Thursday, 4 March 2010

Tulku by Peter Dickinson

Published 1979

Sometime in the early 1980s, not long after it was first published, I found Tulku in the library. Both OH and I read it, and thought it a tremendous piece of storytelling. Although it disappeared from the local library I hadn’t forgotten it, and was delighted to find a copy in our local bookshop recently.

Except for the bare outlines of the story – a young boy, escaping from the Boxers during the Taiyuan massacre in 1900, reaches the Tibetan border where he meets a monk who is seeking a reincarnated lama – I had forgotten most of the narrative, and the story seemed entirely fresh to me. Thirteen-year-old Theo is the son of an American missionary killed in the massacre, and when he meets Mrs Jones, an indomitable Victorian plant hunter, he is prepared to dislike her for her vulgarity and even more for her ready cursing, but he allows himself to be persuaded into travelling with her to the safety of the nearest mission. Her eventual plan is to cross the border into the forbidden land of Tibet, where new plants may be found. On their way to seek the sanctuary of the mission for Theo, however, they again encounter the rebels, and they find themselves driven towards the border.