) 1983
Giant Cold [illustrations by Alan E. Cober] (young adult novel) 1984
A Box of Nothing [illustrations by Ian Newsham] (young adult novel) 1985
Mole Hole (picture book) 1987
Eva (young adult novel) 1988
Merlin Dreams [illustrations by Alan Lee] (young adult short stories) 1988
AK (young adult novel) 1990
A Bone from a Dry Sea (young adult novel) 1992
Time and the Clock Mice, Etcetera [illustrations by Emma Chichester-Clark] (young adult novel) 1993
Chuck and Danielle [illustrations by Kees de Kiefte] (young adult novel) 1994
Shadow of a Hero (young adult novel) 1994
The Lion Tamer's Daughter: And Other Stories (young adult short stories) 1997
The Ropemaker (young adult novel) 2001
Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits [with Robin McKinley] (young adult short stories) 2002
Inside Grandad (young adult novel) 2003; published in the United Kingdom as The Gift Boat
The Tears of the Salamander (young adult novel) 2003
Angel Isle (young adult novel) 2006
"Kin" Series; Young Adult Novels
Noli's Story (young adult novel) 1998
Po's Story (young adult novel) 1998
Suth's Story (young adult novel) 1998
Mana's Story (young adult novel) 1999
†The Kin (young adult novels) 1999
The Glass-Sided Ants' Nest (novel) 1968; published in the United Kingdom as Skin Deep
The Old English Peep Show (novel) 1969; published in the United Kingdom as A Pride of Heroes
The Sinful Stones (novel) 1970; published in the United Kingdom as The Seals
Sleep and His Brother (novel) 1971
The Lizard in the Cup (novel) 1972
The Green Gene (novel) 1973
The Poison Oracle (novel) 1974
The Lively Dead (novel) 1975
King and Joker (novel) 1976
Walking Dead (novel) 1977
One Foot in the Grave (novel) 1979
The Last House-Party [illustrations by Margery Gill] (novel) 1982
Hindsight (novel) 1983
Death of a Unicorn (novel) 1984
Skeleton-in-Waiting (novel) 1989
Play Dead (novel) 1991
The Yellow Room Conspiracy (novel) 1994
Some Deaths before Dying (novel) 1999
*Part of The Changes trilogy.
†Includes Noli's Story, Po's Story, Suth's Story, and Mana's Story.
Peter Dickinson (essay date 1989)
SOURCE: Dickinson, Peter. "The Oral Voices of City of Gold." In The Voice of the Narrator in Children's Literature: Insights from Writers and Critics, edited by Charlotte F. Otten and Gary D. Schmidt, pp. 78-80. New York, N.Y.: Greenwood Press, 1989.
[In the following essay, Dickinson discusses his use of the oral tradition of storytelling for his collection of reinterpreted Biblical stories, City of Gold and Other Stories from the Old Testament.]
When my publisher telephoned and asked me to do a retelling of stories from the Old Testament, I refused with all the emphasis I could muster. She wanted it, she said, to continue a series that had begun with Hans Andersen and Grimm. I told her, first, that there was no way in which the Bible stories could now be retold; and second, that there was no way in which they belonged in that series. I put the phone down. Twenty minutes later I called her and said I would take the job on. I had an idea.
Thinking about it since writing the book I have realized that both of my objections were to do with "voice." All books, even the telephone directory, have voices. When I first responded to my publisher I was assuming that there were only two possible voices in which to tell Bible stories: low style and high style. "Low style" is as-told-to-the-children, bland, simple, homogenized, describing a world in which very clean shepherds look after very white and woolly lambs in a sunny but strangely hazed place called The Holy Land. "High style" doesn't even see that much. It is all sound, words lovingly deployed, language as it was never spoken and was written only for the purpose of translating Homer and retelling Bible stories. In a culture awed by pomp and superior education the high-style voice may have had a semblance of life in it, but that is no longer the case. The low-style voice lives on, just, in its jejune fashion.
My second objection, that the stories do not belong with Andersen and Grimm, was instinctive, but right. I have since realized that it too is a matter of "voice." Fairy stories and folk tales have become almost detached from their origins; they are told in the voice of someone whose primary purpose is to entertain, though they may have other functions. In our culture, despite the rush toward unbelief, we are still historically bound by the feeling that the Bible stories are different. Remote though they too are from their origins, they do not exist in order to entertain. They need to be written or spoken in the voice of someone who is trying to tell you something important, to instruct or persuade or explain.
I can illustrate this at its simplest by the tale of Elisha and the bears (II Kings 2: 23 ff.), which tells how some children mocked the prophet for his baldness, and in response he called a couple of bears from the woods who tore the children to bits. Naturally this episode has worried commentators. It is both nasty and trivial. What on earth is it doing in the tremendous account of the traffickings of the Omnipotent with His people? Even in the Bible the story is already in the wrong voice, especially if read aloud from the King James version, with the parsonic syllables reverberating among gothic arches. But anyone who has had much dealings with children (unlike the commentators) will recognize it at once for what it is—a frightener. So in City of Gold (1979), the voice begins in shrill exasperation: "You're a nasty rude little boy! …" and ends in calmer menace: "so off you go at once to your auntie and tell her you're sorry, before Elisha's bears come and get you!"
Told like that the story may remain nasty and trivial, but it regains its purpose. It has rediscovered its voice. When I told my publisher I had an idea, what I meant was that I had found a voice—or rather, voices.
Most of the Old Testament stories had begun in the oral tradition. There they had had their very varied purposes—explanation of a taboo, precedent for a legal case, reinforcement of a ritual, all the way up from the little matter of teaching children to mind their manners to the great purpose of binding a people together in the unified worship of the One God. By recreating these voices I would (this is crucial) be true to the material, in a way that neither the high style nor the low style can any longer be.
Of course I did not think of what I was doing in such hifalutin' terms. Like any writer, I simply thought "This is an interesting idea—I hope I can make it work." And of course, I could not really recreate the voices. Even suppose I had magically been able to listen in to a ballad singer of the tribe of Dan (if they had ballad singers) telling the story of Delilah, and then had translated it into English, it would not have worked. The references, the cultural assumptions, the modes of story telling, are too remote. All I could do was pretend to recreate the voices. Moreover, for the sake of variety, and to give an impression of the immense stretch of time during which the stories of the Bible came to their final shape, I transposed some of the stories away from their original contexts and purposes. It seems to me both plausible and proper that a father should tell his children the story of the first Passover while they are hiding from the persecution of Antiochus some twelve hundred years later; this story is central to the tradition, and has served the same purposes for another two thousand years. But it is far from plausible that a Babylonian drill sergeant should tell the story of David and Goliath as a preliminary to training his squad in the use of the shield against the sling. It made a change and amused me.
So what I did was not what it might at first sight appear to be—a return from the outworn sophistications of literary storytelling to the pure simplicities of the oral tradition. (The oral tradition is in any case far from simple and has sophistications of its own.) City of Gold is if anything more literary than the traditions I rejected. These are not voices, they are imitations of voices. They have their own literary ancestry—the Browning, for instance, of "My Last Duchess" or of "An Epistle," which is itself incidentally a Bible story, about Lazarus; and the Kipling of Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies. But that is not to say that they are hollow, sham, or false to the material. (I am assuming for the sake of the argument that I did the job well and embodied my idea satisfactorily. Whether that is in fact the case is not for me to say.) It is in such permutations, developments, sloughings of old skins, that literature stays alive and finds fresh voices to speak into the ears of new generations.
Dickinson, Peter. City of Gold. London: Gollancz, 1979.
Peter Dickinson (essay date March-April 1993)
SOURCE: Dickinson, Peter. "Masks." Horn Book Magazine 69, no. 2 (March-April 1993): 160-69.
[In the following essay, Dickinson discusses the importance of fictive "artifice"—that is, the power of imagination and fantasy—in allowing readers to objectively explore thematic issues in novels, citing his own young adult novel Eva as an example.]
The story of Lord George Hell was, I think, told by Max Beerbohm. But for me it is a story in the oral tradition, as told to a group of small boys by a school-teacher of genius, on Sunday evenings after the even smaller boys had gone to bed, and we were allowed to stay up to the almost-adult hour of nine o'clock. Dick Harris was headmaster of my prep school, and on Sunday evenings he would usually read to us, not children's fiction but trash thrillers—Sapper, Dornford Yates, The Saint. He might occasionally stretch our imaginations as far as John Buchan. Sometimes, perhaps because he'd finished a book before the end of term, Dick would tell us a story instead of reading to us. The story of Lord George Hell was one.
George Hell was a rake. He had deliberately broken every commandment, tried every known vice, given full rein to his lusts and fancies, cared for nothing but his own gratification and stimulation. For such a life he had paid his toll. The marks of his excesses were graven deep on his features. You had but to look at his ravaged face to see what kind of man he was. It was the face of embodied evil.
One night George Hell and his current mistress, the astounding and beautiful and passionate Rosabella, went to the theater, and there they saw a dancer new to the London stage, a beautiful young girl who expressed in every movement and every feature the essence of all that George Hell was not—youth, innocence, joy, and hope. George Hell immediately determined to make her his. He sent his card round with a bouquet of flowers and an immense jewel concealed among them. The girl kept the flowers but returned the jewel. She repelled his every advance. He contrived an introduction. He decided that if the girl could not be bought, she could be charmed, so he set out to charm her. He could be very charming indeed if he chose, so they became acquainted.
As he learned more of her, he realized that her appearance was not mere appearance but expressed her inward self—innocence, joy, and kindness—and he became yet more determined to make her his. She loved virtue and hated vice, so he became for the moment virtuous. He went to church. He did innumerable acts of kindness; he forswore drink. He knew there was no question of possessing her out of wedlock, so he did something he had never done before and proposed marriage.
She rejected him. In great distress she told him that she could never love a man with a face like his. He went home, thought about his problem, and in the end he went to an expert maker of masks and explained that he wished him to make the mask of a saint. It must be so fine a work that it might have been the real flesh, and could be worn day and night without discomfort. He paid half his fortune for the mask, and disappeared from the London scene. But the next season there appeared a certain Lord George Heaven, a nobleman of great wealth and of the most astounding virtue, warmth, generosity, and kindness.
It was not only his reputation which caused wonder. It was his appearance. The moment you were in the presence of the man, you felt yourself to be in the presence of sanctity. His face expressed such goodness and benevolence that it was hard to believe it was real. Like Lord George Hell before him, Lord George Heaven paid court to the beautiful dancer, and unlike George Hell, when he proposed, he was accepted. And so they were married.
But who is this mysterious and heavily veiled woman sitting by the aisle as the happy couple come down from the altar? Who but the impetuous and passionate Rosabella? Mad with jealousy, she springs from her place, throws herself on him, and with her terrible long nails she claws the mask from his face. And stands back, so that everyone can see the ruined man beneath. But behold. The face is not the face of Lord George Hell. It is the exact image of the face of true goodness, reflecting the reformed soul within.
No doubt Max Beerbohm told the story better than that. I haven't looked it up, because I didn't want to spoil my memory of Dick Harris telling it to us on Sunday evenings, in wartime, in a great country house in Devon (to which our school had been evacuated to get away from the bombers), with all the windows carefully blacked out, and the lights dim, and thirty or forty small boys sitting enthralled into stillness.
This story, obviously, is about a mask. More than one mask. Masks. If you were going to stage it, then all the actors would need to wear masks throughout—of embodied evil, of embodied goodness. Even before George Hell dons his artificial mask, he would already be wearing a mask. In such a production you would also, I think, use mirrors, whole halls of mirrors, so that if possible the audience would never be quite sure which image they were looking at.
The story is an artifice, and it is about artifice. That's why it works. It says that artifice, however artful, must be recognized as artifice, or it ceases to be art. I have a friend who placed a mirror, cleverly angled, at the bottom of a narrow town garden, so that you seemed to see an urn a long way off at the end of a vista of arches. There were, in fact only two arches, plus some bits of wooden batten around the mirror, making a false perspective. If you didn't know there was a mirror, you would get a pleasant sense of space and distance. If you did, you would still have your space and distance, undiminished, and with it you would have the pleasure of human artifice, which enables you to imagine a distance that is not in fact there. Artifice is a mask, and must be recognized as such before it can do its work.
My novel Eva (Delacorte) is about the adventure of a girl, sometime in the future, who wakes up from a coma she's been in after an accident, to discover that, in order to give her a life of a kind, her mind and personality have been transfixed into the body of a chimpanzee called Kelly. She then through the course of the book finds that she has to come to terms not only with a chimpanzee's body, but also with a chimpanzee's nature, because that is still there. Along the way various themes arise—the destruction of the natural world, overpopulation, the exploitation of animals in medical research.
At first glance, Eva doesn't appear to have much to do with masks. There is, of course, the element of Eva, as it were, wearing Kelly's body, but the whole point of the story is that it is not like my wearing a gorilla suit at a fancy dress party, occasionally making ape noises while holding my glass with a sensitive human hand. In fact I now realize that Eva is much the same story as that of Lord George Hell; her parents and doctors impose an outer shape on her, not realizing that her inner shape will learn to conform to it, an outcome which both stories regard as happy ending, superficially at least—though ambiguously at much deeper levels.
Eva's discovery and acceptance of her new nature is a metaphor, and in that sense a mask, to do with adolescence and the discovery of oneself as an adult. I think this is probably the most successful element in the book.
Anyway, the Lord George Hell story takes us to the question of artifice. I can illustrate what I mean by artifice with two examples from Eva. Both are of fairly technical things that went wrong. One is largely internal to the book. That is to say it can be seen as a fault in the performer behind the mask. The other is largely external; decorative; a failure or blemish in the mask itself.
I wish I'd been able to dream up a different climax from the derring-do I describe on the island to which Eva and her group of chimps are taken, where they escape to freedom and are eventually allowed to settle in peace. Certainly a book of this kind demands an exciting adventure. Any reader, especially a young reader, is going to feel defrauded without it. But I think Eva is a sufficiently ambitious book to demand a different kind of adventure, more intellectual and social, and less purely physical. It should have taken place in the globe-spanning city which the human race inhabits in the book. It should have ended with humans and chimps coming to terms with each other there, finding ways of life for both of them, in the same manner as that in which Eva has come to terms with her own chimp body. This is more than a matter of mere plot—it's something to do with the meaning of the book. The island was a cop-out, but I couldn't think of anything better. I suffered a failure of the imagination at that point. That was a failure on the part of the performer, the wearer of the mask.
I think there was also a blemish in the mask itself. Though it is an apparently far less important matter, I do still brood about this almost invisible flaw in the grain of timber I'd chosen from which to carve my mask. By the time I'd realized its seriousness, it was too late to change. I had the option of discarding the piece and starting over. That's always a hard decision, but I'd already invested a lot of time and creative juice in Eva, so I chose to go on, but in order to do so I found myself at times working across the grain.
Eva grew from unlikely seed. Some time ago I was commissioned to retell the stories of the Old Testament, which I did by relating them to their origins in the oral tradition. More recently, I was asked to try a book on the King Arthur stories, and I made the mistake of believing I should be able to do the same kind of thing—relate the romances as we find them in Chrestien de Troyes and Malory to their presumed origins in Celtic religion and myth. It didn't work, and in the end I did something else. But I finished feeling that I'd let something important escape, something to do with the survival and rebirth of myth in everchanging forms.
So I thought I'd look for a single resonant myth and try to devise a storyline that would allow access to its changing form and unchanging center at different times in history. The story of Eve, the first woman, felt right to me. It's certainly resonant enough, and capable of the right kind of transformations. I thought I'd try somehow to tap in to it at about four stages—that's to say, invent a real Eve, a female somehow at the transitional point between brute and human, who would have certain adventures, and then tap in to her again at some point in the historic past when the story of Genesis was taken for literal truth, and then again in the present when the story is still vivid but the nature of its truth obscure, and then finally in the future, at a point where the story seems to be forgotten but still in fact resonates.
Just as I was beginning to think on these lines, reports started to appear in the press on research on the genetic implications of analysis of modern female mitochondria. This is material which is inherited directly through the female line, with no contribution from the male, and it can be statistically analyzed to show how closely or distantly individual women are related, and hence how long ago two women, or group of women, had a single common female ancestor. Treating all living women as such a group, it turned out that all of them had such a single ancestor a remarkably short time ago, around two hundred thousand years, and that she seems to have lived somewhere in Africa. Naturally enough, the media became excited about this, and equally naturally they called her Eve. Of course, being the media, they'd got it wrong, and so did I.
But I didn't know that at the time. This seemed to be exactly what I wanted, my starting point. My basic idea demanded, I thought, some way in which a single consciousness could move through time. I was worried about how I could make this work. Time travel is an uncomfortable notion. I suspect you can only bring it off if your story is actually about time, and that is the concept you're exploring. As a piece of machinery it would tend to take over other stories where you tried to use it. I didn't want magic; I didn't want physical movement through time; and that left me only some kind of dreaming. Not ordinary sleep-dreaming—that would be unconvincing. Some kind of coma. A girl in a coma, some time in the future, dipping in and out of consciousness—she would be somehow at the end of human time, but in touch with its beginnings.
At this point something in me gave a violent jerk. You know the moment when you are just falling asleep, just starting to dream, and all at once your whole body convulses as though an electric charge had run through it, and you seem to be wide awake for a moment again, and then you slide off into a different dream. It was a moment like that. All the things I'd been thinking of shook and changed, and I knew what I wanted to do. There would be this girl, Eva, in a coma in the future. She would be dying, because the human race was dying. Its death was built into its birth, because genetic material inherited through the original Eva had a sort of time-clock in it, so that after a given number of generations it would start to decay. The program that stimulates puberty, the immense and complex change from child to woman, would no longer operate, but instead the child would fall into a coma, deeper and deeper, and eventually die. In the end this would happen to all the women in the world, and a generation later there would be no more people, only empty cities.
However, this one girl, in a unique experiment, would be in a sense saved by being given a new set of genetic material, not hers but a chimpanzee's. Her children would be chimps. None of their physical inheritance would be human. All she would be able to pass on to them would be exactly what Eve in Genesis gave us, when she ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.
No time travel; just enough references here and there to the myth of Eve for the alert reader to recognize what was happening, to reach out and as it were feel the grain of the tree from which I had shaped my story, and know that the tree and the carver were in harmony.
So I settled down and started to write a draft. I got quite a long way in, I should think about halfway, and then decided I'd better do a bit of research. You can't do research into borderline possibilities by looking things up in books; you have to find tame scientists and ask, "Can I do this? And if not, what can I do?" I found one. his answers were No, and Nothing, and he explained about the mitochondrial Eve in our ancestry being quite different from what I'd thought: she wasn't any more than a statistical phenomenon. My scientist also told me that my notion about the time-clock in the genetic code was completely unworkable, even in the vaguest terms. Worse still, he said, anything to do with a breakdown in the genetic code was bound to make people think I was writing about the HIV virus, and I didn't want readers thinking that my apocalyptic vision was concerned with AIDS. At that point I nearly gave up, but in the end I decided to cut out the whole Eve business and carry on, at least till I'd finished that draft, and see what I'd got. It took me a while to get motivated, but I managed it in the end. But my goodness, I still wish I could have found a way.
It still bothers me. It matters. Why? It would never have been a major element in the story. I found other solutions. I replaced Eva's illness with a car crash, and the inevitable death of mankind with a vague loss of will and purpose, a sense of things ending. Both of these are adequate for getting the story told. They don't interfere with the main themes. The business about Eve, although it was the origin of my idea, had already become no more than a decorative thread running through the story. Indeed, if I hadn't got it right, readers might well have found it intrusive, irritating.
But let's assume I did get it roughly right. What difference would that have made? It would have made for a greater elegance, a greater awareness of the reader, conscious or unconscious, of a satisfying artifice. Ideally, such an awareness should be at first unconscious, and then become conscious. The reader should first read to find out what your imaginary world, your creation, is like, who inhabits it, and what happens to them. Then, rereading perhaps, or thinking about it later, the reader should notice and reflect on the element of artifice.
This is important. In fact, it is crucial. Just as the function of a mask is to tell an audience that it is something other than the face behind it, positively not the actor or the dancer who is producing the voice, but something more generalized, something projected between audience and performer, so the artifice of a work of fiction is there to tell the reader, all the time and at all levels, that this is fiction, this is a work of imagination.
It's strange how much people distrust the imagination, in all its forms. Our weird obsession with actors is based on a belief that they must somehow not be individuals with minds and lives of their own, but instead be the characters they portray. By saying the distrust of the imagination is strange, I mean more than that it is a quirk. It is an aesthetic paradox that arises from another paradox which lies at the center of our nature. It is, I believe, our imagination which makes us what we are. I mean this absolutely literally, in the sense that I believe that our primary evo- lutionary specialization is not our bipedal gait or our use of tools but our imagination. Everything else—language, tool-use, social cooperation, mastery of new environments, cities, space-travel—flows from that. We aren't unique in having an imagination. Dogs can be heard dreaming of hunting, and dreams are the imagination in free fall. But in us it is central. I believe this to be an idea of immense explanatory power about all sorts of things to do with us as human beings.
But the paradox is this. We recognize the need for more than the casual use of our imagination to conduct everyday life. The rise of the novel as a major art form coincides with the movement of the majority of literate humans from communities small enough to be grasped imaginatively to communities in which individuals would feel lost and contentless. We have invented a way of imagining lives beyond our reach, because that was something we needed. Novelists feel compelled to imagine not just the centers of ordinary experience, but its fringes—the mind of a child-molester, the sufferings of the torturer's victim, the hallucinatory world of the drug addict, the experience of a child in the body of a chimpanzee. And when the novelist has at least to some extent succeeded in what she set out to do, the willing reader imaginatively shares the experience, however harrowing, and having done so closes the book with a feeling of deep and primal satisfaction.
Some time ago, I sat next to a psychiatrist at a dinner party. One of the patients she was trying to help had lost an only child in a car accident and was now in a very unstable mental condition. There was a loving and supportive husband, a schoolmaster, I think, with literary leanings. Anyway, the husband showed the psychiatrist a group of poems he'd written to help him come to terms with what had happened. These weren't effusions, outpourings, desperate cries. They were bleak and objective unsparing of the writer himself, and the wife, and even the child. They were mostly in old-fashioned verse forms, rhyming and scanning and not at all obscure. My fellow guest already knew about most of the events from the wife's point of view. What interested her and what she wanted to talk to me about, because I was a writer and she happened not to know any professional writers, was not the case itself, but her reaction to these poems. She had started with some reluctance, had then become intrigued, then involved, and had finished up with a sense that something had happened to her, which left her with a feeling not unlike exhilaration.
Of course, I don't know how good a critic she was, let alone how good a psychiatrist, but she seemed intelligent and sympathetic. And I think the answer to her question was that the poems had allowed her to exercise her imagination to the full. While the formal, generalizing mode of poetry assured her that the experience was under control, she could give herself fully to the agony and at the same time remain intact, something perhaps that would be positively undesirable when she was being told of the self-same experiences in the consulting room. And her exhilaration, her satisfaction at the end of her reading, had been an unconscious recognition that this had been something that she, as a human organism, had positively needed for her own good. Just as we need to exercise our bodies because we have nerves and muscles and sinews to keep healthy, so we need to exercise our imagination because we have a human psyche, and it is our imagination which makes us human.
But at the same time we are very wary of this gift. That's the other half of the paradox. We have an instinct to climb trees, but we are afraid of heights. We are very aware of our own individuality and our need to protect it. So we both need our imagination and are afraid of it. I think this is particularly the case with children. They are more open but also more vulnerable. They need means to experience without themselves undergoing the immense and complex possibilities that stretch away in front of them, and at the same time they are still discovering the possibilities inside them, who they are, what they are, what face they wish to confront the world with, what voice must speak for them. Hence the need for fantasy worlds, for dragon-riding heroines and troll enemies, for words and weapons of power, all of which function to limit the threat from the imagination. Hence also crazes, such as for Ninja Turtles. Crazes are mass reassurance, safety in numbers. If all the guys are into imaginative experiences, then it's no threat.
But above all, I think, the paradox that we both need and fear our imagination makes one thing essential, and that is artifice. The whole history of all arts has displayed a series of cycles, in which the need for artifice to make art fulfill its function tends to become an appreciation of artifice in its own right, with the content—that which the artifice embodies—becoming ever more trivial and trite, until a point is reached where the cry goes up that art is now totally corrupt, an ancient regime that must be swept away in violent revolution, and the pure, naked concept must be restored to power. But, of course, it can't be done. The concept must be embodied in something. I don't mean just that the emperor must wear clothes. Artifice is not mere packaging. There have been naked emperors, but they still needed the gesture of magnificence, the demeanor of command. Artifice is integral.
Still, almost parallel with our fear of the imagination is our suspicion of artifice. Especially in democratic liberal cultures it seems to be some kind of elitist barrier between the naked will of the people and the ideas with which they are being presented. This isn't the case. The people revel in artifice. Give them a chance and they go wild on it. Look at New York graffiti. Look at pop videos. It is the dictators, the oppressors, the benders of people's will, who dread artifice and try to abolish it. Look at Nazi art. Look at Stalinist art. Do you know the only art form that Ceausescu of Romania was unable to censor? It was Shakespearean theater. They persuaded him that he would be internationally ridiculed if he tried to censor Shakespeare. Hamlet played to packed houses. It spoke. It said, "This king, this usurper, this poisoner, now rules over us." And so, in the chaotic early days of the uprising, when the revolutionaries recognized the actor who played Hamlet out there in the streets, they hustled him in front of the cameras so that he could tell people what was happening and people would know that he spoke the truth.
I am not asking you to overvalue artifice, merely to value it. To trust it. It takes many forms. The perfectly rendered speech patterns of the street child are as much a work of artifice as is the elegant description of a swan reflected in the lake. But whatever the style and mode, the words and sentences in which a book is written, the sense of a living language shared between writer and reader, the run of paragraphs, the patterning of chapters, the shape and architecture of the book—these things truly matter. They are not, as I say, packaging. They are integral, neither primary nor secondary. They are a partner in a dance of the mind.
The mask has no voice. The voice comes from behind it, saying whatever needs to be said and heard. But the mask still speaks. No matter what its style is—fantastic, realistic, crude, exquisite—it cannot fulfill its function unless it speaks a single word.
The word is imagine.
Bookbird (essay date 2000)
SOURCE: "Author Finalist: Peter Dickinson." Bookbird 38, no. 3 (2000): 18.
[In the following essay, Bookbird offers a brief overview of Dickinson's personal life and literary career.]
Born in Zambia in 1927, Peter Dickinson spent his childhood in Gloucestershire, England, and was educated at Eton College and Cambridge University. Before devoting himself full-time to writing, he was assistant editor and reviewer for Punch magazine (from 1952 to 1969). Ever since his first novel was published in 1968, Dickinson has regularly produced thought-provoking and imaginative books for older children and young adults and some boundary-breaking books for younger readers.
The themes of Dickinson's books cover a wide range of subject matter and place, and a huge sweep of time. Furthermore, the plots are complicated because questions of religion, politics, art, and public and personal responsibility become vital to the characters. In Bone from a Dry Sea (Gollancz, 1992), he describes the parallel stories of two girls, one in prehistoric times and one in modern day; in The Kin, he intersperses the story of early human beings with tales from their mythology; in Shadow of a Hero and AK, he invents countries, in Eastern Europe and Africa respectively, supplying believable cultural details of language, religion, and folklore; and in City of Gold (Gollancz, 1980), winner of the Carnegie Medal, he places the Old Testament into the oral tradition by assigning a different voice, personality, and perspective to each story. In his best-known book, Eva, the futuristic story of a girl who is given the body of a chimpanzee following a traffic accident, Dickinson explores contemporary issues relating to ecology and animal rights.
I think there's a strong element of the teacher and moralist in my make-up, but I don't set out to write a book to make a point. Books shouldn't answer questions fully, but they should look at them in terms which give scope for thought, which provide questions and directions.
—Quoted in "Authorgraph No. 10: Peter Dickinson,"
Books for Keeps
Over a period of more than thirty years, Dickinson's books have received considerable critical acclaim and have been translated into sixteen languages. He has twice won both the Whitbread Award and the Carnegie Medal, and many of his other books have been shortlisted for the latter. Dickinson was on the final shortlist of three (with Quentin Blake and Anne Fine) for the first Children's Laureate appointed in 1999.
Tulku. London: Gollancz, 1979. ISBN 0575025034.
Eva. London: Gollancz, 1988. ISBN 0575043547.
AK. London: Gollancz, 1990. ISBN 0575048948.
Shadow of a Hero. London: Gollancz, 1994. ISBN 0575057750.
The Kin. London: Macmillan, 1998. ISBN 0333737350.
Judith V. Lechner (review date March 1994)
SOURCE: Lechner, Judith V. Review of Tulku, by Peter Dickinson. English Journal 83, no. 3 (March 1994): 92.
Theodore, the son of an American missionary in southwest China, is catapulted out of the safety and spiritual certitude of the Settlement by the Boxer Rebellion [in Tulku ]. He embarks on a danger-filled journey of life and faith, which under the charismatic tutelage of Mrs. Jones leads him to the hidden world of a Tibetan monastery and into the heart of a secret search for the next lama. The vivid setting is an integral part of Theodore's spiritual journey. The elements of danger, the intriguing character of Mrs. Jones, and the fascination of the Tibetan monastery make this a page-turner that high school students with a taste for the philosophical will especially enjoy.
THE SEVENTH RAVEN (1981)
Ruth M. Hooks (review date February 1992)
SOURCE: Hooks, Ruth M. Review of The Seventh Raven, by Peter Dickinson. English Journal 81, no. 2 (February 1992): 89.
Dickinson's novel [The Seventh Raven ] is a fast-paced action story about seventeen-year-old Doll Jacobs and her mundane effort to maintain youthful dignity. However, the ordinary becomes extraordinary in Doll's world as she finds herself embroiled in an international crisis involving revolutionaries and foreign intrigue. The novel is a roller coaster ride of surprises, beginning with Doll's acceptance of her more "mature" role in an opera and proceeding to the attempted kidnapping of an ambassador's son. Doll and her group learn some astonishing facts about their enemies, and each member begins to sympathize with the captors as the situation unravels.
Eleanor Cameron (essay date May-June 1994)
SOURCE: Cameron, Eleanor. "A Discussion of Peter Dickinson's Eva." Horn Book Magazine 70, no. 3 (May-June 1994): 291-97.
[In the following essay, Cameron discusses the thematic symbolism and emotional undercurrents in Eva, particularly as they apply to Dickinson's young readers.]
The moment I finished Eva (Delacorte) by Peter Dickinson, I was convinced that it was a uniquely thought-provoking book, and that I would like my bookish friends to read it. It has no age limits, this story of a zoologist, many years from now, who transfers his daughter's brain (her body has been ruined in a car crash) into the body of a young female chimpanzee.
I phoned a friend of mine, an elementary school teacher in Boulder, Colorado, to tell her of Eva, and said that I would be greatly interested to know her response to it. Not only did she read it, but she recommended it to her fifth- and sixth-grade students. Upon learning that I was coming to the school to speak, eleven of the children asked if I would be willing to spend an hour with them so that we could discuss Eva. Of course I was willing!
And what a discussion we had; the thoughtfulness and perceptions of those eleven children were very moving to me. They realize, quite calmly, that we have a comparatively short time left to us—if we're both lucky and determined—to keep our planet livable and beautiful. But, you will say, children have no real concept of time. Well, I'm not sure that we adults do either, time being a concept so elusive, so changeable according to our age and circumstance, so subjective, that our awareness of it varies greatly under differing conditions. Nevertheless, I can report, interestingly enough, that while my friend and I thought that we might have about fifty years left, some of the children put the time at between fifteen and twenty-five years.
"The blue planet," the first astronauts called our earth, as they gazed in awe at their fragile home suspended in deep space. The children understand clearly the almost insuperable task we face in convincing all nations, not to speak of our own, that we must respect nature with its minute, almost incredible complexities, all interwoven and interdependent. They realize that we cannot consider ourselves as separate from nature, with the power to force it to serve our uses, when in the end we only suffer from our stupidity and lack of foresight. We are a part of nature. And if we so misuse the earth that we destroy it, we destroy ourselves.
The people of Eva's time are suffering from the results of our not having faced the end-of-civilization's problems with sufficient intelligence, concern, and determination to have changed the course of our downward path. Eva's enormous city has a population of half a billion people. Obviously, even in the face of suffocation from pollution, increasing violence, and the pressures resulting from overpopulation, planned parenthood has not been taken seriously enough:
As more and more people crammed the world, needing more and more land for cities and crops, so the animals had died out. Most of the great wild jungles were gone, and the savannahs that used to cover half a continent….
The big animals vanished first, elephants and giraffes, gorillas and orangs, whales and dolphins….
… So it was all very tidy and sensible…. That's what the people had thought, until it was too late. And that is why there were only the chimps left.
The book depends on an extraordinary assumption—that Eva's father has successfully carried out, with the help of another zoologist, Joan Pradesh, the transference of his daughter Eva's brain from her hopelessly injured body to that of the young female chimp, Kelly. I asked the children if they had had any moments of doubt as they read. None had, so convincingly had Dickinson imagined himself into the sensibilities and thoughts and emotions of Eva (and increasingly into what would become the sensibilities and thoughts and emotions of Eva-Kelly). I was surprised to learn that one girl, after only a single reading, clearly recalled that Kelly and Eva begin acting together when Eva-Kelly discovers that she will not be allowed to join the chimp pool because of her mother's complete rejection of the idea. She feels compelled to hurl things, smash blinds, and throw china. Both personalities are reacting here: Kelly, with her quick temper and her longing for chimp life and space to swing through the iron "trees," and Eva because she so deeply, unconsciously, understands Kelly.
I asked the children if any could picture a sister or a friend transferred to a chimp body, and they all cried, "No, no, no!" Why, then, did they believe Dickinson's premise? "He made us believe," they said, "and besides, Eva had been brought up among chimps, her dad being a zoologist. Otherwise, it wouldn't have worked." Fortunately, there was no family to deal with in Kelly's case, and in Eva's, only Mom. But therein lay a deep, deep sadness—Mom's extreme and agonizing difficulty in beholding and accepting her beautiful daughter reduced to a squat, hairy little creature who knuckles along close to the ground and has to communicate through a machine. Would she rather have seen Eva dead? There are times, we suspect, when yes, perhaps she would rather have had it so. But we are to understand that all this, in Dad's and Joan Pradesh's eyes, is for the sake of perfecting medical and surgical techniques in the field of neuron memory.
Mom isn't a scientist, and is, it seems, closer to Eva than Dad. We all agreed that in most scenes, Dad is brought out as a rather annoying individual, cool and objective in the tradition of the experimental scientist. He appears to love his daughter, and yet it doesn't seem to trouble him overly much that she has been turned into a chimp, while for Mom it is almost unendurable. Dad's eyes are a cool blue; he lectures the family too much. With Dad you have to "spell the question right out," while Mom almost immediately understands, without further words, what Eva is trying to communicate on her machine. There are lines on Mom's face that hadn't been there previous to the accident, but not on Dad's—he is conducting a successful experiment and is in his element. If Dad had to choose between his work and his family, there would be a question. His work is half his life. With Mom there would be no question; it would always be her family.
