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fog magic

19 may 2016

Fog Magic is set in Nova Scotia, though that can be difficult to pick up on (if like me you tend to skip prefaces :) But it's also a novel about things that are difficult to pick up: about ghosts of people and places, about the imagination that recreates pasts from fading evidence.

Greta, the reflector-character, is eleven going on a momentous twelve. She lives in Nova Scotia in the present day (for author Julia Sauer, the 1940s). Long-settled, her corner of the peninsula has seen many changes since the first Europeans arrived, and Greta is intimate with their traces: altered paths, abandoned homesteads.

Greta has an additional link to the past: when the fog rolls in, she can go over the mountain and visit a neighboring village, Blue Cove, as it was more than a century before. She learns the customs and concerns of her ancestors at first hand. Her family is a little concerned by her habit of wandering off by herself into the fog, but, well, this is magical realism, not a 21st-century screed about stranger danger. And Greta's father is particularly patient with her, because evidently the ability to use the fog as a portal to the past runs in the family.

Greta befriends a family from the distant past and a hillside over, the Morrills. Mrs. Morrill explains that her adolescence will come as an irrevocable turn, yet a happy one for all that.

Greta said honestly … "I always think of my birthdays as a flight of stairs. … Up to twelve it's been fun to look up. But after twelve—the stairs turn. I can't see around the bend."
   "I know," Mrs. Morrill said. Not now, you can't. But when you get to that twelfth step, you will be able to see 'around the bend,' as you put it. (69)
And as the bend approaches, Greta begins to realize that one of its tolls will be the loss of the ability to visit Blue Cove anymore.

It would be easy to write off Fog Magic as a placid, sentimental "Neverland" novel. The stories that Greta learns while in the past in Blue Cove are not very exciting; most of her experience there comes from empathy with the quotidian demands of a past culture, like hers and unlike it at the same time. But the book develops a really affecting rhythm and comes to a sad and sweet conclusion. Greta puts away childish things, among them the ability to slip easily into identification with the Other. But she carries away (along with a kitten – reach me a hanky!) a memory that such identification is possible.

Sauer, Julia L. Fog Magic. 1943. New York: Puffin [Penguin], 1986. PZ 7 .S25Fo