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Eight-year-old Bentley--baseball fan and television addict--finds that his destiny is to battle Prince Ombra, the archdemon, in a duel of devout magic against black for the fate of all humankind
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IT IS SAID--and it is true--that just before we are born, a cavern angel holds his finger to our mouths and whispers, "Hush! Don't tell what you know."
This is why we have a cleft on our upper lips and remember nothing of where we came from.
Toward the end of the last century--in 1978, to be precise--a smooth-lipped boy appeared in the world.
He grew up in an ominous time. People had lost the power of belief. Plagues of the spirit swept the world; shapeless anxieties spread like fever, self-hatred was rampant, love was bitterly denounced because it wasn't perfect. Evidence of madness glittered everywhere. The workshops of great nations forged weapons that would destroy the societies that used them. Acid rained from the skies. Rivers putrified. In some places the air was unbreathable. Hucksters sold God on television, and religions were made out of economic theories that didn't work. Tyrants brutalized the people in the name of the people. The new prophets of freedom preached doctrines of selfishness. Knowledge raced far ahead of wisdom. Mankind worshipped facts, but facts couldn't explain the misfortunes that counterweight the blessings of human life. There were machines that could think, and people numbed their minds to keep themselves from thinking. In their deepest dreams men stood within stone circles and saw a darkness darker than dark.
Such epochs of desolation had cursed human history a thousand times before. And, each time, a smooth-lipped mortal was born. These men lived strange, obsessed lives. Some of them lie buried in great mausoleums. Others rotted on the hangman's tree. Some will be remembered forever. Others disappeared into dust and oblivion.
When the time of dementia and sorrow came to the late twentieth century, Bentley Ellicott was born with a twisted leg in Stonehaven on the northern coast. Why he was created as a cripple, why he appeared in a peaceful place far from the world's worst torments, will remain mysteries forever. Bentley Ellicott himself was the only person in the world who knew the purpose of his life. It was a secret. He didn't tell anybody until he was eight years old.
Stonehaven lies on a sheltered curve of the northern coast, between islands dense with pine trees and a distant river spanned by a bridge shaped like a humpbacked monster's bones. The weather on this coast can be dramatic. Storms burst from turrets of clouds on the uplands and send volleys of thunder rolling across the wind-lashed sea. In winter Stonehaven is entombed in ice, bitter cold, and silence. The fogs of spring and autumn blur the shapes of the village, the forests, the coast.
In the time of Bentley Ellicott's childhood, Main Street was a potholed, two-lane way that passed the drugstore, the police station, and the bank. The masts of sailboats swayed with the harbor's lazy swell, and sea gulls wheeled and cried above lobster boats and draggers unloading at the town wharf. There were a freezing plant, a boathouse, and a sardine cannery.
The Stonehaven House Hotel stood at the end of Main Street. Years before, when the village shipped granite in waterline schooners to hot cities down the coast, the Stone-haven House Hotel had been fashionable. But the granite quarries had been closed for years by the time Bentley Ellicott was born. The hotel was a white, peeling ruin with broken windows. Tall grass grew all around it. Nobody lived there except Charlie Feavey. He had inherited the hotel from his father. Charlie was a scrawny man with dirty fingernails who was always desperate for money.
Potato fields lay north of the village. Along a wooded strip of shoreline--which everybody called the point--Victorian summer houses overlooked the sea and the seaward islands. After the middle of the last century, young couples like Richard and Dorothy Ellicott winterized the old houses and lived in them all year round. Richard was a mathematics professor at the university sixteen miles inland. Bentley Ellicott was born on the point.
Odd circumstances surrounded his birth.
His beautiful young mother died that night--for no reason the doctors could discover. A jade-eyed stranger named Willybill appeared in Stonehaven as the cold November light was going down. Toward midnight a choppy wind came up out of nowhere and changed directions four times, as if the power behind it were searching for something. McGraw, the Stonehaven police chief, said later that on the night of Bentley's birth he felt as if he and the village were under a glass bell and that a terrible pressure was trying to break through.
Bentley's father retreated into a deep depression after his wife died. Richard Ellicott drove to and from the university every day. But he aged faster than his life proceeded. He slept and read too much. He took long, solitary walks along the shore north of the village. He felt abandoned. He loved Bentley, but, as the boy was growing up, Richard couldn't emerge from his grief and pay attention to him.
So, Stonehaven's Congregationalist minister, the Reverend Homer Tally, became Bentley's substitute father. He was a gentle man of fifty who rarely spoke above a murmur except when he preached. Everybody regarded Mr. Tally as a saint. He had no children of his own, and he adored Bentley. Reverend Tally taught the boy how to ride a bicycle and plant gardens.
Mrs. Tally was not regarded as a saint. Her tart manner, closed mind, and barbed commentaries on the lives of everyone in the village made people tense. As the years progressed she sensed a mystery within Bentley--she was decidedly not stupid--and told everyone the boy was peculiar. He was always wandering off alone in the woods when he was little and search parties had to be organized. That proved his oddity so far as Mrs. Tally was concerned.
In the midmorning of his life, when he was eight, Bentley Ellicott's wiry body could scarcely contain his spirit, which was iridescent as summer light on the water. He was as busy as the foragings of a million bees and as curious as the eternal demand to know the meaning of God's wink.
He was short for his age and had large, dark eyes. His brown hair hung over those eyes until a German graduate student named Helga became Richard Ellicott's housekeeper. Even Helga had a hard time getting Bentley to sit still long enough for an attack on his hair with scissors. Helga was a slender, pretty girl of nineteen. She teased Bentley to make him screech, wrestled his blue jeans and sneakers off of him so she could wash them, and tried to make him stop gobbling his breakfast.
Bentley was irrepressible. He had the energy of a chipmunk, and his face was as changeable as the weather on the northern coast. He bulged out his eyes as he exaggerated his triumphs and failures. He did a terrific imitation of a chimpanzee, bouncing around in circles and scratching his ribs. Other children liked him because he was exuberant and made up interesting games and adventures. In school he fidgeted and shot up his hand and often had the right answers because he loved to learn. He could run in a hopping stumble, but because of his deformed right leg he couldn't run fast enough to play baseball. Baseball was Bentley's favorite thing. He practiced throwing until he was better at it than any kid in Stonehaven. He could knock a tin can off a stump from thirty feet away.
Joe Persis, who was Bentley's best friend, was a year older and a lot bigger. He had a dim mind--which is often the mind that sees the obvious truth everyone else misses. He, too, thought that Bentley was different. Bentley was the leader, but he never made Joe feel dumb.
They were beach and forest prowlers. They dug clams with their bare hands. Joe climbed trees and pulled Bentley up after him. They made a catapult by laying a board across a log, putting rocks on one end, and jumping on the other. They hauled a U.S. Navy ammunition crate out of the water, quarreled about who owned it, and made up.
In his room Bentley had posters depicting birds, fishes, and dinosaurs. He had a toy box half filled with treasures he found along the shore. Sometimes in the evenings he watched television with Helga and her boyfriend. Bentley would pull his sweater up over his eyes when there were scary parts of horror movies. On other evenings he had supper at the Tally's house and rode home on his bicycle. Reverend Tally took him exploring on the uplands of bare meadows, granite outcroppings, forests, and crater lakes that rise behind Stonehaven and the coast. Bentley became a substitute for the son Reverend Tally never had. Mrs. Tally endured him.
McGraw, the Stonehaven police chief, didn't like Bentley. He was the one who'd had to lead all the search parties when Bentley had gotten himself lost. He told the other loungers in the Stonehaven drugstore that the kid was a fool. Willybill, the jade-eyed stranger who had appeared in the village on the night Bentley was born, was still there, still a stranger. He watched the boy.
Bentley Ellicott kept his secret. He tore around the village and the countryside on his bicycle, yelled his head off at schoolyard baseball games, and reveled in his child-hood despite the fact that his mother was dead, his father was unreachable, and he himself was handicapped.
Our fortunes and lives seem chaotic when they are looked at as facts. There is order and meaning only in the great truths believed by everybody in that older, wiser time of the world when things were less known but better understood. That ancient wisdom lived secretly within Bentley Ellicott alongside the rackety personality of an eight-year-old boy. He assumed that the great purpose for which he had been born would not summon him for years and years.
* * *
No sound ever disappears. Every wind rush stays, every rattle of wave-washed gravel remains in the world, hovering above the gray boulders and rock ledges, dripping with the mists of spring in the pine forests. All of Stonehaven's history murmurs and speaks in the second air--the shouts of Vikings sailing down the cold sea, the rigging creaks of the ships that brought the first French settlers, the rifle cr...
In the vein of works by Tolkien and Terry Brooks, Prince Ombra is a basic fantasy of good vs. evil. Its twist is that the champion of good is a crippled eight-year-old boy. LJ's reviewer found that the author "combines the measured phrase of legends with the chaos of modern life in fascinating juxtaposition" (LJ 11/15/82).
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Tor Books, 1983. Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110812545508
Book Description Tor Books, 1983. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0812545508
Book Description Tor Books, 1983. Paperback. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0812545508