The children brought up the satisfying and comical scene in which Eva gives the smooth, smug master of ceremonies, who has been callous about Mom's feelings concerning Eva's present state, a big open-mouthed kiss, much to his appalled astonishment. This gets millions of viewers on her side, as does another scene in which Eva tears her overalls with the logo of Honeybear (the company financing the experiment)—a metaphorical gesture revealing how fiercely she wants everyone to know that she is her own person and not Honeybear's property. The children understood perfectly the mercilessness of this big company's treatment of Eva as a business asset.
This sense of outrage led our discussion to a tragic scene in the novel, that terrible moment when Eva hears Caesar, one of the chimps undergoing the same experiment of marrying human brain to chimp body, call out, "Alone … lost." Eva cannot forget this lonely and haunting cry; it seems to tear her apart. Nor can she forgive Joan Pradesh when she learns that another human-chimp combination screamed for nine days and then died because the two beings could not accept each other, but that Joan is still quite determined, nevertheless, to go ahead with further experiments. The children were furious at the coolness of Joan and the determination of Dad. They couldn't bear it. And yet we feel the strength of Dad's love for Eva later on when he does not betray her escape with the chimps.
In his article in the Horn Book entitled "Masks" (March/April 1993), Dickinson expresses misgivings about the adventurous ending of the novel, in which Eva and the chimps escape to the island. He says that he thinks the novel demands a "more intellectual and social" kind of adventure, that "it should have ended with humans and chimps coming to terms with each other there, finding ways of life for both of them, in the same manner as that in which Eva has come to terms with her own chimp body."
I admire Dickinson's honesty as to his own misgivings about the ending after such a successful reception of the book by reviewers and readers. But the children and I didn't agree with him. It didn't seem to us that it was a matter of "humans and chimps coming to terms with each other," though certainly it would have been a neat metaphoric parallel. But the humans of earth are already fascinated by the chimps, treasuring them as a last remnant of wildlife on the planet. What was at stake was the ability of the chimps to continue in a grossly overpopulated and almost completely polluted world, in which there is little point in staying alive, as demonstrated by the hundreds of young people who are walking into the sea to their deaths by the end of the novel. The chimps long for a place of their own—unpolluted, free, where they can live according to their own ways and swing in real trees in some little undisturbed pocket of the earth.
Thus the escape is a satisfying ending, and I realize very clearly that satisfying does not always signify inevitable. Indeed, the inevitable ending can often-times seem very unsatisfying to the reader. Nevertheless, the ending of Eva does not seem to me or to the eleven children one consciously or indulgently chosen by Dickinson to end the story with drama and excitement. In fact, the book ends very quietly with Eva's death after years of handing on what she knows and intuits to her children and grandchildren. It is a very moving ending. It allows the reader to breathe a sigh of relief at the thought of the chimps living their boisterous lives, learning how to live on their own, and profiting from Eva's wisdom and physical abilities as she hands them down. It seems to me that we do have an "intellectual and social" ending, when one considers that the chimps are learning, from generation to generation, how to live successfully among and with themselves, accepting nature and living with it instead of against it as humans do, and doing no harm to the earth.
In his article, Dickinson also discusses the concept of a mitochondrial Eve, which was the origin of his idea for the novel. He explains:
This one girl, in a unique experiment, would be in a sense saved by being given a new set of genetic material, not hers but a chimpanzee's. Her children would be chimps. None of their physical inheritance would be human. All she would be able to pass on to them would be exactly what Eve in Genesis gave us, when she ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.
But Dickinson then says that "the business about Eve" became "no more than a decorative thread running through the story. Indeed, if I hadn't got it right, readers might well have found it intrusive, irritating." He got it right, it seemed to the children and me, in just the straightforward, clear-sighted way in which he did use the Eve idea.
I began to correspond with Peter Dickinson, telling him of my experience with the children. The exchange was valuable because there's nothing more fascinating, to me, at any rate, than discovering what another writer experiences in the mysterious creation of a book. In his letter, Dickinson says that Eva "wasn't a book I set out to write. It was very much a book I found myself writing." Could this possibly be why the book came to the right and good ending, and not the intellectual-social one he would like to have carried out? And why, despite the fact that he thought he'd lost much of the Eve metaphor, it has remained as the very clear paralleling of his fictional Eva with the original Eve?
The only fault the children could find with the book was that Dickinson carries the story on to the end of Eva's life. Clearly they experienced great empathy with Eva, because they simply could not bear to witness her death. "If only he could have left off some time in those twenty-three years he doesn't tell us about." The children didn't want Eva to die, even though they knew she must—eventually. They just didn't want to be shown her death. I had to disagree with them. For me, her death is a moving and satisfying rounding out—Eva leaving her friends and descendants to go on with what, as Eva-Kelly combined, she has given them.
Another fascinating aspect of the process of fictional creation is the emergence of characters we discuss intently and sometimes argue about as if they were real people. In our discussion I said that I turned against Joan Pradesh, as well as Dad, when I read that Sasha-Angel screamed for nine days and then died. Dickinson disagrees. In his letter he writes, "Joan Pradesh is a sympathetic person. Would you rather live in a world where nobody had discovered the circulation of the blood and we still doctored ourselves with lungwort?"
But is it possible, within the construct of Eva, to have it both ways? To conceive of medical research to save lives when people are walking into the sea, or simply staying within their four walls because they either do not dare, or do not care, to go outside when the air of their world is thick with pollution? Where there are no more forests, except in small pockets on steep mountainsides? Where there are no more wild animals, except for the chimps, and so little wood that in Eva's chimp pool at the laboratory the so-called trees must be constructed of metal and plastic? What would be the point of doing medical research to keep people alive when there are already millions too many?
There, in that question, lies the tragic paradox of Dickinson's book: on the one hand, the lack of people's will to live energetic, productive lives on a ruined earth, and on the other, Dad's feverish efforts to keep his research project going and Joan's determination to continue experiments even at heartbreaking cost.
However, Dickinson says in his letter, "Most of my intellectual input wasn't anything to do with animal rights or the future of the planet or the things the book seems to be about, but where do we go from here?" I do greatly regret that neither the children nor I saw through the story Dickinson has told so vividly—involving both the animal and human beings he made us care about—to what Dickinson feels the book is really about as he described in his letter. He wrote, "What it's about is breaking free of total parental control and insisting on your own inviolable personal space." Certainly the children were emotionally taken up with the necessity for Eva and her chimps to make their own lives away from human beings, which is, of course, a metaphor-in-action for the theme of the book as Dickinson sees it. But what they most wanted to talk about, quite obviously, was that aspect of the book that led them to Dickinson's question, "Where do we go from here?" And a good many of those eleven, I can foresee, will be absorbing themselves in work that has to do with answering that question, and influencing others to answer it, too; continuing the work that is being done at present to save the earth from destruction.
Millicent Lenz (essay date December 1995)
SOURCE: Lenz, Millicent. "The Twenty-First Century as Place of Choice: Peter Dickinson's Eva." Lion and the Unicorn 19, no. 2 (December 1995): 171-81.
[In the following essay, Lenz contrasts Dickinson's dire predictions for the human race in Eva with the seemingly lone hope presented by the potentially bright future of Eva's chimpanzee society.]
In one of the lectures Leonard Bernstein gave at Harvard in the 1970s in a series on the future of music, he speaks of the twentieth century as "the century of death" and of Gustav Mahler as "its musical prophet" (313). Mahler's musical vision was of "the death of society, of our Faustian culture," yet his music confronts the "Ultimate Ambiguity"—"the human spirit"—and the paradox "that as each of us grow[s] up, the mark of our maturity is that we accept our mortality; and yet we persist in our search for immortality. We may believe it's all transient, even that it's all over; yet we believe a future. We believe" (317-18).
Some would disagree with Bernstein's claim that Mahler's music sounds a death knell for humanity, but few would quarrel with his expression of a per- sistent human search for immortality even in the face of threatened extinction. A similar paradox may be found in Peter Dickinson's speculative novel Eva. On the one hand it shows humankind compulsively engineering its own destruction, and on the other seeking a kind of immortality through technology—specifically, through usurping the bodies of chimpanzees. In Dickinson's ironic scenario the presumed future does not belong to the human species, but to chimpanzees whose society has been forever changed by the incarnation of a human—Eva—into chimpanzee form. Eva is a speculative fable, a cautionary tale, raising the question of the fate of the human species. Earlier in this century the composer Charles Ives in his composition "The Unanswered Question" probed the future destiny of music: given the breakdown of musical structure and tonality, the bases of the Western musical tradition, where do we go from here? (Bernstein, 5, 268-69). In a literary context. Dickinson implies a parallel question: given the breakdown of the human will to live, a universal malaise of spirit, coupled with the disastrous consequences of greed, abuse of the environment, overpopulation, and the seemingly inevitable collapse of the ecosystem, how can we correct our otherwise calamitous trajectory toward the abyss? Yet paradoxically, there is an affirmative element in the story of Eva, and it emerges from her capacity for a choice of futures, a uniquely human gift.
Eva is set in a dystopian future time when the earth suffers from overpopulation, violence, and extreme pollution, in a city that spans the globe. This is a world where the big animals and their habitats have vanished; the prairies and jungles are gone; all wilderness has been destroyed to make way for more and more people and their escalating consumer demands. Eva, a teenage girl, wakes from a coma to find she has been in a fatal automobile accident and, as Dickinson himself describes it, "in order to give her a life of a kind, her mind and personality have been transfixed into the body of a chimpanzee called Kelly" ("Masks" 162). Eva's scientist father, along with another zoologist, Joan Pradesh, has successfully carried out what they call "neuron transfer" and in addition made it possible for Eva to "speak" through a computer keyboard. They fail to realize that when this outer shape has been imposed on her, "her inner shape will learn to conform to it" ("Masks" 162).
Eva, having been brought up in close and affectionate association with Kelly and the other chimps who are subjects of her father's and Joan Pradesh's research, painfully but successfully adapts to the transplant, but it is clear that the success in her case can not be replicated. Other similar operations are disastrous; the humans and chimps upon whom the process is tried go into mortal despair and die screaming. Eva's parents differ in their response to Eva's new embodiment. The father quite coolly accepts it, seeing her as helping to advance his field of research, neuron memory; the mother, in contrast, finds the change of her beautiful daughter into what Eleanor Cameron has described as "squat, hairy little creature who knuckles along close to the ground and has to communicate through a machine" (Cameron 293) an almost intolerable loss. Another scientist, young Grog Kennedy, disenchanted with humans and technological culture, gives Eva a vision and a purpose when he shows her, through virtual reality technology, the island of Cayomoro—"Kelly's dream" (112 ff.)—and plants the idea of leading the chimps to freedom in Eva's imagination. In the ending, Eva-Kelly and a select group of the other chimps, with Grog's help, flee to this still unspoiled remote jungle, where they hope to be left free of human interference to evolve their own new society.
Eva opens up many "places" to explore. There is the "present" place of the novel, a "world gone wrong," where "ecological indifference, human greed, a deterioration of ethical standards" (Wilson) rule, and technological experimentation overrides humanistic values. Technology has advanced to the point of potentially eradicating the human form, not to mention wiping out other species, such as chimpanzees, in the process of seeking immortality for human individuals. In stark contrast to the sterile technological world, there is the idealized green world, the place of trees, which haunts Eva's dreams, the Ur-forest out of which mammalian life evolved, and to which the chimps yearn to return, giving the novel a strong element of the pastoral.
On a deeper level, the novel depicts the place of the "other," radically different from the norm—grafted onto a different species—whose wholeness and happiness are attained at the cost of opting out of human society. In this speculative world, a specifically human future is forfeited; the blighted New Eden is home not to a new Adam and a new Eve, but to the elite of the chimpanzees. Eva is also a remarkable novel of initiation, in a special sense of that phrase—initiation into the psychological "place" of a hybrid human/animal consciousness. As John Rose Townsend observed, Eva "makes convincing the perilous leap into animal consciousness" (289). Dickin- son has dealt with the human/animal dichotomy before, as in The Healer (1983), where Barry feels he has another being inside—"Bear"—who is violent and in need of control; his Changes trilogy (The Weathermonger, 1968; Heartsease, 1969; and The Devil's Children, 1970)1 hinged on the "what if" of rejection of the technological world. In Eva, the animal/human hybridization is essential to the novel's meaning, as an ironic comment on humanity's failure to remember, as Grog Kennedy laments to Eva, that we are biologically animals (114); thus our reduction, Dickinson implies, to an animalistic state.
The familiar pattern of the novel of initiation is three-fold. The still childlike protagonist must go outside mainstream society in order to achieve an individual, separate identity; then, having endured a trial that often takes the form of a visit to an underworld (geographic or psychological), the individual returns to society with a new maturity and strength, tempered by the fire, and ready to participate as an adult; finally, the protagonist gives a "boon" (Joseph Campbell's word) to society, a gift of leadership, perhaps, or of some exceptional service, and, in the mythical model, attains heroic status. In some instances, however, the "hero" may elect to remain outside the society—as for example Huck Finn (Peck xix)—and Eva follows Huck's precedent.
Eva begins in a hospital, a place of birth, healing, and (sometimes) death—appropriately so, for she undergoes all three processes. Almost immediately, Dickinson introduces the fantasized "green world" through the trees that haunt Eva's dreams. She soon knows that the dream of the trees may actually belong to Kelly (the chimpanzee whose body Eva now inhabits) (5). Immersed in fantasies of "green shadows" and "leaf light" (30), she gradually realizes she is undergoing a new birth. Even before she sees Kelly's face in the mirror—now her face—she thinks, "It was like being born again. A morning like the first morning in the world" (9). The first morning, suggesting a myth of the New Eden, becomes explicit in Eva's ruminations about a cartoon she had watched with pleasure as a child, "Adam and Eve," which in the manner of TV sitcoms has one predictable plot with variations: Adam rules the animals, Eve rules the plants; they want to drive their enemy, the great Snake, out of the garden to make it safe for their children. Adam is characterized as arrogant, impulsive; Eve is a healer, who practices "plant magic." Little girls, we are told, love the cartoon (13). Eve's role as healer in this fable foreshadows Eva's "purpose," prophesied to her by Grog: to lead the chimps to a green world where they can survive (115-16), her version of plant magic.2
Perhaps the most terrible part of Eva's dilemma is her loss of human speech. She can communicate in human language, however, through her keyboard and computer screen; in her dilemma and its solution we see, again, the ambiguity of technology. Some of the terror of her loss of speech and human form is softened by the unattractiveness of humans and their lot in the novel. Their world is grim, and they are for the most part demoralized, devoid of dreams, depersonalized. The "shaper," a huge television screen, dominates their lives (they are indeed shaped by it) and substitutes a "virtual reality" for actual experience. Many people never leave their rooms (cf. "The Enormous Room" by E. M. Forster); they find what is portrayed on the shapers to be more "real" than their own lives, and Eva's father remarks that "the shaper companies were the real rulers of the world" (14). The shaper advertisers pay the cost of Eva's transformation; thus arises the question, who owns her?
This CNN dystopia is contrasted to the remnants of green, untouched forest that still exist in remote parts of the planet. Grog, who functions as Eva's mentor, uses virtual reality technology to show Eva a "green compelling jungle" (116) and thereby lures her to follow the dream he has dreamt for her, which happens to harmonize with her (and Kelly's) dream of trees. Ambiguously viewed, technology has ruined the planet (103), yet it also enables Eva to continue living, though much changed. Her life is extended by a transfer of her "neuron memory," the pattern and arrangement of the neurons in her brain, into a presumably "empty" brain (Kelly's), but the process is experimental, and other attempts fail dismally (Stefan/Caesar 134, Sasha/Angel 136). Eva's case is thus a unique event and succeeds only because she had bonded with chimps at an early age (134). She is aware of herself as a "new pattern, not Eva, not Kelly, both but one," and that she must become a new "whole" (a process, it seems, of inventing herself) before she can deal with "the rainy world crammed with humans," with their fret and bustle. Thus, she lets the "forest" form in her skull; there it is "peaceful, endless, happy" and "there were no humans in it" (38).
This secret garden of escape from the less attractive elements of human experience has its price. Eva knows she does not fully belong in either the human or the chimp world, and her physical isolation also has psychological, emotional, and sexual ramifications. She ponders about being "as different from all of them as if she'd come from another planet" (78) and puzzles over what kind of a future she might have. Could she ever have babies? If so, whose, and how? (82). Identity, whether human or chimp, is mysterious: Kelly "was gone, with all her memories, all her sense of belonging and being herself in a particular time and place. She would never come back. Still she had left part of herself behind, her nature, her instincts, still rooted deep into the body into which the human Eva had been grafted" (79). There has been a similar loss of the old Eva; late in the novel, as the chimped Eva dies, she feels "the pang of ancient loss, a child with long black hair ice-skating in a yellow tracksuit. Me, whispered the ghost, the real Eva" (204). This double loss contributes to the novel's inexpressibly poignant effect, leaving Eva in the grip of a terrible existential aloneness, with no one to share "the human meanings, the stories of defiance and comradeship" (204), which even Sniff, the most compassionate and intelligent of the chimpanzees, and the one with whom Eva finally mates, cannot appreciate.
