CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 4 . . . . October 20, 2000
Wordsy pulled Jessica to the front steps. "And suppose I wanted to invite someone else?" he demanded.In The Face in the Flames, when Wordsworth aka Wordsy Doyle, 11, of Oakville, Ontario, wins a contest which provides two round trip tickets anywhere in the word, he elects to go to England, and his choice of travelling companion is his neighbor, Jessica aka Jess Redd, 12, who makes it quite clear, "I am not his girlfriend....We are best friends." In England, the early adolescent pair stay with Wordsy's paternal uncle, Dandy, on the little island of Lindesfarne. As the series title indicates, the two become involved in a series of adventures which include the pair's being overtaken by the rising tide as they are walking on the tidal flats. However, their principal continuing venture involves time travel which takes the duo back to the period in British history when the Vikings used to raid and plunder the coastal communities. During their adventure, they come into contact with Eric Bloodaxe, the cruel chieftain of the "cursed Norsemen" and the face Wordsy first saw in the flames of his uncle's fireplace. Also part of the adventure is the friends' quest to find a second copy of the "Lindesfarne Gospels," a medieval manuscript produced by the monks but then lost.
Time travel also plays a role in two of the other novels in the series. In Spellbound, the young friends encounter ghosts in the Chamberlain mansion which had once been owned by Randolph Chamberlain, a magician who had been one of the world's finest. However, when Randolph's nine-year-old son, Sebastian, died after falling down the house's main staircase, Randolph never performed again and became a recluse. Wordsy and Jess meet the ghost of the dead son and learn about the real circumstances surrounding his death, circumstances that involve Garnett Blackstone, Randolph Chamberlain's ex-partner in magic, and a special book of magic. This title also includes two subplots. In one, the youngsters learn that the father of one of their new immigrant classmates is being held in a Nicaraguan military prison for articles he has written, and they work at getting him released so that he can join his family in Canada. In the other subplot, Wordsy, worried that Mr. Frisk, one of his teachers, is hitting on his mother, uses a love potion in an attempt to link Frisk with another teacher.
In The Danger Beneath, time travel takes Wordsy back to April 12, 1912, where he finds himself aboard the Titanic on that fateful night when the supposedly unsinkable ship encounters the iceberg. Another major subplot involves Jess's having to rescue her older cousin Tim from bank robbers who have kidnaped him after he accidentally videotaped them during their robbery.
Earthwatch, the last of the adventure quartet, moves away from fantasy into science fiction. At Christmas, while visiting a lodge in Kirkland Lake in Northern Ontario, Wordsy and Jess are involved in a plane crash that kills the pilot and leaves them as the only survivors. Seeking shelter from a snow storm, the two stumble on a cabin. When the cabin's occupant behaves strangely, Wordsy and Jess follow him and discover that he is an alien, Eban, whose task is to be on "earthwatch." Bound by rules on non-interference in the activities of earth, Eban and his people are concerned, nevertheless, that they "have discovered a planet whose ecological; balance is so precarious that it may, if unchecked, result in the extinction of all life on that planet. That planet is Earth." Adding tension to the story is that the search party looking for Wordsy and Jess also includes Dr. Wyse and members of U.N.I.T., a secret Canadian alien-hunting agency.
Juvenile adventure stories are precursors to adult thrillers, and, like their adult counterparts, they are expected to be heavy on action and light on character development and theme. Boyd modifies the typical adventure plot structure by introducing time travel to the past in three of his stories. Even early adolescents who have already been caught up in the whole dating scene may find comfort in two young people of the opposite sex who can have adventures together without having to be romantically linked. Not meant to be life-changing reads, the four volumes in the "Wordsy and Jess" series, which have been reissued with new reader-enticing photographic covers, offer many hours of light escapist reading.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and adolescent literature in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.