MIKE CREAN - The Press - 25/07/2012
The lion in the meadow has lost its roar. Its creator, literary lion Margaret Mahy, has died.
A Lion in the Meadow was the first of her more than 200 books. All were fruits of a rampant imagination that seemed to take hold of Mahy at a young age and force her to write - often through the night. Compulsive? Probably. Brilliant? Certainly. Much-loved? Without a doubt.
Mahy was the very model of the true artist, from the early garret existence to a continuing and endearing eccentricity. Biographer Tessa Duder referred to her as "impecunious but determined".
But it was more than the appearance of an artist, more than the tendency to attract attention, that brought Mahy fame, that won her top national and international awards, that crammed her much-thumbed books on to the shelves of many family homes in New Zealand, that had her works translated into 15 languages for readers in many countries.
Her own childhood was fun. The daughter of a Bay of Plenty bridge builder and a mother who had been a teacher, she grew up the eldest of five children.
She once described herself as "cheeky, given half a chance", and admitted she did not do "terribly well" at school, except in reading and writing.
She read at every opportunity. When opportunity was lacking, she read anyway. She was often caught holding a book open under her desk during maths or science lessons. Punishment followed, but change of behaviour didn't.
"I was an obsessive reader," she recalled in 2010.
Daughter Penny says: "She was a weirdo at school. She used to have a lot of fantasies. I think it did sort of mark her as being a bit special."
From reading to writing seemed a natural progression. She produced her first storybook at seven, launching into it with the gusto that would become her trademark: "Once upon a time there was a boy called Harry and he was lazy."
Who was this lazy Harry? A world of children would want to read on.
Mahy began university studies at Auckland, where one of her English lecturers was writer M K Joseph. He recommended she read Tolkien, so she deferred purchase of a pair of shoes and bought The Lord of the Rings. No wonder themes of fantasy and the supernatural became integral to her own writing.
She moved to Christchurch and graduated from Canterbury University in 1955. Still only 19, she then did a one-year librarian course at Wellington and began work in Petone.
Read the full piece at The Press