Dickinson's avoidance of a simplistic vilification of the electronic, machine world points to the true culprit—not technology, but short-term thinking. As Grog describes it, "The whole human race is thinking in shorter and shorter terms. The bright kids aren't going into research; the investors aren't funding basic research; we're pulling back from space exploration…. We're giving up. Packing it in" (114). He probes even more deeply into the dilemma of spiritlessness, this manifestation of a loss of future-orientation; the "crash" he predicts has its origins in a failure of memory. Humans "keep forgetting we're animals. You know what happens when an animal population expands beyond what the setup will bear? Nature finds ways of cutting them back" (114). Humans, he insists, will be no exception. Their lethargy and despair are symptomatic of suicidal tendencies on a global scale. Demoralized human beings will not, when the "crash" comes, protect chimpanzees. Thus the urgency, he explains to Eva, of transporting the chimps to a place where "there's trees to shelter them, leaves that come and come, fruit all year round, small game—the life they were made for" (115). Nature, in Grog's view, has allowed Eva to happen, because only she will be able to accomplish the heroic task.
Eva, first skeptical of Grog's proposal, is won to his view when she sees the "green compelling jungle" (116), the realization of Kelly's dream. At a media event, she unexpectedly tears off her clothing, thereby asserting her power of choice, her ownership of herself, and her chimp nature, all at once, and dramatically rejecting the human world (145); as a result she is silenced by the media and the rich and powerful advertising interests, who cannot tolerate bad publicity. The working out of Eva's choice, involving a movement from the civilized world to the new Eden, constitutes the action of the remainder of the novel.
The new Eden is geographically remote, an island off the coast of Madagascar, and it is to this forsaken place that Eva comes in the spirit of savior and explorer. She and the resettlement team feel that they are "in at the birth of a new world, with the old tired world waiting and watching" (159). This "natural habitat" fills Eva and the chimps with unprecedented happiness; they know they are living "the dream." Eva "could not imagine that she would ever be so happy again, so filled with tingling, sparkling peace…. It was something shared, like a song, the wonder, the amazement, the deep content, the sense of having come home" (165).
Here we have a twenty-first century version of the pastoral, but with an ironic twist. Though in a sense Eva is "home," in another sense she can never go home again. Choosing the chimp world means dying to her human ties, betraying her father's trust (he is unaware of her plot to lead the chimps to freedom in the wild), sacrificing her individuality. As in the Hellenic pastoral, topos (place) determines and then becomes ethos (character) (Sessions 18). The demands of this new place shape her as an Earth Mother figure who becomes the caregiver for the "group"—finding them food, teaching them how to survive a typhoon, and in the terms of the cartoon of her girlhood, working her "plant magic." She fits the heroic pattern in the chimp world, where her "gift to the future" may be "the threads of human knowledge" (219), such as the ability to tie knots and to make a litter on which to carry the sick and infirm, tasks she succeeds in teaching the smarter chimps to do.
These successes have their ironic counterpart in her loss of the human world. In the final section of the book, which portrays Eva's dying, the news from the human world is catastrophic. People have become openly suicidal (and society condones suicide); they starve themselves, walk into the sea, or simply give up, refusing to pay taxes or plant new crops (214). The will to live is gone among humans, and it seems that Grog Kennedy, though he goes mad, may have been right in thinking "chimps are the human future" (215). The Kennedyites, as his followers are called, believe Eva and the chimps are "the Inheritors" (215). This Eva learns as she lies dying. Her keyboard, incredibly, still works, and in her computer voice, the youthful voice which has never aged, she communicates her last message; speaking for all the chimps in the Reserve, she thanks humans for giving back to chimps "the life that is right for us. We are well and happy. We will be okay if we are left alone. I don't know what is going to happen in the rest of the world, but if the chimps survive it will be because of what you have done for us. Thank you" (215-16).
What can we make of this tale of initiation into a different consciousness, the consciousness of the human girl grafted onto that of a chimpanzee? The breeze that wafts from Eva's new Eden seems indeed to be "air from another planet" (Stefan George's lyric, quoted in Bernstein, 266). This Brave New World is more pastoral than dystopian, for Eva and the chimps are happier there than in the human world; yet it is not a utopia, by any stretch of the imagination. Dickinson has exploded these categories of speculative fiction, grafting onto them his own version of an ecotopia. His story carries an implicit warning, identical to that of many other twentieth-century writers and thinkers, of the fatal consequences of "galloping technology … marking time and making money … all under the same aegis, the angel of planetary death" (Bernstein 315).
There is, however, a strong strand of hope in the novel's close. Eva dies peacefully, with trust in a possible good future for the chimps, and she knows her life has been meaningful; the trees were "worth it, and so was everything else" (213). A reader may suppose the chimps will continue, and perhaps evolve as far as or farther than the humans who appear to be finished as a species. The paradox is this: Dickinson seems to prophesy the "death of society, of our Faustian culture," yet, like Mahler, he poses the most fascinating ambiguity of all; even while believing "that it's all over; yet we believe a future. We believe" (317-18). Something in Eva wants to continue; this is shown in her activity as a teacher, for "to teach is to believe in continuing" (Bernstein 318). Ambiguous woman/chimp, practitioner of plant magic, she has transcended the world of humans who have "compulsively engineered [their] own destruction." Her life implies the same admonition found in the words of the poet Rilke: "Du musst dein Leben andern," you must change your life (quoted in Bernstein, 315).
The twenty-first century is an unknown, as ambiguous as Eva's human/chimp nature, and we may only speculate about it. Nonetheless one certainty rings true—we as a species must change our lives, undergoing a transformation perhaps less radical than Eva's, but no less urgent and possibly as stringent in its demands for sacrifice and inner strength.
In an essay on "The Four Pillars of Healing," Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has remarked, "It seems to me that the whole planet is a terminally ill patient at this time … global levels of stress are building to a dangerous point, and the planet is threatened by nuclear destruction and environmental catastrophe." She concludes that a process of "global cleansing to eliminate the hatred, greed, pain, grief, and rage that have been repressed for so long" must take place if "the planet as a whole … is to survive" (130). Young readers responding to Eva and its story of an extreme instance of "global cleansing" may extrapolate to the "real" world some of her values and be moved to speak out, like Severn Suzuki, the 12-year-old girl who addressed the Plenary Session of the Earth Summit (1992) in Rio Centro, Brazil, on behalf of the E.C.O.—The Environmental Children's Organization. She, together with three other young Canadians, raised money themselves "to come six thousand miles to tell you adults you must change your ways," for "losing my future is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock market" (unpaged).
Eva would understand. So do many young readers of Dickinson's novel, as Eleanor Cameron has testified. Of her experience in discussing the novel with a group of fifth- and sixth-graders, she observes how they keenly appreciate the need to respect nature in its interdependencies and complexity, for to consider ourselves as separate from nature, when we are actually a part of it, will in the end cause us suffering. We need intelligence and foresight to recognize "we are a part of nature. And if we so misuse the earth that we destroy it, we destroy ourselves" (291-92). Quoting from correspondence she had with Dickinson, Cameron notes his intention not to stress animal rights or the future of the planet, but rather the question, "‘Where do we go from here?’" (297). (Significantly, the same question Charles Ives had asked of twentieth century music!)
In his letter to Cameron, Dickinson declared how in Eva he wished most of all to show the importance of "‘breaking free of total parental control and insisting on your own inviolable personal space’" (quoted in Cameron, 297). Dickinson has referred to Eva's new nature as "metaphor, and in that sense a mask, to do with adolescence and the discovery of oneself as an adult." This is, he believes, "the most successful element in the book" ("Masks" 163). However, the close of Eva, despite Dickinson's expressed doubts3 and his insistence on a primary concern with the individual rather than the planetary predicament, certainly puts the search for individual fulfillment in the context of a troubled, polluted planet. Where we go from here is very much of a piece with where our planet is going. Dickinson believes in the power of the human imagination, which he says "makes us what we are" and calls "our primary evolutionary specialization," the source of "language, tool-use, social cooperation, mastery of new environments, cities, space-travel" ("Masks" 167)—in a word, everything. This statement implies the human power to imagine, choose, and then bring into being a future where all beings on Spaceship Earth—human, chimp, and all species of animals and plants—might live in mutual respect and peace.
1. The events of the three novels were brought into chronological order when published as The Changes (Gollancz, 1975).
2. This is an interesting variation on "the escape to the green world," an archetypal pattern in much women's fiction; the pattern is also endemic among adolescent heroes, who commonly, as Annis Pratt has observed, "resist normative restrictions to their liberty by imitating Daphne's retreat into the green world" (9); in Daphne's case, of course, she thereby eludes ravishment by Apollo.
3. See his thoughts on the ending in "Masks," where he expresses his idea that perhaps the novel should have ended differently, with a reconciliation between the humans and the chimps. Cameron disagrees, finding the ending as it is "satisfying" (295) and actually successful in fulfilling Dickinson's ideal of an "intellectual and social" emphasis.
Bernstein, Leonard. The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1976.
Cameron, Eleanor. "A Discussion of Peter Dickinson's Eva." Horn Book Magazine 70.3 (May/June 1994): 291-97.
Dickinson, Peter. Eva. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf, 1990. Originally published Delacorte, 1988.
———. "Masks." Horn Book Magazine 68.2 (March/April 1993): 160-69.
Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth. "The Four Pillars of Healing." In Healers on Healing, Ed. Richard Carlson and Benjamin Shield. Foreword by W. Brugh Joy. Los Angeles: Jeremy Tarcher, 1989.
Peck, David. Novels of Initiation: A Guidebook for Teaching Literature to Adolescents. New York: Teachers College Press of Columbia University, 1989.
Pratt, Annis, with Barbara White, Andrea Loewenstein, and Mary Wyer. Archetypal Patterns in Women's Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1981.
Sessions, W. A. "Teaching Where Three Interstates Meet." Profession 93: 18-21.
Suzuki, Severn. "Speech at the Earth Summit." Brazil, 1992.
Townsend, John Rowe. "Dickinson, Peter." Twentieth Century Children's Writers. Third ed. Ed. Tracy Chevalier. Chicago: St. James, 1989. 287-89.
Wilson, Phillis. "Focus: Eva by Peter Dickinson." Booklist 85:17 (1 May 1989): 1546.
Kathryn V. Graham (essay date January 1999)
SOURCE: Graham, Kathryn V. "Exodus from the City: Peter Dickinson's Eva." Lion and the Unicorn 23, no. 1 (January 1999): 79-85.
[In the following essay, Graham discusses the ethical issues raised by Dickinson's Eva.]
From the days of Dickens on, British fiction about or for children has seldom shown the city as a place where satisfactory childhoods can be experienced. Fictive London children escape from their urban environment to cozy exurbs like the one that welcomes Oliver Twist or fantasy realms such as the Pevenseys' Narnia or the Darlings' Neverland. Romantic considerations position children in nature, seldom portrayed as "red in tooth and claw" for young readers but more likely the enchanted rurality of a country house's park or garden, as in Lucy Boston's Green Knowe series. If not nature, writers may endorse the "it takes a village" mentality and focus on the small community of a boarding school. Perusing the list of Carnegie Medal winners since the award's inception in 1937 suggests that for the twentieth-century British sensibility, urban life and juvenile well-being are somehow essentially incompatible. When we examine novels set in the century yet to come, cities are hostile to all human life. They loom as frightening repositories of our intractable problems: crowding, crime, pollution, alienation, out-of-control technology, and human arrogance.
One of the more disturbing images of the city springs to life in Peter Dickinson's 1988 novel for young adults, Eva. Confined to her hospital bed after a horrific automobile accident, the symbolically named Eva Adamson can manipulate an overhead mirror to give herself a view from the hospital's windows. She sees
highrise beyond highrise, far into the distance, all rising out of mist, the familiar, slightly brownish floating dawn mist that you always seemed to get in the city at the start of a fine day. She must be a long way up in a highrise herself, she could see so far. Later on, as the city's half-billion inhabitants began to stir about the streets the mist would rise, thinning as it rose, becoming just a haze.
The idea of a half-billion inhabitants strikes a late-twentieth-century reader as virtually incomprehensible; and later, when an apartment is described as "a good kilometer in the air" (151) one wonders how a city, at least as we currently understand the phenomenon, can consist of such structures and such a population.
Dickinson slowly reveals other details of his futuristic city: "Most people stayed in their rooms all day, just to get away from one another. A lot of them never went out at all. Their world was four walls and their shaper zone" (14). Marcus Crouch's review of Eva in The Junior Bookshelf comments on the "shaper," defining it as "a development of TV which not only gives shape to every concept but also shapes the minds and lives of all who come under its influence." The most recent advances in virtual reality may give nineties readers a detailed sense of what Dickinson was imagining when Eva was written in 1988. In Eva the shaper provides a substitute for all that humanity is in the process of giving up—nature, travel, interaction, intimacy, and experience. In such a world of detachment, Professor Adamson warns his daughter, "The shaper companies were the real rulers of the world. The people told them what they wanted and the companies gave it to them and nothing else mattered" (14).
With all habitable spaces occupied, urban planners have cynically left the beaches and the snow peaks for those people willing to brave the congestion in the air and on the streets, acknowledging, "there wasn't a lot else you could do with them" (40). Restricted space imposes an enormous need for control, so City Guidance Systems steer cars through traffic. At the beginning of the novel, the city has been Eva's world, a world she accepts, "It was as if you were born used to it, the clamor and the jostling, people, people, people. They were the air you breathed, the sea you swam in" (76).
But, as Eva's name suggests, she will be mother of a new race in a new world. When the story opens, the reader discovers along with the slowly awakening Eva that the coldly brilliant surgeon Joan Pradesh has taken the undamaged brain and neuron memory from Eva's smashed twelve-year-old body and placed them in the skull of Kelly, a young female chimpanzee. Thus Eva, like her biblical namesake, is a newly created being—the first female of her kind—a chimpanzee with human consciousness. In her Booklist review of Eva, Phillis Wilson comments on Dickinson's ability to write science fiction with "meticulous plot construction [that] covers all the bases and makes the bizarre seem possible." The experimental transplant becomes plausible because the conscious mind that was once Eva Adamson had been cultivated in a household where Dad, a research scientist, was director of Primate Zoology. Eva reflects that "in fact, she'd been one of Dad's research projects…. Eva had always felt just as at home among chimps…. she'd been making chimp chatter before she had said her first word" (19). Eva deliberately accepts her new body and changed status, although one of Dr. Pradesh's later experiments rejects her dual identities, screaming herself to death after nine days. Eva's acceptance of her life mingles gratitude for her own preservation with sorrow over Kelly's loss of self, the cost of Eva's mind inhabiting a new body. In Dickinson's novel bioethical issues are constantly debated—Eva's meditations, arguments between Eva's parents, and Dr. Pradesh's embattled defense of her research that entails the sacrifice of many animals' lives.
Despite the larger ethical issues, the story's most immediate concern is what to do with Eva herself. Will she rejoin her family and friends at school, communicating through a keypad that has recordings of her old voice? Can her former peers accept the "otherness" of the once blue-eyed, graceful girl who loved ice skating and skiing? Or will she join Kelly's family in the Chimp Pool at her father's zoological station as part of his on-going research into the behavioral habits and communication patterns among primates? Can the chimps accept her "otherness," especially the lack of odor and small parasites—a result of Eva's mother's insistence on baths? Further complications surround the actual ownership of Eva, whose blended nature makes her a legal anomaly. The enormous expense of her medical procedures and rehabilitation puts her parents in Dr Pradesh's debt, and Dr Adamson desperately needs funds to keep the chimp pool financially solvent so he can continue his research. The media bosses, who funded the experimental surgery, want Eva on the shaper to satisfy public curiosity about her, and Eva is to star in commercial endorsements for a drink called Honey Bear distributed by the powerful World Fruit conglomerate.
How far should a scientist go in order to obtain funds for important research? This issue raised in Dickinson's novel surfaced recently in the case of world-renowned primate researcher Jane Goodall, to whom Eva was dedicated in 1988. Much of Dickinson's research for his novel is based on Goodall's writing about her thirty-five years studying chimpanzees in Tanzania's Gombe animal reserve. Biology professor Verna Case says,
The secret to Goodall's appeal … is based on natural curiosity about the behavior of our closest living relatives, the primates. Goodall's long study of chimpanzees—and ability to humanize them with names, life stories, and personalities—have made her a natural link to that species.
("Goodall Delivers" 25)
But the humanizing linkage Case cites as so attractive to us today provoked a measure of hostility in the 1960s when Goodall's pioneering studies, published in 1971, as In the Shadow of Man were beginning. As Suzanne Rahn has pointed out, Goodall's work provided the premise of Dickinson's Eva —that chimps could "evolve an entirely new tool culture" by passing on tool-using skills from mother to child. Despite the impressive thoroughness of her close observation, Goodall's studies shocked more orthodox ethologists because of her way of assigning her primate subjects names instead of numbers. More recently, Goodall has been questioned about her appearance on TV commercials promoting HBO (Home Box Office television)—commercials in which chimps appear to be speaking famous bits of dialogue from films and clustering to watch television. HBO paid $125,000 not to Goodall but to her institute, and Goodall explained that she agreed to the endorsement with the stipulation that the chimps were not disturbed but filmed only in their natural habitats.
Their images were then digitally manipulated to produce the final effects of human speech and gathering to watch television ("Goodall Delivers" 25). In Dickinson's eerily predictive novel, Eva and a chimp named Bobo must appear in a fruit commercial that involves Wild West gunslinger costuming and banana six-shooters. A disgusted observer exclaims, "It's just against reason and nature … bringing a noble beast like that into this kind of crappy setup and getting him to do anything we fancy, such as being dressed up for laughs in a cowboy outfit. It makes me sick" (99). This reaction, like the recent criticisms of Goodall's commercial cooperation, derives from bioethical highmindedness but ignores the moral complexity of economic choices unavoidably made in a world so overrun by humanity that other species cannot simply be left alone.
