DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
The Chronicles of the Hand
The work consists of fifty related chapters or episodes, interconnected and which can be read individually, or in the order that they appear. It describes the experiences and adventures of a brother and sister, Simon and Annie, as they embark on what becomes an odyssey, a journey through life over a period of four years from the ages of fourteen to eighteen through a series of strange events and encounters. Thus they age throughout their journey, in correspondence with the age of the possible readers of this work. They are not without their failings: Annie has a foul temper, and Simon is often tactless and insensitive. They are constantly bickering with each other, often over small things.
The first half of their journey takes place in Brighton, their home city, beside the sea. They join a secret detective society, known as the Brotherhood of the Hand, and from small beginnings, which are often humorous, they begin to realise they are enmeshed in much bigger issues that involve not only their own world, but other dimensions that they encounter. The Brotherhood is, at first, unprepossessing, consisting as it does, of the founder -members, four elderly grey men, unknown, but simply referred to by names corresponding to the fingers of the hand – Index Finger, Middle Finger, Third Finger and Little Finger, a disreputable, extremely rude seagull called Adrian, and Sniffer, an indescribably filthy dog, renowned for his ability to track a scent. Though they purport to be, initially, an amateur detective society, their real aim is to disrupt, and eventually defeat, the machinations of the Wrist family, a cruel and violent dynasty of would-be Magi, intent of gaining power over the known universe. The minions of the Wrist family dog Simon and Annie throughout their journey. One particular member of the Wrists, is Venoma, a red-haired, green-eyed young woman, formerly known as Isabelle, who becomes the bane of Annie’s life.
Both brother and sister are aided in their quest by the talismans, rings inscribed with the image of an outstretched hand. These are benevolent rings with powers of healing those suffering serious injuries. When Simon or Annie are badly hurt in their journey, they use these rings to heal themselves, to fight another day. In addition, the talismans also provide them with knowledge of martial arts in order to protect themselves, which often proves vital in confrontations.
The talismans are the creation of Nicholas Flamel, a fifteenth- century philosopher and alchemist, who alone of the alchemists, has succeeded in creating the philosophers’ stone, and has thus achieved immortality. They meet him in Malta, on holiday, and hear his tale. They are accompanied by Morag Wren, who becomes a crucial character in the overall story, part of which is told from her perspective. A tall, young, dark-haired attractive police constable in the beginning, she becomes Simon and Annie’s adopted elder sister, and later a marshal in Hyperborea.
Hyperborea is the name of a fictional land, derived from accounts in classical sources, such as the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus, and the history of the natural world by Pliny the Elder. Such accounts are scanty, and lacking in reliable information, therefore its locale is placed in another dimension, the portal to which is located on the old Hollingbury hill-fort, close to Annie and Simon’s home in Brighton.
Hyperborea is certainly not a Utopia, but an alternative land, still rooted in mediaeval times and habits, and fiercely resistant to any form of technological progress. It is the home of the faerys, ruled over by a coterie of sisters, all from the same family. They are Gloriana, the eldest, Lucifera, Mercilla, Britomart, Duessa and Ragimund, the youngest.
Faerys, the inhabitants of Hyperborea in this account, are not the miniature butterfly creatures so beloved of Victorian writers, but full-size solid humans, ferocious and often savage in battle, but kind and considerate outside a war situation. They are, however, often unpredictable, and can take offence very easily. Faerys, however, are familiar with human customs and habits, and much of their culture is based upon their knowledge of human history. Thus their capital city, Elsace, is a classical city, using the Roman architectural vocabulary of portico, entablature and column, with most faerys living in Roman-style villas and apartments. Other cities such as Mila, in the north-west, draw upon Babylonian architecture, and are reminiscent of Ninevah in its former glory, while the water-city of Rhuan, with canals rather than roads, recalls both Venice, and the pleasure-gardens of ancient China. In this, the account makes use of historical research of the Roman and the late mediaeval period as well as traditions of landscape painting.
Socially too, the faerys are complex. The sexes are equal, with as many women as men serving as front-line soldiers and with the same legal status as men. Faerys do not employ servants, on the ground that it is demeaning, and do all their own cleaning and cooking. Nor do they have a religion. Their large standing army is mainly conscripted. Service to the state is seen as a duty, and the army is employed on many tasks such as construction, or rebuilding after a disaster. Most ex-conscripts become soldier-citizens, to be called upon in the case of national emergency.
Other characters also join the Brotherhood. Among these are Mariko, a Japanese girl, Indira, who is Indian, and excessively vain, and Pei-Ying, a close Chinese friend of Indira. The only religeuse is Sister Teresa, a very large and muscular nun, who possesses the ability to levitate and fly, nicknamed the “Flying Nun”. Her companion, Pat, is an Irish scholar, an aficionado of all things Celtic, and is convinced that the faerys are Celtic in origin.
What of the plot of this story? What do Simon and Annie, as brother and sister learn from their journey through life?
Through the overall story, the hand takes on multiple meanings. It is used as a means of expression, in worlds which lack a common English tongue. Gestures such as the closed fist, or the open palm are widely understood without the benefit of spoken language. Faerys, though adept in speaking and writing the human language, (they are taught it as a second language) often misunderstand common English slang, with hilarious results. Language contains hidden pitfalls, whereas the language of gesture, though limited, does not.
Increasingly, both Simon and Annie become reconciled to a world-view very different to the one they grew up with, and begin to adapt to the strange new world they find themselves in. Simon falls deeply in love with Ragimund, the youngest faery sister. Morag similarly falls in love with Demos, a faery archaeologist, whilst Annie, realising that her own journey is unfinished, resolves to explore her own world further, before settling permanently in Hyperborea, like the others. Her odyssey is not yet over.