And I did some explaining about what had happened to my dad and what a mix-up there had been. And how Pobby and Dingan weren’t really but Kellyanne thought there were and that’s what counts, and how my dad wasn’t a ratter but people thought he was and that’s what counts too.Set in Lightning Ridge, an Opal mining town in Australia, Pobby and Dingan is narrated by Ashmol Williamson, older brother of eight-year-old Kellyanne Williamson. Kellyanne has two imaginary friends, Pobby and Dingan. Ashmol finds his sister’s insistence that her friends are real annoying, and he loves to contradict her. The rest of Lightening Ridge, however, finds it endearing, and they love to humour her by asking her about Pobby and Dingan, giving her extra lollipops for them, etc. And nothing makes Kellyanne happier.
One day, however, Pobby and Dingan go missing. At Kellyanne’s insistence, their father takes her and Ashmol to the Opal mines to look for them. Another miner sees them there, and accuses Mr. Williamson of ratting his claim–the worst possible crime in a mining town. While their father has to prove his innocence, and face the whole town’s hostility in the meantime, Ashmol continues to look for Pobby and Dingan. Even though he’s always disliked them, he cannot deny that their absence is making his little sister sick with grief.
I first read this novella the year it was published, because my then best friend handed it to me and said, “You’ve got to read this”. Funny how those words can work magic. I loved it, and it made me cry my eyes out. Now, almost ten years later, I decided to read it again, and I’m happy to report that I still love it, and that it still made me tear up (and if I didn’t cry like last time it’s because I knew how it would end, and more than that I cannot say).
I loved Ashmol’s voice. He’s a wonderful narrator. He sounds very much like a young boy, like an older brother, in that he’s not really willing to admit that things like little sisters could matter so much to him. And yet the fact that he cares still comes across perfectly, and all the emotion he’s holding back is as visible as if it were undisguised.
I loved the setting too. The story is as much about Lightening Ridge as it is about Ashmol and Kellyanne, about a community of persistent and hopeful miners, about poverty and camaraderie and almost-despair.
Most of all, though, it’s about how imaginary things matter, how they have real effects on our lives. This is a recurrent theme in some of my favourite fiction: the conversation between Death and Susan at the end of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, the bit at the end of Paper Towns about how metaphors have consequences, and of course, the Sandman quote on my sidebar. It has been there from the very start because it’s a sort of unofficial motto of this blog, and, in some ways, of my life.
Me, I’m as skeptic as they come, but I don’t see “unreal” as being the same as “unimportant”. Not even the same as “untrue”—not quite. The things we make up matter. They matter a lot. They have the strength that we grant them, and it’s a mistake to overlook that.
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And I also remember him telling me that all this land where Lightening Ridge is now was once covered by seawater and how all kinds of sea creatures had been found fossilized in the rock. I felt a shiver go down my spine just thinking about how strange this was, that a sea was once here where now there is nothing but dry land. And suddenly I thought how maybe if this amazing thing was true then maybe Pobby and Dingan were true too.Other Blog Reviews:
Kellyanne was right. Death looked like it was just too expensive for some people. Plus it was weird thinking of all those dead people under the ground, especially when you thought about how a lot of the dead folks had spent their lives working under the ground as well. Many of the signs said Killed in Mining Accident. And there were flowers and colourful stones under their names and most of them said R.I.P. I used to think that meant they’d sort of been ripped out of their lives like opal ripped out of the clay.
Stuff as Dreams Are Made On