As Eva, now living as a human and now as a chimp, moves back and forth through her world of the crowded city and the research facility of large cages, concrete floors, and steel and plastic climbing frames, she is haunted by deep, atavistic dreams of "a green tree world, branches with bark rough or smooth, blobs and patches of sunlight seeping through the leaf cover" (37). These are certainly not the trees of the city, described as "tamed, guarded, numbered, precious" (24). Her human friend Grog Kennedy urges Eva to consider going back to the jungle while there is still a little bit of it left. He warns her that humans are giving up:
Haven't you noticed? We're opting out, not trying anymore, living in the past. We conquered the planet, and what has it done for us? Zilch. All we've got is one ruined planet. How long do you think we're going to go on looking after a bunch of monkeys? I tell you, Eva, you better be thinking … how you chimps are going to start getting a living for yourselves without us.
Eva recognizes the validity of his passionate warning. She is fully aware of how many animal species have died out as the people have crammed into the world, needing the jungles, savannas, uplands, even deserts to exploit. With the world overpopulated and no where else to go, Grog points out,
The whole human race is thinking in shorter and shorter terms. The bright kids aren't going into research; the investors aren't putting their money into anything that doesn't give them a quick return; government institutions aren't funding basic research; we're pulling back from space exploration…. We're giving up. Packing it in.
Grog urges Eva to convince her father to release her and the chimps into what remains of the wild, where Eva with her human consciousness and skills can guide them safely through their transition from tame, caged research subjects to independent animals living in their natural habitat.
Neil Philip, in his Times Literary Supplement review of Eva, compares Eva's act of chimp liberation and relocation to Moses leading his people out of bondage in Egypt. Besides these parallel roles, Eva and Moses both have interesting dual identities. The Israelite Moses, found as an infant in the bulrushes by Pharaoh's daughter, has been raised as an Egyptian. Eva Adamson, human by birth, has joined the chimpanzee community. However, Eva's role in the flight from the city to a small island near Madagascar is nothing like the patriarchal leadership of Moses. Moses is invested with natural and divinely ordained authority while Eva, as a young female in the relocated chimp community of twenty, must appear to support the strongest male, Herman, as well as show submissive daughterly respect to older females. Once the chimps are released into the wild, a strategically casual Eva must help them learn how to gather food and wean themselves from chimp chow, build shelter and sleeping nests, and struggle against the elements like typhoons and sudden storms. Some behavior formerly natural to chimps needs to be re-learned: "They had also learned that trees were not as easy to climb as they looked, especially if you were used to the rigid steel branches welded to the pillars of the Reserve. Herman had one crashing fall into the bushes below and rose bewildered, still clutching the branch that had snapped on him" (164). As time passes on the island, Eva improves her fellow chimps by teaching them to plant seeds and tie knots. Over time, she even manipulates the chimp gene pool by refusing "to mate with males she thought stupid or unsociable, and sometimes by guile and distraction had interfered in the same kind of way when the other females were in season" (217). Thus besides leading her community to a new homeland, as Moses does, Eva like Eve in Genesis becomes mother to a whole new breed of beings.
While Eva's chimpanzee society endures, the urbanized human world inexorably declines. News brought to the island by the occasional visiting researcher includes stories of communities that refuse to plant crops and pass resolutions to stop eating and starve to death. One scientist tells Eva:
My daughter joined the group that walked into the sea. They put rocks in their pockets, joined hands, and walked in singing. Just a couple of dozen kids. Now they are doing it hundreds at a time.
In these stories Eva hears echoes of Grog's earlier pronouncements:
Trouble with us humans is we keep forgetting we're animals. You know what happens when an animal population expands beyond what the setup will bear? Nature finds ways of cutting them back. Usually it's plain starvation, but even when there's food to go around something gets triggered inside them. They stop breeding or they eat their own babies or peck one another to death—there's all sorts of ways. Us too. It's in us. We can't escape it.
Because the humans in Peter Dickinson's futuristic city have forgotten their basic nature and hurtle toward suicidal doom, some readers may argue that the novel is too harsh for a young audience. Marcus Crouch observes, "In it there is little of comfort, except perhaps the thought that mankind is on the way out and that the world will then come under the control of a species better able to control its greed and treat its resources with respect" (Crouch 26). Neil Philip argues that the novel "imagines both an end and a beginning to the human story" (Crouch 26). Eva's small community of chimps will slowly evolve into a new humanity. Eva has tried throughout her experiences to remind other humans, "You're just another monkey, remember."
Since 1986, when Jane Goodall realized she could no longer isolate herself in nature's paradisical Gombe animal reserve, she has traveled the world to lecture and make others aware of environmental degradation. She has alerted audiences to the plight of chimpanzees as well as the problems of human population growth, poverty, and damage to the environment. But Goodall usually ends her lectures with what she calls her three principles of hope: (1) that humans are problem-solvers just waking up to the dangers of environmental destruction, (2) that energetic, committed young people are learning about the environment at an earlier age, and (3) that the human spirit seems willing to go into battle against impossible odds. Perhaps the combination of Dickinson's stark cautionary tale amid Goodall's talks to standing-room-only crowds will reach their intended audiences. Goodall's lectures frequently take place on college campuses where every seat in the auditorium is filled while overflow crowds watch via video-simulcast. Dickinson's novel, an American Library Association Notable Book, is aimed at middle-school and high school young people, the group Goodall believes will lead the environmental crusade.
If Dickinson's opening scene of a broken, damaged child in a hospital bed metaphorically represents the state of humankind, then the final dreamy image of chimpanzees "moving slowly away into the trees" may predict a future hopeful-looking to those who, like Goodall and Eva, take a view of life broader than anthropocentrism. Just as Eve in Genesis made the first move in the slow process of detaching the consciousness we think of as uniquely human from nature and locating it in what would come to be the civilized urban world, so Dickinson's Eva takes knowledge back to the Garden of Eden.
Crouch, Marcus. "Review of Eva." The Junior Bookshelf. 53:1 (Feb. 1989): 26.
Dickinson, Peter. Eva. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books, 1988.
"Goodall Delivers SRO Reynolds Lecture." Davidson Joumal 26 (Fall, 1996): 25.
Philip, Neil. "Working with Nature." Times Literary Supplement 4483 (March 3-9, 1989): 232.
Rahn, Suzanne. "A Note on the Source of Eva." The Lion and the Unicorn 19 (1995): 183.
Wilson, Phillis. "Focus: Eva by Peter Dickinson." Booklist 85:17 (May 1, 1989): 1946.
Betty Carter (essay date September-October 2001)
SOURCE: Carter, Betty. "A Second Look: Eva." Horn Book Magazine 77, no. 5 (September-October 2001): 541-48.
[In the following essay, Carter examines the wide-ranging critical reactions evoked by Dickinson's Eva among both adult and child readers.]
In 1989, when Peter Dickinson's Eva (Delacorte) was first published in the United States, I had been away from my job as a middle-school librarian for three years. Just reading that book made me want to go back to working directly with kids. I imagined their reactions and thought about the great discussions we could have concerning medical ethics, the relationship between humankind and the natural world, and the very definition of life itself. But they were on one campus and I was on another, teaching young adult literature to prospective teachers and librarians. Since I was unable to have my fantasy conversations about Eva with kids, I created an adult discussion on the same book, expecting the two activities to be interchangeable. They weren't.
Like so many other university teachers, I had developed a core list of books for whole-class reading to insure some common basis for discussion, introduce or reintroduce popular and classic works in the field, foster respect for teenagers and their reading, and create or re-create an enthusiasm for the literature itself. Since Eva seemed to fit into these broad categories, it became one of the required reading texts. The first time that graduate students voiced their dislike for the book, I figured the particular group just didn't care for science fiction. When a different class had the same response the next semester—and every succeeding one after that—it became obvious that their rejection went deeper than genre preferences.
What is it about this book that causes critics to praise it, youngsters to read and reread it, and the adult students I taught year after year to loathe it? The answers call for another look at Eva —an examination that touches on the nature of reading, response to literature, adult responsibility in book selection and readers advisory, and the book itself.
Set sometime in the future, Eva takes place on an overpopulated Earth, where, with "more and more people crammed into the world, needing more and more land for cities and crops … the animals had died out." Zoos are also gone, replaced by "shapers" that allow humans to "go to a shaper park and walk among the shapes of an elephant herd, life-sized, wallowing in the shape of a mud pool while the shape of a lion stalked the shape of an eland beyond." There are also wildlife programs on home shapers that reduce the size of the animals but are nonetheless efficient ways to recreate life in the wild. "[A] real rhinoceros, living the life it was made for, needs a dozen square kilometers. A taped rhinoceros only needs a few cubic centimeters. So it was all very tidy and sensible, just right for a world crammed full of people. That's what people had thought, until it was too late. And that is why there were only the chimps left."
Chimpanzees, so much like humans, were originally protected in Dickinson's fictional world so they could be used for research that couldn't be conducted on people. Once the other animals vanished, however, the Earth's inhabitants became captivated by all things chimp, first for the creatures' entertainment value, and second for their scientific contributions. The most popular shaper commercial, for example, shows chimpanzees, dressed like human children, advertising a soft drink; exhibits of chimpanzees cavorting in cages are permanent fixtures in many cities. Still, research continues on the animals through an International Chimp Pool that not only studies their behavior but also oversees breeding to ensure future availability.
As head of Primate Zoology, Dr. Adamson is in charge of the Pool. His young daughter, Eva, has "grown up among chimps … she'd been one of Dad's research projects. Of course, she'd met humans her own age because Mom and Dad, like other parents, put their child into playgroups so that she would learn to socialize, but Eva had always felt just as at home among chimps. In some ways more, in fact—she'd been making chimp chatter before she said her first human word, and before she was three Dad had been using her to help him understand how the chimps' minds were working."
By age thirteen, Eva is a bright, personable child, interacting equally well with both chimps and humans. Then, one day as Eva and her parents are returning home from a picnic, Dr. Adamson loses control of the car, causing a horrific accident. The adults are unhurt; Eva survives with an irreversibly broken body. Research teams from the International Chimp Pool are eager to experiment with Eva, to implant her "neuron memory" in the body of a chimpanzee and thus save some semblance of Dr. Adamson's child. They do. But, as Dickinson wrote in The Horn Book in March/April 1993, "the whole point of the story is that it is not like my wearing a gorilla suit at a fancy dress party, occasionally making ape noises while holding my glass with a sensitive human hand." Eva must not only accept that body but come to like it. As she tells her mother, "I've got to be happy with this new me, and so do you. Not just think it's better than me being dead. Happy to have me like this."
At this point in the story, Dickinson took the students I taught to a place they did not want to go. Categorized in academic nomenclature as "nontraditional students," these adults, all studying to become teachers or librarians, were typically between the ages of thirty-five and forty-five, female, and mothers. They were confident enough to give honest responses rather than formulate teacher-pleasing answers. Despite their varied and rich life experiences, they were still students, reading as they always had, searching for personal connections in the books they encountered. Their identity as parents invariably influenced their interpretation of Eva, for unconsciously their focus settled on the mother rather than Dickinson's adolescent protagonist.
These maternal instincts prompted visceral shudders from most class members when I read aloud the scene of Eva first leaving her hospital bed:
She settled against Mom's shoulder and without thinking lifted her hand and started to pick with inquisitive fingers among the roots of the gray-streaked hair. She felt Mom stiffen and then try to relax.
"You won't find anything, darling," she said.
The chimps in the Research Section of the Pool were allowed a few harmless parasites so that they could have the satisfaction of catching them in their endless grooming sessions, but a flake of dried skin or a scrap of dirt would do almost as well. That wasn't the point.
"Mm-hmmm," Eva murmured on a rising note.
Mom twitched and relaxed again.
"Don't tease," she said. "I'm not in the mood."
Eva shrugged her shoulder forward and said, "You do me. It's kind of comforting."
"All right. Provided you don't go poking in my earhole."
Eva peered at the dark cave in the neat whorled ear. Yes, she did feel a definite urge to probe in there with a finger, but it wouldn't be fair. Mom had never felt easy with the chimps, the way Eva had. She couldn't even groom a shoulder as though it was the natural thing to be doing; there was a sort of fumblingness about her fingertips as they worked their way across the fur. All the same, it was lovely to be able to feel the movement after the weeks of stillness and numbness. If she'd been a cat, Eva would have purred.
Despite the author's intended audience, I observed mothers, year after year, read this novel and adopt it as a story about themselves, about a parent who after two months of watching her daughter endure incalculable pain through numerous surgeries finally has the opportunity to hold and comfort her child and, in turn, find comfort in that holding. That child is so altered that her comfort comes from neither receiving nor returning a human embrace, but rather from locating and eating mites from her mother's hair. This daughter will never trade intimacies with her mother, shop with her for a prom dress, or present her with grandchildren. This daughter, dimly aware of these future losses, is only able to acknowledge them by acquiescing to her mother's wish to embroider a butterfly on the bib of her overalls, clothing that Eva is asked to wear to cover up her swollen rump during estrus and thus camouflage her sexual self.
This aspect of the story repulsed these adults even though they recognized that the fictional mother finally comes to terms somewhat with Eva's existence. She watches old videos of her girl-child, but at the end of Eva's life sends her grapes and love, offerings that acknowledge Eva's animal palate but still mollify the mother's human longings. While class members were unwilling to accept this denouement ("It isn't right, somehow"), they were more than willing to discuss reasons for their displeasure. During these discussions they revealed one of the major differences between students entering a field and capable professionals already working in the same area.
Universities offer young adult literature classes so students can learn something. Some of that learning is based on content, such as characteristics of adolescents or authors, titles, and themes of literature, but another part of that learning is about processes and skills. One of the skills librarians and teachers must master in order to become effective professionals is that of reading to discover the possibilities a book can offer others—frequently quite unlike themselves—rather than to judge the amount of personal pleasure it delivers to them. In many ways, such a shift requires individuals to change the way they've interacted with literature all their lives. Reading is an intimate act to which readers bring their own backgrounds, prejudices, and preferences. They draw on these predispositional traits when evaluating their own personal reading, typically labeling a work as "good" or "enjoyable" or "thought-provoking" when they find connections based on these qualities within it. Conversely, adults will define a book as "awful" or "dull" or "just not for me" when they don't. Such a process is transparent when individuals are reading for their own pleasure, information, and diversion. It becomes an impediment when adults charged with book selection and reading guidance for teenagers let their own preferences dictate how they make purchasing decisions and what they recommend.
Initial discussions of Eva brought that problem out in the open. Students tacitly acknowledged that young people might enter the book differently than they, perhaps through the main character rather than the mother. But they still wanted to project their own responses on these readers by adding comments such as, "But, of course, it's too depressing for kids because they like funny books" or "There's just no hope that the world will survive, and children's books should always have hope." Such comments represent a critical shorthand that closes all avenues of further discussion and diverts attention away from the book and toward the idealized reader, who either resides in the same house of taste as the adult or at some address no one can verify. They also create boundaries within which readers must operate in order to become recognized and accepted, defining youngsters' preferences for humor and adult-approved hope while negating the power a strong work can have to pull readers into new, or previously unrecognized, places and ideas.
A few probing questions quickly stop this thread of discussion. When asked, for example, how they knew teens only liked "funny books," students could not come up with any evidence beyond their own hunches. Similarly, statements decrying the lack of hope had no basis in the book but resided only in the speaker's perceptions. Still, these discussions brought us back to the book. It is the book that matters on the day of publication and it is the book that matters twelve years later.
As Eva faces her new life, she thinks of the chimp, Kelly, whose body she invaded.
Eva's human neurons might have copied themselves into Kelly's brain, but as Dad had said, that left a sort of connection, an interface, a borderland where human ended and chimp began. You couldn't live like that, with a frontier in you like a wall, keeping your selves apart. The only way to become whole was to pull the wall down, to let the other side back in, to let it invade in its turn, up into the human side, the neurons remembering their old paths, twining themselves in among the human network until both sides made a single pattern. A new pattern, not Eva, not Kelly—both but one.
Eva pulls down her internal wall, allowing her chimp consciousness to see the world differently from her human self. She notes the animalistic posturing humans engage in when they interact with one another, scientists who continue to seek knowledge with a conceit that destroys animals and lands, and a population that renounces the world by retreating into comfortable shaper fantasies or by committing mass suicides. She begins to embrace the whole Eva, just as the earth's population is rejecting the world they've created. One scientist tries to explain this despair that contrasts so neatly with Eva's optimism: "No telling about anything…. Sometimes I think it's just a phase, old Mother Nature, who we keep forgetting we're children of, just cutting the population back to a sane kind of size, and then we'll start again."
Slowly Eva realizes that if humans recognize no future for themselves, they will certainly not support one for her or the chimpanzees. Only she can ensure their survival, and to do so she must leave the decay of civilization and teach the chimps to survive in the wild. She tricks her father into transporting the Pool to St. Hilaire, a remote island that contains the remnants of a proper jungle. There she leads the chimps to an area humans can't reach and establishes a homeland, a place without human interference, but with human watchdogs recording their movements through remote cameras. Late in Eva's life, scientists abandon this last vestige of control, acknowledging that chimps may be "the human future … the Inheritors."
Dickinson's casting of Eva as an adolescent girl gives the story both power and logic. Girls' bodies change; they become someone different; they separate from parents; and they create new life, ideally with their own parents safely in the background but ready to offer support. Eva follows the same pattern, although she does so in the larger sense of her named ancestor, Eve.
