“Not many people are killed by lightning.
Zac’s mother was.”
So begins the story of Zac Sparks, a ten-year-old who has had the carpet pulled out from under his life. He lands unevenly in the town of Five Corners, at the mansion of two cruel elderly aunts, where his existence becomes like that of a prisoner.
The eccentric populous of Five Corners seems surrounded by mystery — a girl who by choice doesn’t speak, a blind balloon seller, a midget butler, a shaggy barber (even smaller than the butler), a mother who rarely leaves her room, a town drunk whose beautiful singing voice is inexplicably heard when she is nowhere to be seen, and the proprietor of a general store who carries a blue umbrella wherever he goes. There are rumours of the upper level of the store being haunted, and Zac has seen strange lights coming from its skylights at night. The more he learns the stranger things become.
There is an effective allusion to Narnia, early in The Blue Umbrella. Zac is reminded of the story his mother had read to him, when he looks at some fur coats; he wishes he could escape, as the children who travelled through the wardrobe had had wondrous possibilities open for them.
Mike Mason’s writing is refreshing — just a hair’s breadth this side of absurdity — in a style reminiscent of Lemony Snicket. The Blue Umbrella draws us into delight — particularly when we see with childlike wonder the beauty and grandeur of weather. It also stirs dread — being rather dark for younger children: Zac’s aunts beat him continuously, and they take him to visit a character whose evil is so palpable that it overshadows their cruelty. Conversely goodness comes through in other characters, although Zac isn’t always sure who to trust.
The Blue Umbrella is about trust — and is also naturally seasoned with truths about important issues including anger, free will, the nature of reality, and heaven. Eventually Zac comes to trust one who “was willing to die for him” — and who, despite Zac’s short-comings, was quick to tell him, “Well done”.
We have a wonderful heritage of fantasy writers for children who desire to capture the truths of the Christian faith in their books — George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle and now Mike Mason. Mason is a popular non-fiction writer (attendees at Write! Canada several years ago received a free copy of his book Champagne for the Soul) but The Blue Umbrella fulfills his childhood dream to be a novelist; it stands well on its own but, I’m please to say, is also the first book in a trilogy.
Mike Mason is a Canadian, living in Langley, B.C. The Blue Umbrella is published by David C. Cook — First edition, September 2009
D.S. Martin is Music Critic for Christian Week. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca