Authors: Carla Jablonski
For my friend Jack,
an unexpected knight in battered armor.
Thirty-two-year-old Timothy Hunter, the most powerful magical adept of theâ¦
Thirteen-year-old Tim Hunter sat on the stoop of theâ¦
“What do you mean? You die if you leave theâ¦
“Molly? Miss?” Crimple the narl called after the human girlâ¦
Fear hit Tim like a cold slap of water asâ¦
“Demon Playland?” Tim repeated. He didn't like the sound ofâ¦
Seriously weird, Tim thought, his eyes never leaving his face.
“A Toast to Molly!” a pink dinosaur cheered, holding upâ¦
Tim stepped across the new bridgeâand into a bizarre scene.
Tanger sat in a dark wood, his back pressed upâ¦
“Where am I now?” Tim muttered. There are way tooâ¦
“Please, Princess,” The large dragon begged Molly. “Come admire myâ¦
Molly's head hurt, and her whole body ached. She layâ¦
“Fire!” Tim cried. “I bet that's Molly sending up aâ¦
HEN I WAS STILL
a teenager, only a few years older than Tim Hunter is in the book you are holding, I decided it was time to write my first novel. It was to be called
, and it was to be set in a minor British Public School (which is to say, a private school), like the ones from which I had so recently escaped, only a minor British Public School that taught magic. It had a young hero named Richard Grenville, and a pair of wonderful villains who called themselves Mister Croup and Mister Vandemar. It was going to be a mixture of Ursula K. Le Guin's
A Wizard of Earthsea
and T. H. White's
The Sword in the Stone
, and, well, me, I suppose. That was the plan. It seemed to me that learning about magic was the perfect story, and I was sure I could really write convincingly about school.
I wrote about five pages of the book before I realized that I had absolutely no idea what I was
doing, and I stopped. (Later, I learned that most books are actually written by people who have no idea what they are doing, but go on to finish writing the books anyway. I wish I'd known that then.)
Years passed. I got married, and had children of my own, and learned how to finish writing the things I'd started.
Then one day in 1988, the telephone rang.
It was an editor in America named Karen Berger. I had recently started writing a monthly comic called
, which Karen was editing, although no issues had yet been published. Karen had noticed that I combined a sort of trainspotterish knowledge of minor and arcane DC Comics characters with a bizarre facility for organizing them into something more or less coherent. And also, she had an idea.
“Would you write a comic,” she asked, “that would be a history of magic in the DC Comics universe, covering the past and the present and the future? Sort of a Who's Who, but with a story? We could call it
The Books of Magic
I said, “No, thank you.” I pointed out to her how silly an idea it wasâa Who's Who and a history and a travel guide that was also a story. “Quite a ridiculous idea,” I said, and she apologized for having suggested it.
In bed that night I hovered at the edge of sleep, musing about Karen's call, and what a ridiculous idea it was. I meanâ¦a story that would go from the beginning of timeâ¦to the end of timeâ¦and have someone meet all these strange peopleâ¦and learn all about magicâ¦.
Perhaps it wasn't so ridiculousâ¦.
And then I sighed, certain that if I let myself sleep it would all be gone in the morning. I climbed out of bed and crept through the house back to my office, trying not to wake anyone in my hurry to start scribbling down ideas.
A boy. Yes. There had to be a boy. Someone smart and funny, something of an outsider, who would learn that he had the potential to be the greatest magician the world had ever seenâmore powerful than Merlin. And four guides, to take him through the past, the present, through other worlds, through the future, serving the same function as the ghosts who accompany Ebenezer Scrooge through Charles Dickens's
A Christmas Carol.
I thought for a moment about calling him Richard Grenville, after the hero of my book-I'd-never-written, but that seemed a rather too heroic name (the original Sir Richard Grenville was a sea-captain, adventurer, and explorer, after all). So I called him Tim, possibly because the Monty
Python team had shown that Tim was an unlikely sort of name for an enchanter, or with faint memories of the hero of Margaret Storey's magical children's novel,
Timothy and Two Witches
. I thought perhaps his last name should be Seekings, and it was, in the first outline I sent to Karenâa faint tribute to John Masefield's haunting tale of magic and smugglers,
The Midnight Folk
. But Karen felt this was a bit literal, so he became, in one stroke of the pen, Tim Hunter.
And as Tim Hunter he sat up, blinked, wiped his glasses on his T-shirt, and set off into the world.
(I never actually got to use the minor British Public School that taught only magic in a story, and I suppose now I never will. But I was very pleased when Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar finally showed up in a story about life under London, called
John Bolton, the first artist to draw Tim, had a son named James who was just the right age and he became John's model for Tim, tousle-haired and bespectacled. And in 1990 the first four volumes of comics that became the first
Books of Magic
graphic novel were published.
Soon enough, it seemed, Tim had a monthly series of comics chronicling his adventures and misadventures, and the slow learning process he
was to undergo, as initially chronicled by author John Ney Reiber, who gave Tim a number of thingsâmost importantly, Molly.
In this new series of novels-without-pictures, Carla Jablonski has set herself a challenging task: not only adapting Tim's stories, but also telling new ones, and through it all illuminating the saga of a young man who might just grow up to be the most powerful magician in the world. If, of course, he manages to live that longâ¦.
Timothy Hunter, the most powerful magical adept of the ages, strolled toward the heavily guarded, massive stone building he called the Formatory. Of course, there were no
guards, but the place was well defended all the same. The protections had been placed by Timothy himself; he'd carved the special runes, chanted the spells in languages long lost, and hung the talismans of great power.
The demon world provides such handy resources when one has something valuable to protect,
Timothy mused as he climbed the low marble steps.
They should open their own reference library. I'd even donate some of my millions toward its upkeep. Of course,
he thought with a smile,
all I need to do is cast a spell or make a minor threat, and any information I want is
mine. Or I can always ask Barbatosâhe's usually up on the latest incantations and power spells.
Timothy passed his hand over the gargoyle guardian on the door and felt the prickly shimmer as the gargoyle's expression changed. One minute it bore a menacing, teeth-bared grimace; the next, a friendly, though still grotesque, smile. The door swung open and Timothy stepped inside the cool, silent building.
“Where does the time go?” Timothy muttered, his footsteps echoing loudly as he crossed the shiny marble floor. “It's been weeks since I paid a visit to the Formatory. Shameful to neglect one's dependents that way, really. And I can't even claim I've been too busy to check on them. The war has been shaping up quite nicely on all fronts, with no more than a nudge here or a tickle there from me.” He reached the end of the long hallway and placed his hand on the wall padlock. The steel door clanged open.
He hesitated on the threshold. “Be a man, Hunter,” he admonished himself. “You thought you were done here, didn't you? You could have sworn you'd finally got her right.”
Timothy straightened his tie, pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose, and raked his fingers through his short dark hair. He cupped his hand to check his breath, then stepped into
the room. The Molly room.
He stood under the sparkling chandelier in the large circular room and slowly turned, gazing at each of the Mollys. They gazed back from behind their glass walls, separated from one another by thick, soundproof marble barriers. There was Molly as a teenager in jeans, heavy work boots, and black T-shirt. There was a slightly older Molly in an evening gown, a Molly dressed like a biker chick, a Molly in the latest fashion. Molly after Molly after Mollyâand not one of them was quite right.
Each Molly moved up to her glass barrier, imploring him silently forâ¦what? Attention? Approval? Freedom?
Timothy remained unresponsive to all those pairs of identical brown eyes.
“You thought you were all set to ride off into the sunset with the new-and-improved Molly, didn't you?” Timothy muttered darkly. “Like in some sentimental movie, complete with violins scraping in the background and not a dry eye in the house as the picture fades.” He shook his head in disgust. “Jerk.”
He slowly paced the circle of Mollys. “You're too romantic for your own good,” he scolded himself. “Surely you ought to know by now that these things take time.” He stopped in front of a Molly
in a soft, flowered dress with ruffles on the hem. “Speaking of which, how long has this little peach been ripening?”
This Molly's eyes were filled with tears.
She must be awed by my presence
, Timothy surmised.
â¦He peered at her more closely, and she lowered her eyes.
Unless she was crying before I came into the room. That will never do.
Expressing unhappiness at her situation could not be tolerated. It signified discontentâdisapproval.
He pressed the buttons on the pad beside the door. It beeped when he'd completed the sequence, and the glass panel in front of the weeping Molly slid open. The Molly looked startled and took a step back as Timothy moved into her confined area.
“Hello, Molly,” he said gently. She seemed a bit skittish and he didn't want to frighten her. “I'm sorry, but you'll have to remind me. How long have you been here?”
The Molly kept her eyes down, and Timothy could see her tremble. A harsh voice behind her answered his question.
“Three years, four months, seven days, and fifteen minutes to be precise.”
Timothy's gaze left the Molly and flicked to the wizened old creature coming to stand behind her. Vuall. She was teacher, governess, and prison
guard rolled into one withered husk of a woman. Even taller than Timothy, she had a skull-like face covered in wrinkles, and her steel-gray hair was pulled into a tight bun on top of her head. The only jewelry she wore was long, dangling chains as earrings, and Timothy had never seen her in anything other than the old-fashioned black dress she always wore. Not quite human, not quite demon, Vuall had been around as long as there were girls needing to be kept in check. Girls to be properly trained. She was someone who could enforce all those unspoken rules that made girls fit into the molds created for them, no matter how much the girls resisted.
“Miss O'Reilly. Didn't you hear Timothy ask you a question?” Vuall demanded in a voice that sounded like chalk grating on a blackboard. “Come now, you minx,” she admonished the Molly. “Can you tell Master Timothy Hunter in all honesty that you feel yourself worthy to be the object of his devotion?”
“No, miss,” the Molly answered in a whisper.
Vuall sniffed disdainfully. “Quite right. Which means we must continue with our lessons. And what are they today?”
The Molly looked slightly perplexed and then responded, “Needlepoint, miss? And piano and French?”
Vuall's eyes narrowed to the size of raisins. “Andâ¦?”
“And holding very still, miss? And smiling.”
“Very good.” Vuall turned to Timothy. “As you can see, she isn't ready yet.”
“Yes, yes.” Timothy waved a hand. “I'll leave you to your work.”
He stepped back out of the chamber. He ignored the pleading eyes of the other Mollys as he left the Molly room and strode out of the Formatory.
She may not be quite there yet,
but she does seem to be coming along prettily. Vuall should be finished with her soon enough. After that little outburst from the new Molly last night, well, a replacement was certainly called for.
Yes, the Molly in the flowered dress might do very well. She was a bit younger than the one at home, Timothy observed, closer to the age Molly had been when sheâ¦well, when
had discovered that perhaps she didn't completely share his feelings or his vision and he realized he needed to make improvements.
He shook his head as he walked up the path toward his mansion.
It shouldn't be this difficult.
He felt annoyance rise at the unfairness of it all.
Why is it that the wars I wage seem so much simpler than training a Molly to behave as I wish?
Timothy flicked his hand at the door, expecting it to open as it always did. Only this timeâ¦it didn't. He stopped and stared. He tried again. Then again. With a grunt and a great deal of effort, he tried once more, and finally the door responded, flinging itself open. Timothy jogged up the steps, filled with some nameless energy, and stomped into the mansion.
“Have to look into that,” he muttered, staring back at the door as it slammed shut behind him.
Why do I have the nagging feeling that the world is running a bit offtrack today?
“Good morning, sweetheart,” a Molly said. She sat precisely where he had left herâperched on the sofa, wearing her pink silk dress and sparkling jewels. “Isâis something the matter?”
I hate that hesitating speech pattern she's developed,
Tim thought with fury. “Haven't I told you not to yammer at me while I'm thinking? You can see that I'm thinking, can't you?”
“Oh yes.” The Molly's face flushed. “I'm sorry, sweetheart.”
“I'll give you sorry, you stupid cowâif you don't shut your mouth.” Timothy strode past her, needing to get away from her.
She is far too docile,
Except when she isn't! Oh, why can't she be what I want her to be?
A thought stopped him.
Could it be that I don't know what I want, and that's why I'm having trouble conveying my wishes?
A cold dread swept through him. “No!” he shouted. “That can't be it! I am Timothy Hunterâand I am in control!” He glanced back and again saw the Molly sitting on the sofa, staring straight ahead, her face blank. Disgust twisted his stomach.
I should return her to the Formatory this instant
, he thought.
Clearly the trouble lies in her, not in me.
â¦A wave of dizziness made the room blur for a moment. Timothy blinked and took several deep, slow breaths, trying to keep the room from spinning.
