TULKU by Peter Dickinson
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Oh, Jesus! Why did I ever leave Battersea?"" A Boxer raid has just wiped out the Christian settlement presided over by 13-year-old Theodore's missionary father when painted, blasphemous, gun-toting Mrs. Jones makes her astonishing appearance, and in a few words gives Theo ""a sense of somebody full of life and intelligence and friendliness."" With her is finicky young Chinese poet Lung, soon to brighten and quicken as her lover--to Theo's queasy envy, but with his sympathy too. And as these three chance, close companions flee Boxers and bandits into a second ""heathen"" priest-ruled realm, Tibet, one of the strangest tales in juvenile fiction takes insidious shape. Mrs. Jones, it emerges, is a peripatetic plant-collector pried from her adored country gentleman Monty by his disapproving family; and in a lush, remote valley--scene of her idyll with Lung--she discovers a new lily (trembling: ""That's me name in all the books""). Then comes a bandit attack and the treacherous crossing to Tibet, abetted by the elderly Lama Amchi--who first takes Theodore for the new Tulku, or reincarnated spiritual head, of his monastery of Dong Pe. . . and then calmly nominates Mrs. Jones' unborn, unspoken-of child! Once in Dong Pe, the emotional climate inexorably changes as Theo's Christian upbringing is strained by the magnetic, repugnant rituals of Buddhism (and the calm non-combativeness of British monk Major Price-Evans); as Mrs. Jones, initially bent on escape, succumbs to the teaching of her guileful equal, the Lama Amchi; as the despondent Lung grows increasingly desperate--and, at her decision not to leave, tries to shoot the Lama Amchi. . . . The last scene finds Theo, sent out with Lung and now a whole, willing Christian, presenting Mrs. Jones' lily bulb to the closely attentive Monty. And, says his gardener, ""we'll get a bloom out of her yet. Yes, there's life there still."" That Dickinson manages to keep the extravagant figure of Mrs. Jones totally within a 13-year-old's ken is only the first of the book's marvels.

Pub Date: May 9th, 1979
Publisher: Dutton