FOREST OF THE NIGHT by John Rowe Townsend


Email this review


John Rowe Townsend can always be depended upon to do something a little more ambitious than is usual, and here at the very least he has given the children's book community, so seldom confronted with a departure from dead level realism, something to ponder. Described by the publishers as an allegory, this is a stream of consciousness night in the life of ""the boy"" who finds himself pursued through a shadowy city by an equally shadowy beast which is somehow identified with Blake's tyger. The boy's ordeal has the earmarks, variously, of an initiation ceremony and a mystical experience; he is warned by different anonymous individuals, including a young girl and a fleshly older woman, not to eat or drink for the duration of the night and to find the ""right questions"" to ask. In the end he obeys an inner command to ""go to the buildings"" and confronts the beast in the form of a white-haired man in a Blakean dialogue: ""'Who came before me?' 'Your father.' 'Who shall come after me?' 'Your son' . . . 'Who made you?' . . . 'He who made the lamb.' . . . 'Did he smile?' 'Yes. He smiled.'"" This last exchange is obviously the crux of the matter, and we can't help wondering whether the boy might have done better to stay home and read Blake. Townsend has touched some powerful reference points, but he leaves most of them deliberately vague and his specifics -- Blakean symbolism and philosophy -- will be unfamiliar to his readers whereas allegory depends on the use of at least some framework recognizable to the intended audience. This is not to say that some young readers won't be attracted to Townsend's prose reverie -- where the streetlights are ""orange fruits, blur-edged"" and the streets themselves ""dark twisting forest trails."" But they'll be as puzzled as anyone else by the significance of that final dialogue, and the confusion is Townsend's fault, not ours or theirs.

Pub Date: March 3rd, 1975
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: Lippincott