I can't do it now
, he decided.
I'm not feeling up to it. I must be sick. No, not sick exactly. Just a bit shaky.
He reached for the table to steady himselfâand his hand went right through it! Stunned and unsteady, he stumbled to the floor, knocking over a priceless vase as he went down. But there was no crash or shattered crystalâthe vase simply evaporated!
“Wh-what's happening?” he gasped.
He knelt on the ground trying to catch his breath, get his bearings. His stomach tightened as the walls around him flickered as if they were about to blink out.
“Timothy, are you all right? I didn't even see you fall.” The Molly reached down to help him up, but Timothy pushed her away.
“Barbatos,” Timothy rasped. “I have to find Barbatos. He'll know what's happening. He'll tell me what to do.”
The demon Barbatos dropped his tasty fruit-filled treat into the toaster.
Ahhhhh, junk foodâone good reason to allow humans to live.
He rolled his small body over onto his chubby blue belly and gazed at his reflection in the side of the silver toaster, admiring his smooth bald head.
Things have been going rather well
, Barbatos thought.
I do like these lush quarters Timothy Hunter has provided for me. He really is quite the needy mage, thankfully. He can't make a move without his most untrustworthy demon servant. Just as I had planned.
Barbatos dug his fat toes into the thick carpet.
Mmmmm. Plush. Another invention to thank those pesky humans for.
The door burst open and hit the opposite wall with a bang. Timothy Hunter stood, breathing hard, in the doorway, sweat beading on his forehead. “Barbatos,” Timothy bellowed.
What's he got his knickers in a twist over now?
Barbatos wondered. Although Timothy
Hunter's high-strung nature made him blissfully easy to manipulate, it also grew tiresome on occasion.
“Sir Timothy,” Barbatos purred, keeping his eye on the toaster. The wretched thing had a terrible tendency to burn his food. “The gears of your clockwork world mesh smoothly today, I trust?”
Barbatos used his most oily, subservient voiceâthe voice that had persuaded Timothy to allow Barbatos to plan the latest war, while transferring substantial funds from paper currency into far more useful magical energy allotments.
Timothy stalked into the room and stood over Barbatos. He planted his feet wide as if grounding himself. “I adjure thee, O fallen one, in the name which must not be spoken.” Timothy intoned. “As thou art in this place and time my servant I charge thee, answer without guileâ”
Barbatos sighed and sat up. “Oh, Timothy, spare us the incantations. You know I never lie to you.”
With a little click, the toaster treat popped up. Timothy started at the sound and grew pale, then sank down in the corner of the room.
The great mage is more erratic than usual
, Barbatos noted.
. Barbatos hid a smirk as he stared at the stricken so-called master.
Timothy may have more firepower
, Barbatos thought,
am the true master here
. Still, it wouldn't do to let the magician know that.
“O great master, what is it that is troubling you?” Barbatos asked, as sweetly as syrup.
“Something is going horribly wrong with the world,” Timothy moaned. He seemed to be fighting back tears. “It isâ¦destabilizing. What's happening to me? To the world?”
Barbatos almost felt a flicker of sympathy; the mage seemed so genuinely lost. Then he smiled.
Ahhhh, confusionâanother lovely human condition to exploit. Yes, junk food, soft fabrics, and easily baffled minds. Humans. Gotta love 'em
“Perhaps it's something you ate,” Barbatos said, taking a bite of the completely chemical and synthetic snack. He smacked his lips.
Timothy leaped to his feet, no longer weak and sniveling.
He really does suffer from mood swings
, Barbatos observed.
“I touch things, and my hand goes right through them,” Timothy snarled, a combination of fear and fury making his body vibrate. “My own mansion keeps disappearing and reappearing. And streets have changed direction, I'm sure of it! You are going to tell me what is happening, demon, and you are going to tell me now.”
This time, Barbatos truly listened, and he didn't like what he was hearing. “I was afraid of
this,” the demon murmured, his attention diverted from his gummy snack. What Timothy was describing was not good.
“What do you meanâyou could have predicted this?” Timothy demanded. “Why didn't you warn me?”
“I was hoping to avoid this problem altogether,” Barbatos explained. “You see, sweet master, life is a matter of variables. And
life, in particular, is notably more, shall we say, tenuous, at best. Precarious, if you will.”