Dickinson emphasizes Eva's emergence by refusing to ignore her sexuality, the center of an individual as well as the nexus of adolescent change. When Eva first elects to mate—not select a life partner or make love, but to mate—she asks herself, "Why not? You couldn't choose some of this life and not all of it." Dickinson voices uneasiness: "Few of the humans … had really come to terms with the idea of Eva's having children. Chimp kids. In their minds there were images of white women being carried away into the jungle by giant apes."
And there it is. Dickinson gives no quarter in making Eva whole, not a young girl housed inside a chimp's body but a creature, a changeling, whose instincts and actions conform to her physical self. Eva reconciles her dual parts in much the same way adolescents must allow their adult instincts to overtake their child selves in order to mature. Perhaps this extended metaphor empowers teenagers who are in the tumultuous process of doing so. The implied comparison forced many of the students I taught to consider a disturbing truth. In order to survive in society, their adult offspring could not remain children housed in grown-up bodies, but instead would have to become individuals making their own independent ways, often unlike the patterns of their parents, in concert with their physical development. Class members began to wonder if this new status would create conflict and sadness as it had for Mrs. Adamson, for they, much like Eva's mother, might prefer to hold on to the child rather than accept the adult.
The topics raised in Eva transcend the fleeting concerns of adolescence. Dickinson shows tremendous respect for his readers and their ability to grapple with hard issues that range from euthanasia to the influence of the media. He is as unflinching in his descriptions of the future as he is in Eva's metamorphosis. He gives readers no logical wiggle room in which to build a softer interpretation of this deteriorating society. They can question, challenge, regret, confront, dismiss, or accept it, but they cannot change it. They may, however, consider their own futures, for Dickinson's prompts are as valid today as they were twelve years ago. Here readers are on their own, as they should be, full of questions with no certain answers. And that is the power of literature—to provide an arena where young people can encounter unimaginable situations that lead them, as Robert Probst wrote in 1982, to discover "not knowledge ready-made, but the opportunity to make knowledge." Adults must provide access to that arena, not just by leading young people up the slight incline of "knowledge ready-made," but by encouraging them to tackle the more difficult and unsettling slope of "opportunity to make knowledge." That's where readers will discover Eva.
Pat Pinsent (essay date summer 2003)
SOURCE: Pinsent, Pat. "‘Into the Tree’: Journeys into the Future in Peter Dickinson's Eva." Foundation 32, no. 88 (summer 2003): 45-53.
[In the following essay, Pinsent considers the societal implications raised by the subject matter of Dickinson's Eva.]
Fantasy and Realism
Peter Dickinson himself provides a summary of Eva (London: Gollancz, 1988: edition used Gollancz, 1991), in an article published five years after its publication:
My novel Eva … is about the adventure of a girl, sometime in the future, who wakes up from a coma she's been in after an operation, to discover that, in order to give her a life of a kind, her mind and personality have been transfixed into the body of a chimpanzee called Kelly. She then through the course of the book finds that she has to come to terms not only with a chimpanzee's body, but also with a chimpanzee's nature, because that is still there. Along the way various themes arise—the destruction of the natural world, overpopulation, the exploitation of animals in medical research.1
The fantasy of a thirteen-year-old girl in effect becoming a chimpanzee and in due course having chimp offspring might at first glance suggest that in this novel we are very far from the "real" world, but very soon it is revealed as being in many respects uncomfortably similar to ours, perhaps even more so today than when the book was first published in 1988. The most vivid description of this world appears early in the novel:
As more and more people crammed into the world, needing more and more land for cities and crops, so the animals had died out. Most of the great wild jungles were gone, and the savannahs that used to cover half a continent. Here and there a few patches of jungle remained among mountains too steep to use, or stretches of bleak and barren upland unsuitable for the energy fields that filled most of the old hot deserts, or offshore waters where fish-farms for some reason wouldn't flourish, but even these were always being nibbled away as somebody found a new method of exploiting them. And anyway, the wild animals that had been crowded into those pockets had destroyed them by their numbers, or become diseased, or just somehow lost interest in living in a world like that.
The big animals vanished first, elephants and giraffes, gorillas and orangs, whales and dolphins. Others hung on in the patches and crannies people left for them, by mistake or on purpose … There were rats, of course, and wasps, and city pigeons and starlings, and so on, but that was all.
There'd been zoos for a while, but what was the point of going to see a few sad old elephants in an enclosure when you could go to a shaper-park and walk among the shapes of an elephant herd, life-size, wallowing in the shape of a mud-pool while the shape of a lion stalked the shape of an eland beyond (all stored on old tapes, made before the last savannahs had gone)? And at home there were wild-life programmes on the shaper, either old tapes or live from the little patches of jungle and desert that still were left. You could have them in your living room, hear their screams and songs, watch their hunting and mating. They weren't life-size, of course, and you couldn't smell them, and when they killed and ate each other the blood disappeared from your carpet as soon as you switched channels. Besides, a real rhinoceros, living the life it was made for, needs a dozen square kilometres. A taped rhinoceros only needs a few cubic centimetres. So it was all very tidy and sensible, just right for a world crammed full of people. That's what people had thought, until it was too late. And that is why there were only the chimps left.
I have two reasons for quoting at length this description of Eva's world, with its carefully reasoned explanation for the situation. Firstly, it blends the familiar world with what Kathryn Hume regards as characteristic of fantasy: "the desire to change givens and alter reality".2 She goes on to suggest that this desire may arise from a range of impulses, including "the need for metaphoric images that will bypass the audience's verbal defences", which is surely exactly what Dickinson is doing in this book. Secondly, in this passage Dickinson's use of an ironic voice which assumes a somewhat pragmatic viewpoint seems to be demanding a response from the reader. What is the "point" of seeing animals in zoos, or saving their habitats, when the ‘shaper’, which seems to be a combination of "virtual reality" and television, presents them in a more "tidy and sensible" way? The "shaper" is cleverly named, with its wild-life reconstructions and its use of animals in advertisements, since it possesses the power to control people's thoughts: "‘Dad said that the shaper companies were the real rulers of the world. The people told them what they wanted and the companies gave it to them and nothing else mattered’" (p. 16). Dickinson is surely evoking here the power of television, the media, and commerce.
The enormous size of the city, with its population control which means that pregnancies have to be licensed, the tower blocks, as well as lesser features such as Eva's electronic voice, all seem far from strange to the twenty-first-century reader. Also familiar to us are aspects of Dickinson's depiction of society, such as the marches in favour of animal rights, by demonstrators whose use of the icon of a broken butterfly (p. 144) seems to reflect Eva's lost human identity.
Yet there is a strong fantasy element in the book as Dickinson's plot depends on an operation which scientists today have neither achieved nor yet as far as I know attempted, although this may be merely a matter of time: the transplantation of the "neurone memory" of a girl badly injured in an accident into the body of a young female chimpanzee, Kelly. Eva's scientist father is in charge of a research group of chimps and Eva herself has been brought up with them, which means she has an unequalled degree of sympathy and understanding with the apes. It is from this situation that all the action flows. By portraying the interplay between three forces at work in Eva: her human intelligence, the residual body memory of Kelly, and the "folk memory" that recreates the natural life in the trees which the young chimp could never have known, Dickinson manages to explore some very ‘real’ and contemporary issues.
There is, I would claim, a contrapuntal relationship between the fantasy as such and various levels of explorations of "reality", one in which trees, absent from most of the world but finally a refuge for the chimps, frequently serve metonymically. By associations which are so strong that they acquire some degree of symbolism while losing none of their "reality", they signify not only the kind of natural existence to which Eva is guiding her colony of chimps, but also perhaps the quality of life to which human society might well aspire, without the artificiality and commercialisation which beset their society—and ours.
The Problem of Adolescent Identity
It has often been stated that one of the major problems of readers of the age targeted in this novel is that of finding out who they are. Their natural desire for identity and autonomy is beset by hormonal changes as well as by the constant variations in the way in which society treats them. This dichotomy could well lead readers to empathise with Eva's rather more extreme situation. Faced with an interviewer who emphasises how pretty she used to be before her body became that of a chimp, she insists: "‘I'm very pretty now.’" Irritated by his obvious scepticism, she grips his collar and gives him a kiss, "using her big lips to produce a real smacker." He gasps, "‘Gee, you're strong,’" to which she replies, "‘Chimps are.’"
‘But you're supposed to be a young woman.’
‘I'm a chimp too. And I like it.’
Adolescents beset by adults who remind them how pretty they used to be in their childhood are likely to empathise with Eva here. The process of coming to terms with her chimp identity is aided by Eva's familiarity with chimps during her upbringing, and the two subsequent attempts at transplantation fail because the humans who were involved lacked any such kinship. The book's expert on the subject, Dr Joan Pradesh, suggests:
At a very early age thanks to your father's decision to bring you up in such close contact with the Pool, you may well have learnt to think of yourself as actually being a chimpanzee as well as a human, and that deep in your subconscious mind you still do so. The attraction of this theory is that the level at which rejection of the transfer is most likely to occur is very close to the subconscious, the boundary where the human mind has to mesh with the autonomous systems of the animal host.
It is evident that Eva frequently feels that she has gained spontaneity from her chimp inheritance—the impulse which causes her to kiss Mr Ellan has arisen from the fact that he "filled her with a spirit of mischief—and that wouldn't have been there in the old days" (p. 52). Although she welcomes much of Kelly's legacy, it inevitably makes her feel "a sense of not-belonging".
Kelly … had left part of herself behind. Her nature, her instinct, still rooted deep into the body into which the human Eva had been grafted. That was the Kelly Eva herself had invited back across the shadowy border between mind and brain. She couldn't do that and then say OK, but I don't want all of her. I'll have the lightning reactions but not the tantrums, the warmth and fun but not the sullen hours, the sympathy but not the mischief. They were Eva too, now.
While no teenagers are going to be faced with the kind of divide between different parts of themselves in the way that Eva is, at this stage of development it is easy for them to feel as if they are torn between childish and adult behaviour, between spontaneity and control, between imagination and intellect. Encountering a central character who experiences these splits in a more extreme form is likely to reduce the initial feeling of alienation which could well be generated by the strangeness of Eva's plight. Betty Carter argues that this story has special appeal to adolescent readers:
Dickinson's casting of Eva as an adolescent girl gives the story both power and logic. Girls' bodies change, they become someone different, they separate from parents; and they create new life, ideally with their own parents safely in the background but ready to offer support. Eva follows the same pattern, although she does so in the larger sense of her named ancestor, Eve.3
Peter Dickinson, himself bears this out: "Eva's discovery and acceptance of her new nature is a metaphor, and in that sense a mask, to do with adolescence and the discovery of oneself as an adult. I think this is probably the most successful element in the book."4 Interestingly, Carter found that her own women students of teaching and librarianship, aged generally between thirty-five and forty-five, had difficulties with the book, mostly because, as mothers themselves, they identified more readily with the plight of Eva's mother, whose maternal impulses were alienated by the strange, and to her frequently repulsive, shape and behaviour of her daughter.
Relationships between Animals and Humans
Dickinson confronts "real" issues in several ways. Among the most notable of these is his exploration of the relationships between humans and animals, which involves questions about animal rights and human responsibilities towards them. Eva is faced by people who make the automatic human assumption that anything can be done to an animal provided it might have some slight benefit to a human. Joan, the scientist, cares little for the chimps—Caesar and Angel—whose lives have been lost in the unsuccessful attempt to replicate the neurone transplant for two other humans. Her regrets are only for the human victims who did not survive. Throughout the book, Eva's animal responses allow her, and thus the reader who shares her consciousness, to appreciate how, for instance, the animal activity of grooming (pp. 30, 41, 91-2) helps create a bond; she also becomes aware of the instinctual knowledge she now has of the position of the sun (p. 14). Her reactions also reveal some of the less attractive animal aspects of human beings, for instance when she finds in herself a fear of the human "pack" (pp. 64, 138). She begins to recognise how much human gestures divulge:
Mr Ellan's nods and silences showed that he was used to this sort of reaction—expected it in fact. It was just like the chimps in the Pool, with their boss-males, and the other males constantly making special signals to placate or challenge the bosses.
Elsewhere Dickinson leads the reader towards a rejection of the excessive degree of anthropomorphism with which animals in literature and advertisements are often endowed. Early in the book, he draws the reader's attention to the falsification engendered by human sensibilities:
The chimps in the Pool mostly wore nothing, but were dressed in child's overalls when Dad took them on expeditions, partly because they weren't house-trained and had to use nappies, but mainly to hide the sexual swelling on the rumps of the females, which people who didn't know about chimps always found bothersome.
A stronger critique of sentimentality occurs in Eva's dismissal of the human reaction to a scene where the especially clever male chimp, Sniff, carries her to safely after she has been shot by an anaesthetic dart. Humans naturally interpret the shaper pictures of this event as Sniff putting himself in danger to deliver the one he loves, an interpretation which ironically leads to greater world support for the freedom of the chimps. Eva on the other hand realises that what has led to his action is the fact that he can smell that she is on the point of coming into oestrus, when she will become ready to mate with him (pp. 184, 192).
The Media and Commerce
Eva's exceptional situation as an animal with human intelligence and (electronic) speech makes her a valuable property, both to the advertisers and to the "shaper" channels. By portraying her as focalising character, Dickinson is able to provide insight into the situation of "victims" of press and TV with a greater element of savagery than would have been appropriate otherwise. The long passage quoted at the beginning of this paper continues:
Chimps were different. Chimps were a special case, because they were so close to humans, our cousins but not us. It was worth keeping real chimps alive, for research you couldn't do on humans, a pool of chimps big enough to breed from so that there were animals to spare for scientists to use. Of course, now that they'd lost all the other big animals, now that they'd found that shapings, however solid-seeming, weren't really a substitute, people had become interested in real chimps. More than interested—obsessed, almost. Easily the most popular ads on the shaper were for a soft drink called Honeybear which used live chimps, dressed up as people.
Eva discovers that she too will be expected to take part in Honeybear ads; as her mother explains, the sponsors have "spent so much money on you that they're bound to want to make rather a thing of it" (p. 42-3). Some of the money however will be available for the support of the chimp Pool, a cause so close to Eva's heart that she is inclined to give in to the moral blackmail involved. The reader is made more aware of distasteful elements in this transaction than would be the case in a more familiar setting. As the "shaper" presenter explains: "But for the generosity of Honeybear Soft Drinks it would not have been possible. Eva's transformation was a very expensive procedure … such work does not come cheap, and Eva and her parents have cause to be very grateful indeed to Honeybear for their help" (p. 60). Legal discussion about to whom Eva, in her metamorphosed form, actually belongs (p. 68), raises the question as to whether animals, let alone human beings, should ever really belong to a company or be treated as a commodity.
The moral questions which arise in relation to the issues already mentioned, such as the human tendency to regard animals either as dispensable by comparison with humans, or as assets to be used commercially, are not the only ones posed in Eva. Although her father protests, "‘Of course we have a moral responsibility to all living things’" (p. 28), he is forced to admit expediency:
As you know, I've never liked the business of selling chimps for research and have always been very selective about projects. If it had not been for their research-value, there would be no chimps in the world today. If we didn't continue to sell the surplus there would be no Pool.
As well as the morality of experimentation on primates being continually thrown into question (for example, on pp. 135-6), concerns are voiced by Eva about whether the animals gain anything from the extra funds she is earning: "‘Are they getting bananas at the Pool?’" Her father obviously thinks this is a trivial issue in comparison with research benefits, but Eva points out, "‘Bananas are benefits if you're a chimp.’" (p. 82)
Another question which arises is that of sexual relationships. Eva accuses her parents of hoping that "some boy with an IQ of a hundred and eighty" will walk in front of a bus and have his neurone memory grafted into the body of a handsome male chimp. She points out that even in this unlikely scenario, her babies would really be Kelly's, and ‘just chimps’. When the chimp colony finally migrate to their new haven of St Hilaire, off Madagascar, Eva does mate with male chimps:
Few of the humans who'd visited over the years had really come to terms with the idea of Eva having children. Chimp kids. In their minds there were images of white women being carried away into the jungle by giant apes … Once when someone had asked about her newest baby who the father was Eva had laughed and said she didn't know. There'd been a silence, a change of subject. Eva could have told them chimp societies don't work like that, with a woman and a man falling in love and setting up house. You could be fond of a particular male, excited even by him, but your affection was for your group, and your love, if you were a female, was for your own mother and daughter.
Dickinson makes us realise how culture-bound human society is by putting forward an alternative set of values which could be seen to have equal validity in the kind of conditions in which other primates live.
Ecology and the Survival of Primate Life
Tantalisingly, Dickinson has chosen for his protagonist the name Eva, the mother of humankind, though the fact that her first mate is called Sniff (recalling the way he detects Eva's period of sexual availability, though the name is his already) is perhaps a deliberate rejection of a possible desire to read the book in an allegorical manner. The book in fact can be seen as possessing several layers of meaning, and in teasing these out, Dickinson's deliberate foregrounding of trees is surely significant. It can hardly be accidental that four of the final five chapters of the book end with the word "trees", with the last words, "into the trees", implying an element of hope which could be read as applying not only to the apes.
In the early part of the book, the only trees which are encountered are the iron substitutes which provide some kind of scope for exercise in the chimp pool. We see Eva on her visit in chimp form to the Reserve Section of the Pool, in a disused factory:
Shivering with nerves, Eva waited. The rusty surface of a branch pressed its hard nodules into her soles. The iron trunk at her side was rougher and rustier still. In front of her rose a whole grove of iron trees, gaunt, leafless, five regular lines of them stretching away into the distance, rising from a barren grey floor … Eva hadn't guessed she would find it so weird. She had seen it be- fore, often, but with human eyes. Then the trees had been the iron pillars that had once supported the roof of a large factory … Beyond the roofless walls she could see the tops of the rest of the human forest, tower beyond tower, rising into the morning sky …
The description reveals that industrial dereliction provides a poor substitute for an appropriate environment for chimps, but the mention of "the rest of the human forest" hints that the towering city may be no more suitable as an environment for the humans who inhabit it than the disused factory is for the chimps.
