RIP Margaret Mahy
July 23, 2012 10:08 PM   Subscribe

Acclaimed New Zealand children's and young adult's book author Margaret Mahy died in Christchurch yesterday aged 76.

Guardian Obituary Link: Winner of many of the world's major children's prizes, including the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen medal, Mahy took the UK's Carnegie medal with her first two novels, The Haunting and The Changeover, both supernatural coming-of-age tales. She was also awarded the Order of New Zealand for her internationally acclaimed contribution to children's literature, which ranged from picture books to short stories and novels. "It is in the nature of books, that they have the capacity to make you feel powerful about what you can alter and achieve in your life," she once said.

In Her Own Words - A short article in which she discusses her craft.

Some net-available work:
Down the back of the chair (poem)
The word-eater (book)

Parliamentary tributes Video (beginning with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key)

Made in New Zealand - Margaret Mahy (Documentary 2004)

Radio NZ Interviews Collection
posted by Start with Dessert (24 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
A much-loved author here in New Zealand. Very sad indeed.
posted by vac2003 at 10:41 PM on July 23, 2012

The Three Legged Cat
posted by unliteral at 10:48 PM on July 23, 2012

A legendary kiwi author writing for children and young adults equally well. I grew up with her stories and my children have heard her stories since they were born. I always loved The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate best.
It tosses you up and pulls you down. It speeds you along, it holds you still. It storms you and calms you. There’s a bit of everything in the sea.
She used to visit schools and talk about her writing, and read her books at schools and at libraries. I was never lucky enough to have met her even though she lived quite nearby. But many of my friends as children had heard her reading her stories. She was accessible and delightful by all accounts.
posted by tracicle at 10:58 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

My sister was one of many who corresponded personally with this awesome woman. Her reply was typed on the typewriter she used to write her stories and decorated with colourful doodles of crocodiles and other animals.

My childhood favourite Mahy books were:

The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate

Sam is an ordinary person who wears an ordinary suit and ordinary shoes. He works in an ordinary, neat office writing down figures all day and underlining them. But Sam's mother is definitely not an ordinary woman, Sam’s mother is a pirate and she wants to sweep him away to sea...

The Great White Man-Eating Shark: A Cautionary Tale (and Youtube teaser)

Disgusted when other swimmers continually disrupt his attempts to shoot through the water like a silver arrow, Norvin formulates a wicked plan that will let him have the water and the beach to himself.


A Lion in the Meadow

What would you do if you knew there was a lion in the meadow, but your mother wouldn't believe you?
posted by Start with Dessert at 12:32 AM on July 24, 2012

posted by Samuel Farrow at 12:37 AM on July 24, 2012

Very sad loss to children's literature. Looking back now I can see how much The Haunting (along with Cooper's The Dark is Rising books and later Garner's The Owl Service) utterly commandeered my childhood imagination when I read them, and firmly imprinted upon my mind the importance of wonder and mystery.
posted by hydatius at 1:44 AM on July 24, 2012


Mahy was one of those authors whose books I would always seek out on those rare trips to the library. She laid the foundation for my belief that words are magic, and can bright light to even the darkest places. After all, she brought light to me.
posted by Jilder at 1:45 AM on July 24, 2012

posted by saucysault at 2:25 AM on July 24, 2012

One of the six-year-olds I teach was very matter-of-fact about it. She told me that Margaret Mahy died yesterday.

"Yeah she did," I replied, "It's a bit sad, eh?"

"It is. But she left us lots of great books to read." And she patted me on the shoulder.

I have some very mature young children in my class.
posted by tracicle at 2:53 AM on July 24, 2012 [9 favorites]

I lament, even though I am the kind of person who should know who she is, I don't.
But I am going to find out right now.

posted by Mezentian at 3:31 AM on July 24, 2012

posted by gomichild at 4:41 AM on July 24, 2012

Alas, I was born too early to have Mahy as my reading companion, but she became a huge part of the New Zealand landscape, breaking age, race, gender and vocation barriers while she giggled and teased her audiences.

I strongly recommend anyone who has kids (or even not) and hasn't heard of her to use this as an opportunity to hunt down her ageless legacy and feed it to your youngsters. Unless they have already found her.

Here's a personal blog by someone whose life she changed.
posted by arzakh at 4:45 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

This makes my heart hurt.
posted by dodici at 5:32 AM on July 24, 2012


She came to our school and read to us.
posted by gaspode at 5:49 AM on July 24, 2012

The Changeover is one of my guilty pleasures. I still pick it up when I am feeling really low and have a little swoon over the handsome, heartless, possibly evil, luckily vulnerable Sorenson Carlisle. Edward Cullen - pah! Sorenson is the one teenage girls should really go for. Plus Laura is a lovely, plucky heroine, and the the story is gorgeously sensuous and all about BECOMING A WOMEN without resorting to cliches or glibness. Every girl should read it; I can't wait till my daughter is old enough.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 6:52 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I remember she once autographed a book for my little brother with a drawing, and invited him and my parents around for tea. She was wonderful.
posted by themadthinker at 8:38 AM on July 24, 2012

Gone to The Great Piratical Rambustification in the sky.
posted by TheCoug at 10:58 AM on July 24, 2012

I haven't read the Haunting since I was young enough to be creeped out by it, but maybe I should look it up again.

posted by jacalata at 12:03 PM on July 24, 2012

One by one, the stars of my happy, bookish childhood are going out.

posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 12:04 PM on July 24, 2012


I grew up with her books.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:34 PM on July 24, 2012

I already commented on the Guardian obituary - but damn if I am not going to post here as well because Mahy's death deserves more than just a single dot on the blue from me.

I was 12. I was a bookish girl who was ill a great deal and spent days reading in bed. I came across one of Mahy's books during one of these spells - "The Tricksters". I think that was one of the very first supernatural YA books I ever came across. I live in Nowheresville, Denmark and I had almost run out of books to read from the local library. Mahy - I kept that name in my head.

Then my local library bought "The Changeover". My life would never be the same - it was one of those books that changed you.

The synopsis sounds fairly mundane: teenage girl discovers her young brother is possessed by a demon and she enlists the local school prefect to help her battle the demon. Ok, the synopsis sounds pretty terrible - but the book was terrific. It was well-written (later I'd discover the literary allusions one by one) and beyond the surface drama of demons lurked other dangers contained in everyday life.

I read and re-read "The Changeover". It was one of the first books I ever read in English, let alone owned. I still re-read every couple of years or so. I think I still nurse a literary crush on Sorenson Carlisle - the strange genetic joke of a man-boy.

And Margaret Mahy was instrumental in kick-starting my love for New Zealand. I was 24 when I travelled through New Zealand for a month and I hung out the bus window desperate to get a photo of the sign saying "Welcome to Paraparaumu" - the town where "The Changeover" took place. I still have that photo too.

Rest in Peace, Margaret Mahy. And thank you for making a lonely teenage girl much less lonely.
posted by kariebookish at 2:40 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I was a library student assistant when "The Changeover" came out. The cover looked intriguing, so I read it, and loved it. Then I raved about it to the YA librarian; she took it and talked it up to several classes. and we ended up ordering a bunch of copies to keep up with demand. I still have a copy somewhere; time to read it again.

Many years later I came across "17 Kings and 42 Elephants" at a library book sale, and bought it for my daughter. Unlike some children's books, it's always a pleasure to read.

RIP and thank you, Margaret Mahy.
posted by mogget at 8:56 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some cool anecdotes here
posted by Start with Dessert at 2:57 AM on August 1, 2012

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