A compelling Australian fantasy; Darkness Under the Hills, by Bill Scott. New York: Oxford University Press. $9 .95.(Ages 12 --.)
In this second novel about Boori, the young aboriginal goundir, or magician, author Bill Scott has created a compelling fantasy about prehistoric Australian life, its customs and its powerful mythology.
Scott's books rides the wave of Australian art that is finally reaching American shores, and I, for one, am glad that it has arrived.
Though still a young man, Boori has all the stature of a heroic figure -- a miraculous birth, the scars of previous battles with supernatural forces, and, perhaps most important, he has received the message of Ganba, the Great Spirit, instructing him to gather all the magic he can find in the land to drive out the dark power of Rakasha, a devilish spirit which has come from across the sea and begun to take over the peaceful land of Boori and his people, undermining its sacred laws, ripping apart the fabric of its life.
For his task, Boori does have helpers: his friend Dingo, the dog spirit, who accompanies him everywhere; Jaree, a will-o'-the-wisp protecting spirit (which Boori carries in a pouch around his neck, setting it loose at night to keep watch); and the spirits of the other goundirs and sacred "dreaming places" that Boori encounters on his quest. Most of the magicians and village elders are skeptical of Boori's abilities. He must persuade them one by one -- through magical tests of power or secret signs -- to join him in his, and ultimately their own cause -- to weave the final spell that will rid the land of evil.
Bill Scott's feeling for and depiction of the aboriginal world is totally convincing, in the smallest detail. Not only does he take us next to the council fires of the elders or into the sacred places of mythic "dreaming," but we also learn about landscape, food, animals, tools, weapons, herbals, and countless other customs, habits, and artifacts. Yet these textures -- the mythic or the secular -- are not, finally what the book is about. Boori's quest is to unite his land and to establish a brotherhood between his people -- whether they live on the beaches, the rain forests, the deserts, or beneath the earth, like the Puk-Marmors, the aboriginal "little people." He must remind all the elders on his journey that he alone cannot vanquish the evil -- everyone must help.
There is much to praise about this novel. It is a refreshing break from the settings of typical fantasies; and it is all the more powerful because it draws on mythic sources that once were nourished on this planet, not someplace else or a disguised version of here. And we should thank Scott for the theme of his book --one that teenagers in our culture do not hear often enough -- that "I" is less important than "We," and that we share a common brotherhood that we must fight to preserve: our humanity. That's Boori's (and the novel's) lesson. We could stand to have more novels like Bill Scott's around to eloquently remind us of this frequently misplaced pur pose.