Eva's first awareness of the need for something better for the chimps arises from what she comes to see as Kelly's "folk memory". When she is still in hospital, only a week after her original waking up in her metamorphosed condition, she has a different kind of dream from the human ones to which she is accustomed:
There was no story, no adventures, only the idea, the images, the feelings—herself, moving among branches, reaching with long arms, swinging, holding … Holding with her feet if she chose.
She looks at her new body in the mirror and deliberately addresses it as Kelly: "You've never seen a tree" (p. 26). She realises that Kelly may have seen "city trees, tamed, guarded, numbered, precious," but has certainly never climbed a tree like those in the dream "wild, part of a forest no one looked after, tree tangled into tree, stretching on and on, a forest where people had never been, a forest before there were people" (p. 26) As the "memories" persist, Eva feels that even though Kelly is dead, "something was still there. Not a particular chimp with particular memories of a large cage with a cement floor and a steel-and-plastic climbing frame … but a chimp still, with older, deeper memories" (p. 39). Eva feels that the only way she can become whole in her new body is to welcome the chimp side: "Inside her hairy skull she let the forest form. It was real. It was peaceful, endless, happy. There were no humans in it" (p. 39)
This experience makes her long to find "real trees in forests" (p. 58), and two years after her metamorphosis, she and a small part of the chimp colony are able to make plans to go to an island near Madagascar which was densely forested until some areas had been cleared. Eva experiences a physical reaction to the decision that they can go there: "While Grog [the instigator of the project] talked, her body became restless with excitement and she prowled the rich room, imagining shadows, imagining odours, imagining trees" (p. 149). Although the chimps need time to become at ease in a setting so different from what they have known, they respond with enthusiasm, and something within their memory is evoked: "All of them, wide awake, were remembering and recognising the dream" (p. 157). We seem to have a hint here of a chimpanzee version of Jung's collective unconscious.
Once the chimps, led by Eva, manage to escape over the fence, with its cameras, to the freedom beyond, they are able to begin to re-establish an authentic lifestyle, and Eva, apart from occasional conversations at a distance with her father who hovers above in a "flivver", has broken off her human ties. A sign that this progress will not discontinue with Eva's death is that new trees are being planted:
Eva was proud of the trees. She'd planted most of them herself, in the gaps of the old plantation, using seed the Trust had gathered and sent, food trees and shade trees. Most of them had failed, or been smashed by a passing chimp in a temper, but enough had come through. Trees grew fast in this climate. More important still, there were saplings growing which Hruffa [one of Eva's chimp daughters] had planted … and some of the others. Not all of them, but a few, because they had watched Eva doing it when they were small … Eva treasured the day when Hawa had taken her to show her a stem that had burst from the ground overnight, splaying its cotyledon leaves apart. Hawa must have planted that seed herself, and remembered doing so, and had made the connection. Yes, the trees were worth it, and so was everything else.
This discovery comes at the point when Eva learns that the chimp Pool back in the city is being closed down, not only because of shortage of funds but also because of an atmosphere of despondency which seems to have afflicted the human race. When she herself is nearing death after a stroke, she speaks to the scientists, Denny and Gudrun. Denny tells her:
There's hardly a project that hasn't got trouble…. People won't pay their taxes … a community meeting last year … passed a resolution to stop eating … Starved themselves to death …
Gudrun adds a more personal note:
My daughter joined a group which walked into the sea … They put rocks in their pockets, joined hands and walked in, singing … now they're doing it hundreds at a time … Sometimes I think it's not a long step from walking into the sea with rocks in your pockets to deciding to blow the whole planet apart, clean sweep …
Dickinson's fantasy thus offers a range of responses to the world of today. By drawing attention to its potential for disaster in a future destitute of the larger animals and much of nature as we know it, he has created a dystopia, while at the same time showing a way out of this scenario by problematising the human relationship with animals in the here and now. Research and transplants which inevitably kill the animal "donor", together with our assumptions about our automatic superiority, scarcely ameliorated by our sentimental and anthropomorphic notions about animals, are dialectically set against animal values, which in his portrayal of the group solidarity of the chimps paradoxically could almost be seen as spiritual. He also queries human exploitation of natural resources and shows the immorality of some of the behaviour of the media.
Dickinson's stance is not however defeatist. He counters human "despair" by showing that a positive outcome is not beyond hope. In his final conversation with Eva, Denny tells her of a group who believe "that chimps are the human future. They call you the Inheritors … there's always a chance that some of them might trek out here and ask you to save the world" (p. 203). Dickinson does not allow the reader any facile acceptance of this idea, resonant with its reference to Golding's novel about the strife between early humans and neanderthals, since Eva herself, who in general acts as the reader's guide to a right response, replies, "Ask them to keep away" (p. 203). Nevertheless the combination of the intertextual uses of the origin stories of both Golding and Genesis allows the reader some hope for the future; while it may not literally lie in a blend of human and animal being, it may demand from humans an acceptance of our kinship with other animals and indeed a recognition of our own animal nature. Dickinson's more recent four-part saga exploring the nature of early humanoids and their discovery of language, The Kin, suggests that his own response is positive. This, together with the optimistic image of the trees being replaced, saves the book from the bleakness which its culminating pages might otherwise possess. In going ‘into the trees’ which they themselves have planted, the chimps are making a journey towards the future and the hope for survival of the planet. Equipped with this hope, the young reader may be empowered towards a similar journey.
1. Peter Dickinson, "Masks", The Horn Book Magazine 69 (Mar/Apr 1993), p. 162.
2. Kathryn Hume, Fantasy and Mimesis (London: Methuen, 1984) p. 20.
3. Betty Carter, ‘A Second Look: Eva’, The Horn Book Magazine 77 no. 5 (Sept./Oct 2001), p. 547.
4. Peter Dickinson, "Masks", p. 163.
Margaret A. Bush (review date September-October 1992)
SOURCE: Bush, Margaret A. Review of AK, by Peter Dickinson. Horn Book Magazine 68, no. 5 (September-October 1992): 588.
Dickinson uses a fictitious African country as the setting for [AK, ] a stark tale of children enmeshed in perpetual guerrilla warfare. The locale is dramatic and lends veracity to the story, but the events are so true to those in several parts of the contemporary world that this novel becomes a parable for our time. An opening passage introduces the focal character and a summation of the story. "At once the dream world was forgotten and he knew exactly who he was, Paul, Warrior, of the Fifth Special Commando of the Nagala Liberation Army, now out on a mission to blow up and ambush the Grand Trunk Railway between Dangoum and Jom-jom. Who he was, what he was, all he was. Paul. Warrior. A boy with his own gun." The gun, an AK, is symbolic for Paul. He buries it as the war ends and retrieves it in a new surge of fighting; over time he finds that the gun's importance wanes as human relationships widen and he learns that life's answers are not simple and crystal clear. The commando leader, Michael, becomes a father to Paul, who also joins forces with Jilli, a girl whose village is brutally destroyed. Action moves from the brush to the city, through escape and search for the imprisoned Michael as the fragile peace is shattered again by usurping powers. The young people help foment a powerful uprising, routing the newest dictator and suggesting better times to come. But, says Michael, "‘It will be twenty years before we know whether it was worth it.’" In a provocative postscript Dickinson describes two potential versions of the characters' lives in twenty years' time—one an optimistic scene and the other a cycle of endless fighting. The absorbing story is disturbing in its plausibility and creates a thoughtful exploration of the dynamics of war.
A BONE FROM A DRY SEA (1992)
Carol Burbridge (review date March-April 1993)
SOURCE: Burbridge, Carol. Review of A Bone from a Dry Sea, by Peter Dickinson. Book Report 11, no. 5 (March-April 1993): 38.
Using a controversial theory of evolution as a framework, Dickinson, author of Eva and AK, challenges the reader to imagine a tribe of sea-apes living on the eastern coast of Africa millions of years ago [in A Bone from a Dry Sea ]. Using a young girl, Li, as his central character, he tells of tribal life and customs and how the sea-apes depend on the sea for all basic needs. Li, however, is the first creative thinker in her tribe, and it is she who eventually leads survivors of a tsunami away from their dependence on the sea. Li's story is juxtaposed with that of Vinny, a modern girl, who is visiting her divorced father on his archaeologic dig in Africa. Vinny, too, is a creative thinker, and she has heard the story of the sea-apes, much to the consternation of her father. It is Vinny who finds an artifact (an ornament made by Li from a dolphin bone) that could cause drastic rethinking in the field of human evolution, but she and her father decide to leave it behind for another time. Dickinson has created two different narrators who live in two different worlds yet are very much alike. Each girl is a well-crafted character, and each society is sharply drawn with its own values. Especially interesting was the politics of modern archaeology. The intertwining chapters labeled "Then" and "Now" are easy to follow, and Dickinson leaves the reader wanting more at the end of each episode. Closing notes refer readers to books by Elaine Morgan about the sea-ape theory. Highly Recommended.
CHUCK AND DANIELLE (1994)
Nancy Vasilakis (review date September-October 1996)
SOURCE: Vasilakis, Nancy. Review of Chuck and Danielle, by Peter Dickinson, illustrated by Kees de Kiefte. Horn Book Magazine 72, no. 5 (September-October 1996): 593.
[In Chuck and Danielle, ] Chuck is a whippet who gives new meaning to the word paranoia. She knows that everything is out to get her. When teddy bears, snarling monster-cats, or motorcycles that make loud, dog-eating noises come after her, Chuck bolts. The ruckus that follows is enough to prove her point. Luckily, she is usually rescued by Danielle, who is sure that some day Chuck will save the universe. (Danielle and her mother have an agreement that on that lucky day her Mum will take Danielle to McDonald's for a Big Mac. Mum feels pretty safe agreeing to this.) Miraculously, this actually comes about when Chuck provides the opportunity for Danielle to learn about her father, whom she has never known. If it isn't the entire universe that Chuck has saved, it's that portion of it that matters most to Danielle and her mum. In the seven funny episodes that make up this short novel, Dickinson gives us a glimpse of life in a small, modern, close-knit family as seen through the perspective of their pet's nervous doggy eyes. Although the illustrations, large type, and brief length make the book look like it's for younger children, the unusual point of view, the many personal asides to the reader, and the frequent switching of tenses will probably limit the book's audience to a more sophisticated readership.
SHADOW OF A HERO (1994)
Ann A. Flowers (review date March-April 1995)
SOURCE: Flowers, Ann A. Review of Shadow of a Hero, by Peter Dickinson. Horn Book Magazine 71, no. 2 (March-April 1995): 199-200.
In an unusual genre for young-adult fiction—the political novel—Peter Dickinson is remarkably successful [with Shadow of a Hero ]. He creates a believable country and cause in Varina, a small Balkan nation made up of parts of several others which Dickinson presents complete with a specific history, legends, and at least two languages. The last Prime Minister of Varina, a frail old man in his eighties, is a descendant of the legendary hero of the country; both are named Restaur Vax. The modern Restaur Vax is a political refugee in England after many years of imprisonment by various governments and becomes the rallying point of a Varinian independence movement—in part because of his name. The tale is told from the viewpoint of Restaur Vax's teenage granddaughter, Letta, who chronicles the slow growth of the movement from a small rally in London to a great demonstration in Varina itself. Letta is sensible of the overwhelming problems that face any revival of Varinian self-government but is also deeply sympathetic to the national dream of freedom. The not-unexpected but bittersweet conclusion is realistic, and Dickinson's device of alternating chapters of contemporary narrative with Varinian legend is brilliant. A tour de force of a novel, perhaps not to every reader's taste, but intelligent, complex, and as up-to-date as today's headlines.
THE LION TAMER'S DAUGHTER: AND OTHER STORIES (1997)
Sybil S. Steinberg (review date 24 February 1997)
SOURCE: Steinberg, Sybil S. Review of The Lion Tamer's Daughter: And Other Stories, by Peter Dickinson. Publishers Weekly 244, no. 8 (24 February 1997): 92.
Parallel worlds, magical mirrors and doppelgängers of one sort or another are among the recurring motifs in these four highly stylized stories [in The Lion Tamer's Daughter: And Other Stories ] from English author Dickinson (Shadow of a Hero ; A Bone from a Dry Sea ). Mystical forces unleashed during a moonlit visit to "The Spring" give Derek a chance to explore two variations of the family he was born into. In "Touch and Go," a fairly predictable supernatural shaggy-dog story is grafted on to an elderly London bibliophile's engrossing account of the time he spent as a WWII-era evacuee in a lonely country manor. Set in a remote and unnamed corner of Italy, "Checkers" is the story of an English boy who is kidnapped for ransom, and of Giovanni, the ghostly youngster who befriends him; the tale's final lines ("It was Giovanni who'd won. He won it for us, because he'd lost it for himself, long, long ago") make it clear that this is also a pointedly Christian allegory. The title story chronicles the adventures of the aptly surnamed Perrault girls, Melanie and Melly, a pair of near-identical twins who are in fact a single person split in two, thanks to the machinations of a malevolent magician. Meticulously structured plots and complex symbolism are typical of this author's work; here, however, these traits seem to overwhelm the narrative, making this collection relatively slow going. Nevertheless, fans of the supernatural as well as Dickinson devotees should find something to enjoy in the practiced storytelling and elements of spookiness. Ages 10-up.
John Peters (review date March 1997)
SOURCE: Peters, John. Review of The Lion Tamer's Daughter: And Other Stories, by Peter Dickinson. School Library Journal 43, no. 3 (March 1997): 184.
Gr. 6-9—An author known for meaty, challenging fiction puts unusual twists into [The Lion Tamer's Daughter: And Other Stories, ] these three novelettes, plus a short story, about teenagers and supernatural friends helping one another. Despite some violence and occult underpinnings, the tales are more intriguing than scary: Derek has always been the only boy in his family, until he pulls David out of "The Spring" one night, and everyone's memories suddenly change. A young war refugee from London helps a dyslexic child from 50 years before read to her father in "Touch and Go" ; a kidnapped American's ghostly cellmate becomes substantial enough to play "Checkers" and to fool the ruthless captors; and in the title story, a chance meeting with his long-time friend's exact duplicate draws a stunned (and smitten) Keith into a sinister circus clown's ugly plot. The main characters, both living and spectral, are likable sorts (except, naturally, for the villains), with distinct voices and well-articulated backgrounds. The stories develop in credible directions, and in each justice is well served by the end. Rather than grabbing attention, Dickinson teases it out, so readers who demand quick hooks and breathless pacing may struggle—but a bit of patience will find its reward in some satisfying, richly imaginative writing.
NOLI'S STORY (1998)
Diane Roback (review date 29 June 1998)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane. Review of Noli's Story, by Peter Dickinson. Publishers Weekly 245, no. 26 (29 June 1998): 60.
In this thought-provoking prehistoric adventure tale [Noli's Story ], part of a new series, Dickinson considers evolution, revisiting themes he explored in A Bone from a Dry Sea. Separated from the elders of the Moonhawk clan after an attack by a horde of "ferocious strangers," Noli and five other children roam the land in search of new "Good Places" in which to hunt and gather. After a volcano eruption drives them even further afield, the youngsters rescue and befriend a wounded man they dub Tor. Skilled with tools yet unable to speak beyond simple hoots and grunts, enigmatic Tor forces the children—and the reader—to examine what it means to be human. Likewise, Noli's various shaman-like encounters with her own clan's totem animal and the hitherto voiceless spirit guide of Tor's people provide an opportunity for Dickinson to ponder the nature of the sacred. The Moonhawks' encounter with the rest of Tor's people and their joint battle against a marauding lion make for an exciting read. But the real adventure here is the exhilarating mix of ideas the novel so nimbly sets forth. Ages 10-up.
Susan L. Rogers (review date January 1999)
SOURCE: Rogers, Susan L. Review of Noli's Story, by Peter Dickinson. School Library Journal 45, no. 1 (January 1999): 124.
Gr. 4-8—Noli and Suth and four younger children are journeying through Africa in search of "Good Places"—sources of food, water, and shelter—after a volcanic eruption separates them from the rest of their Moonhawk Kin. Noli has always been a channel for the spirits that advise her people and Suth has real leadership potential, but they have responsibilities far beyond their years and experience. As members of a human tribe that lived 200,000 years ago, the Kin make and use tools, store and carry fire, communicate with language and share a mythology to explain the world around them. The story of their journey is related in a simple, direct style in keeping with their relatively new ability to communicate, and in chapters that alternate with retellings of Moonhawk mythology. During their travels, they meet some lighter-skinned canyon people who still communicate in simple grunts. The initial difficulty in getting to know, tolerate, and eventually cooperate with one another highlights their varying stages of development and, in a larger sense, the overall stages of human development. Noli's Story is less sophisticated than Dickinson's A Bone from a Dry Sea (Dell, 1995) and is an easy, approachable, and evocative look at early human times. It is the second in a series of four books about the Kin, but stands on its own as a lively, concise, and convincing novel.
SUTH'S STORY (1998)
John Peters (review date January 1999)
SOURCE: Peters, John. Review of Suth's Story, by Peter Dickinson. School Library Journal 45, no. 1 (January 1999): 124.
Gr. 4-6—The author of A Bone from a Dry Sea (Dell, 1995) opens a quartet of novels also set in our distant past [in Suth's Story ]. After a devastating raid, the dazed survivors of the Moonhawk Kin flee to safety. They split up when two orphans, Suth and Noli, defy their headman's orders and return to the place where four young children were abandoned. Following Noli's visions, which she claims are sent by their totemic hawk, Suth leads the tiny band to a verdant haven in the crater of a volcano where they fall in with a group of cave dwellers who claim to be Monkey Kin. As Dickinson develops distinct personalities and inner conflicts in each of his characters, he inserts between chapters a creation myth in which Monkey, a trickster, brings sorrow, hunger, and ultimately murder into the world. In light of this, and seeing how closely the dwindling, inbred Monkey people are watching him, Suth is understandably uneasy. Though the author sometimes lets the plot coast while he's establishing believable, well-articulated cultural backgrounds for his protohuman cast, the pace does pick up near the end as Suth earns adult status by killing a leopard, and later engineers an escape for the Moonhawks when the volcano erupts. Less a self-contained story than an intriguing lead-in, this novel will prepare middle readers for the subsequent adventures of a young but resourceful band in a world 200 millennia gone.
SOME DEATHS BEFORE DYING (1999)
Emily Melton (review date 15 April 1999)
SOURCE: Melton, Emily. Review of Some Deaths before Dying, by Peter Dickinson. Booklist 95, no. 16 (15 April 1999): 1471.
Rachel Matson's body is ravaged by a disease that leaves her unable to move and barely able to speak while her mind, ironically, remains clear and sharp [in Some Deaths before Dying ]. A gifted photographer, Rachel spends her days remembering the events she once captured in photographs. Rachel must also face a mystery that centers around two valuable antique pistols she gave her husband. Jocelyn, years earlier. One of the pistols has turned up in the hands of a young woman named Jenny; where it has been all these years and what role it played in Rachel and Jocelyn's past are questions that Rachel can only answer by confronting dark secrets she has ignored for years. With Jenny's help, Rachel begins the painful process of facing a reality she has steadfastly tried to forget, and finally, at the end of her life, she discovers the sad but ultimately liberating truth. A rich and stylish story that is at once haunting, touching, and provocative, Dickinson's latest will capture the reader's imagination from beginning to end.
Jeff Zaleski (review date 19 April 1999)
SOURCE: Zaleski, Jeff. Review of Some Deaths before Dying, by Peter Dickinson. Publishers Weekly 246, no. 16 (19 April 1999): 64.
[Some Deaths before Dying, h]is first mystery in five years gives ample evidence that Dickinson, an award-winning storyteller whose first novel was published in 1968, can still entrance readers with superbly drawn tales. He knows how to construct an atmospheric English country house mystery as do few other contemporary writers, and he can build a complex plot as skillfully as ever. An old woman, Rachel Matson, is paralyzed and slowly dying, but the mind inside her wasted body is as sharp as ever. She discovers one day that one of a pair of antique dueling pistols, which she had given her late husband, is missing. Her husband had been the colonel of an army regiment that was taken prisoner by the Japanese in WWII and used as slave labor. The men who survived the war have forged strong bonds, and their lives remain intertwined. Before her illness, Rachel had chronicled her life and her marriage in photographs; she was an artist who documented the reality around her. Now she must use her old photographs and her observational skills to discover why the pistol is missing and how its disappearance may connect to a secret that has been hidden for many years. Dickinson has long been known for creating subtle and meticulously detailed portraits of eccentric characters. In this novel, he depicts a family possessing courage, talent and wealth, but whose members are obsessed with an old crime that has haunted their lives. This beautifully crafted and highly original English mystery should bring new fans to an exceptional writer.
THE ROPEMAKER (2001)
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Jason Britton (review date 5 November 2001)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Jason Britton. Review of The Ropemaker, by Peter Dickinson. Publishers Weekly 248, no. 45 (5 November 2001): 70.
Like his stellar novels Shadow of a Hero and Bone from a Dry Sea, Dickinson's latest offering [The Ropemaker ] moves from the mythic to the particular and back again, making clear the ways in which an individual's extraordinary experience could metamorphose into an entire culture's legend. Readers who are willing and able to fall into step with its majestic pace will be rewarded by a thought-provoking trek through a fairy tale world that is as breathtakingly fresh as it is archetypal. For 19 generations, the comfortably prosperous Valley has been tucked away from the outside world—kept safe by powerful enchantments. When these powers begin to weaken, however, it's up to Tilja and her grandmother Meena, along with their companions, Tahl and his grandfather Alnor, to journey forth in search of a magician powerful enough to protect their home once again. In the course of this pilgrimage, Tilja—who has recently and heartbreakingly learned that she possesses not a jot of the hereditary magic that would entitle her to inherit her beloved family homestead—comes to understand more about the unique and valuable gift she does possess. Eerily, the novel is sprinkled with images that take on an unforeseen resonance: a rebel magician—be-turbaned and lanky—and collapsing towers that crush their proud builders. A challenging magical adventure for the thinking reader. Ages 12-up.
Janice M. Del Negro (review date January 2002)
SOURCE: Del Negro, Janice M. Review of The Ropemaker, by Peter Dickinson. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 55, no. 5 (January 2002): 169-70.
Tilja is heartbroken when she discovers she cannot hear the cedars whisper; her lack of ability means that the beloved family farm will pass to her younger sister, Anja, and Tilja will have to seek her fortune elsewhere [in The Ropemaker ]. Before this can happen, however, Tilja and her grandmother discover that the magic that made the cedars whisper, that kept the valley safe from marauders for generations, is dying. Tilja and her grandmother join forces with Tahl and his grandfather (who can hear voices in bodies of water) and set out on a quest to find Faheel, the sorcerer who can renew the ancient protective magic. Their quest takes them from the safety of the valley to a dangerous journey through the Empire, a land ruled by a wicked emperor/sorcerer who intimidates his people through brute force and brute magic. Dickinson creates a solidly complex and believable world, wherein magic is part of the available but finite natural resources and it is strictly controlled by the emperor (at least as much as he is able). The history and mythology set up at the beginning of the novel provide a background of great depth against which the action is played. Tilja's dilemma is clearly presented, and the solution is foreshadowed by the stories of the past told by her grandmother. Unfortunately, despite the quest plot there is little tension and the momentum drags, especially in the final half of the book. The setting is colorful, but the characterizations are a bit pat and the action sometimes seems merely convenient. Still, fantasy lovers who appreciate a well-constructed universe may admire Dickinson's artistry.
WATER: TALES OF ELEMENTAL SPIRITS (2002)
Anita L. Burkam (review date July-August 2002)
SOURCE: Burkam, Anita L. Review of Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits, by Peter Dickinson and Robin McKinley. Horn Book Magazine 78, no. 4 (July-August 2002): 466-67.
McKinley and Dickinson are each justly celebrated for fantasy writing; this collection of alternating short fantasies [Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits ], first in a projected series, is a successful joint endeavor. The stories take their directive loosely enough (oceans and a tidal river, a mountain stream, even a desert pool) to present a diverse and satisfying whole, aided by the complementary voices of the two authors. Several stories are peopled with merfolk: Dickinson's "Mermaid's Song" lyrically sets out the choice made by a girl living in a puritanical colony to defy her abusive grandfather in order to rescue a trapped mermaid. In his "Kraken," a mer-princess witnesses the defiant suicide attempt of a pair of "airfolk" lovers and is called to describe the light-filled moment to the Kraken, the alien dweller in the coldest, darkest deep. McKinley takes her turn in "The Sea King's Son," about a romance between a land girl and a sea prince that heals a rift between the two cultures. Of the six stories, this is the weakest for its stilted tone and lashings of mawkishness, but both writers' tendency to luxuriate in the conventions of fantasy—in romance, beauty, and a cozy pre-industrial vision of the simple life—is a strength in many of the other stories. The gratifying Cinderella transformation of a neglected menial into a beloved, valued young woman bears the emotional freight for quite a few, including "Water Horse," about a half-orphan who finds her place as the apprentice of a Guardian holding off the sea's incursions; and McKinley's "A Pool in the Desert," about a girl from The Blue Sword's "Homeland" who escapes servitude to her modernday family by finding her way into the landscape that has long dominated her dreams: the desert of Damar. In contrast, a gritty practicality pervades Dickinson's "Sea-Serpent," in which raftsmen charged with carrying sacred stones across a tidal river mouth defeat a predatory sea-worm. Readers versed in these writers' work will recognize familiar themes and references; newcomers will find scope for imagination; and all will be richly rewarded.
Janice M. Del Negro (review date July-August 2002)
SOURCE: Del Negro, Janice M. Review of Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits, by Peter Dickinson and Robin McKinley. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 55, no. 11 (July-August 2002): 410-11.
Six stories [in Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits ] (with McKinley and Dickinson alternating authorial turns) feature various bodies of water, the denizens that dwell within them, and the land-bound folk who deal with both. Dickinson's tales lean toward fairy-tale anthropology while McKinley's incline to high fantasy, but all are effectively supernatural, no matter where they're set. In Dickinson's opening story, set in a restrained, Calvinist-like community, Pitiable Naismith learns a secret "Mermaid's Song" passed down from her grandmother that helps her save a stranded merchild, along with herself. McKinley's opening tale is a romance in which a wealthy but sheltered girl, betrayed by her unworthy fiancé, finds true love with "The Sea-King's Son." Other tales focus on man-beast opposition (Dickinson's "Sea-Serpent" and "Kraken" ), legendary water creatures (McKinley's "Water Horse"), and water's mysterious powers (McKinley's "A Pool in the Desert"). Despite their brevity, the entries manage to establish mood, structure, and logic; each tale has a richly textured sense of place, an environmental backdrop against which characters play out their destinies. The stories rise and fall like waves, first high fantasy, then earthy conflict, but they're always intriguing and ultimately satisfying. The cover, which features an unearthly finned creature holding a ball of air, will draw readers into the collection; once there, they will be immersed in the magic.
INSIDE GRANDAD (2003)
Diane Roback (review date 2 February 2004)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane. Review of Inside Grandad, by Peter Dickinson. Publishers Weekly 251, no. 5 (2 February 2004): 78.
Magic hovers just beneath the surface of Dickinson's (The Ropemaker ) lyrical tale [Inside Grandad ]. Grandad is young Gavin's dear friend and confi- dante—his father is away at sea, his mother and grandmother are too often at work. The boy and his grandfather spend their days together fishing along the shores of their Scotland home. A skilled maker of model boats, Grandad is nearly finished building one for Gavin when a stroke renders him silent and motionless in a hospital bed. For Gavin, the fact that Grandad suffered the stroke while he was talking about the fabled "selkies" (a race of half-seal/half-men who sometimes come onto dry land to walk among us) is more than a coincidence. In a powerful scene, Gavin offers up an enormous sacrifice to the selkies if they will "please, please help me get Grandad back." While such a summary suggests a fantasy, the author remains more concerned with the quieter moments and emotions that define the characters' tender relationships. His depiction of the silent pain of one who sits bedside in a hospital, hour after hour, with only the most tenuous strands of hope, is heartbreaking. The road to the hopeful but honest conclusion is thoughtful but never maudlin, and the insights the author offers will linger long after journey's end. Ages 9-12.
Betsy Hearne (review date March 2004)
SOURCE: Hearne, Betsy. Review of Inside Grandad, by Peter Dickinson. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 57, no. 7 (March 2004): 269.
Just short of Gavin's eleventh birthday, his beloved seventy-four-year-old grandfather has a stroke in the midst of finishing a model trawler [in Inside Grandad ]. This gift for Gavin is a miniature of the boat Grandad's grandfather worked on before drowning in a North Sea storm, and Grandad has said that Gavin must ask permission of the selkies before naming it Selkie after a seal they saw while fishing together in Stonehaven harbor. Much of the dominant imagery in the novel relates to what happens under the surface: Gavin's discovery of Gran's sadness under her constant flow of talk, his growing appreciation of the sensitivity beneath his mother's steadfast efficiency, and most of all, a trust of his own instincts in reaching his beloved grandfather through an identification so intense that he nearly drowns in it. One chapter, in fact, sways from realism into fantasy as Gavin—guided by a selkie as a result of sacrificing his model trawler to the sea—enters his grandfather's consciousness to bring him home from the foggy abyss where he drifts. This crossover has something in common with Margaret Mahy's Changeover in its power and ambiguity: is the protagonist imagining the mystical, or experiencing it? Throughout, the medical details are skillfully specified along with the emotional stress attendant in such a situation, especially as they affect a child involved in talking to an inert from lying on a hospital bed. Gavin's sense of responsibility is singularly characterized, from the moment he handles the crisis alone by calling an ambulance and accompanying his grandfather to the hospital, throughout the day-to-day exposure that teaches him the problems and possibilities of a vigil. Consistently written from a child's viewpoint, this is a story insightfully developed and satisfyingly unexpected.
THE TEARS OF THE SALAMANDER (2003)
Joanna Rudge Long (review date July-August 2003)
SOURCE: Long, Joanna Rudge. Review of The Tears of the Salamander, by Peter Dickinson. Horn Book Magazine 79, no. 4 (July-August 2003): 453-54.
Mysterious Uncle Giorgio turns up in the nick of time [in The Tears of the Salamander ]: Alfredo's entire family has just perished in a catastrophic fire that consumed their thriving bakery, and now the cathedral priests are pressuring the boy to preserve his lovely singing voice by submitting to castration (a practice common in eighteenth-century Italy). Though Alfredo has never met his father's estranged brother, Uncle Giorgio claims him and spirits him away to the ancestral home on Mount Etna, where much is amiss, as Alfredo soon realizes. Fire is the key to Uncle Giorgio's being—not the tame, benign fire of a bakery oven but the volcanic inferno that, as "Master of the Mountain," he struggles to subdue. He has trapped one of the volcano's fire-dwelling salamanders; it sings even more sweetly than Alfredo, all the while shedding the tears that keep Uncle Giorgio alive. Why does the man change his will? Who, really, is Toni, the idiot son of the mute housekeeper—who suddenly blossoms to musical genius? What wretched fate has the supremely self-centered Uncle Giorgio planned for them? With a dramatic, beautifully described setting, an intricate supernatural mystery, and some hairsbreadth escapes, the story is mesmerizing; but it's more. The imagery of fire and song has elemental power: fire may be the baker of bread and nurturer of sweetsinging (and healing) salamanders, but it's also a savage, angry, unpredictable destroyer; Alfredo's music can glorify a biblical text, summon awesome "Angels of Fire," or simply pour forth melody of such pure beauty that it gives life meaning. It's an intriguing juxtaposition, resonant with implicit connections between such concepts as creativity and anger—ideas that enrich without overwhelming a story that makes a unique and satisfying addition to Dickinson's remarkable oeuvre.
Janice M. Del Negro (review date December 2003)
SOURCE: Del Negro, Janice M. Review of The Tears of the Salamander, by Peter Dickinson. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 57, no. 4 (December 2003): 148.
In this historical fantasy [The Tears of the Salamander ], Alfredo, a musically talented twelve-year-old, loses his family in a fire, whereupon his uncle Giorgio takes responsibility for the boy, removes him from the cathedral choir, and saves him from the operation that would make him a castrato. There is mystery in Alfredo's talent for singing, and even more in his secretive uncle's life on Sicily, under the shadow of volcanic Mt. Etna. The only other members of the household are a mute housekeeper, Annetta, and her son, Toni, who was "born with his mind deformed." Uncle Giorgio tells Alfredo that he is part of a long tradition of musical masters of the mountain, that the men of Alfredo's family have controlled the fiery Mt. Etna for centuries, and that Giorgio's plan is to train Alfredo to do the same—or is it? Alfredo's discovery that Annetta is Giorgio's wife and Toni is their son is overshadowed by the discovery that his uncle plans to trade his old body for Alfredo's healthy young one in an ancient ceremony involving the fire salamanders of the volcano. Dickinson's evocation of the setting is thickly sensual; his depictions of music, fire, and ceremonial magic are delivered in sumptuous layered prose rife with metaphor. Much of the action is internal, however, and the momentum moves slowly through Alfredo's discoveries. The language has a distancing formality, the characterizations are limited, and the closed world of Alfredo's uncle eventually becomes claustrophobic. The too-measured pace reaches a thundering crescendo in the climactic conclusion (complete with earthquake and near-volcanic eruption), however, ending the book on a strong note. Dickinson gives readers the space to wrestle with ethical dilemmas through the contrast between the Machiavellian plotting of Uncle Giorgio and the determined goodness of Alfredo. The novel provides a forum for a thoughtful discussion of the nearly irresistible temptation offered by the promise of unlimited power.
Baskin, Barbara H., and Karen H. Harris. Review of Heartsease, by Peter Dickinson, illustrated by Robert Hales. In More Notes from a Different Drummer: A Guide to Juvenile Fiction Portraying the Handicapped, pp. 166-67. New York, N.Y.: R. R. Bowker, 1977.
Assesses the strengths and weaknesses of Heartsease.
Burkam, Anita L. Review of The Ropemaker, by Peter Dickinson. Horn Book Magazine 77, no. 6 (November-December 2001): 745.
Argues that the narrative in The Ropemaker "goes on rather too long to sustain its energy."
Persson, Lauralyn. Review of Inside Grandad, by Peter Dickinson. School Library Journal 50, no. 1 (January 2004): 129.
Characterizes Inside Grandad as a "meticulously crafted novel."
Additional coverage of Dickinson's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vols. 9, 49; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 5; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 29; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 41-44R; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 31, 58, 88, 134; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 12, 35; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 87, 161, 276; Junior DISCovering Authors; Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, Vol. 4; St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, Vol. 4; St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers; Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Writers; Something about the Author, Vols. 5, 62, 95, 150; Twayne's English Authors; and Writers for Young Adults.