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Literature / The Magic Cottage

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A 1986 novel by James Herbert. Session musician Mike Stringer and professional illustrator Midge Gudgeon move from London to Gramarye, a somewhat dilapidated but idyllically peaceful cottage in rural Hampshire, previously occupied by the recently deceased, eccentric but highly regarded Flora Chaldean. Rather surprisingly, the team of builders sent in to renovate find no trace of a previously prominent crack in the wall. At first, life here is highly contented, in some ways which seem practically supernatural; local wildlife is amazingly tame, the creative inspiration and sensual intimacy of Mike and Midge is spectacularly enhanced, and that crack in the wall seems to have just closed itself over. On the land surrounding the cottage, Mike is unsettled by recurring glimpses of a distant silhouetted figure. A nearby mansion houses the Synergists, a mystical organisation whose leader, Mycroft, is ominously keen for Midge to join them. Flora Chaldean, widely held to have had some kind of healing power, is revealed to have been in a state of decomposition in the cottage kitchen long before her corpse was found. The cottage’s empathy with nature later reveals rather less benevolent manifestations, and Mycroft’s offer to help Midge contact her deceased parents has Mike worried about her susceptibility to the demands of the Synergists...


This novel provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Mycroft is polite, if a bit supercilious to Mike.
  • All Animals Are Dogs: Rumbo the friendly squirrel reminds Mike of a dog. Well and truly justified; this is a Call-Back to "Fluke" (1977) one of whose dog characters was later reincarnated as a squirrel.
  • Awesome Art: In-universe, Midge paints an astoundingly lucid and detailed image of Gramarye in whose painted recreation of reality Mike finds himself briefly immersed.
  • Bequeathed Power: The spirit of Flora Chaldean turns up to pass to Mike her receptivity to magic.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Mycroft's Synergist subordinates, notably the jovial Kinsella.
  • Bizarrchitecture: The cottage seems able to reassert its earlier state of disrepair. On arrival in “the round room,” Mike finds himself disorientated by a heightened sensory reception of its expansive view.
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  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Averted; Mike fondly mentions his collaboration with Phil Collins.
  • Collapsing Lair: Gramarye, whose occupants have repelled invasion by the Synergists, implodes.
  • Corrupt Hick: Averted, the locals are friendly.
  • Country Mouse: Midge, originally from a rural area.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Following a dangerous isolated incident, Mike stays well and truly clear of them.
  • Eldritch Location: The magic innate to Gramarye induces some bizarre spatial perceptions.
  • Empathic Environment: Gramarye's manifestations seem to respond both to benevolence and malignancy.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Mycroft may be considered a sorcerer, and is most definitely a wrong 'un.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Flora Chaldean.
  • Genius Loci: Seemingly by absorbing the essence of its occupants via its position on a location of the earth which exudes "ethereal vitality", Gramarye can physically alter itself.
  • A God Am I: Mycroft’s desire to tap the magic leyline of Gramarye is driven by the unadulterated power it would give him.
  • Healing Hands: Flora was a renowned healer. Mycroft and the Synergists demonstrate such skill on Mike although the healing is really enabled by the magic of Gramarye.
  • In Harmony with Nature: The cottage somehow soothes local wildlife to remarkable tameness, and has the power to heal them.
  • Magic Is Evil: Averted; it very much depends on the user.
  • Make Them Rot: The cottage, in heralding Flora's ghost, sometimes reasserts its previous state of decay.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Mycroft.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: A recurring silhouetted figure is revealed to be the ghost of Flora, who arrives to impart the cottage’s magic to Mike.
  • Parental Abandonment: The untimely deaths of Midge's parents left her grief-stricken and irrationally guilt-ridden.
  • Place of Power: Gramarye is built on a point of the earth's crust which exudes the "ethereal vitality" which drives and shapes the universe.
  • Reality Warper: The ability to channel magic allows such ability.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Downplayed. Reverend Sixmythe, while genial and conscientious, gives a distastefully graphic description of his discovery of Flora's corpse, seemingly to spite Mike and Midge's light reception of his warnings of the Synergists.
  • Scenery Porn: Some beautiful descriptions of the Hampshire countryside.
  • Sealed Good in a Can: The benevolent magic innate to Gramarye nurtures Mike and Midge's creativity and intimacy.
  • Skeptic No Longer: Mike gradually acknowledges the undeniably supernatural goings-on.
  • Sentient Cosmic Force: The universe is explained to be driven and shaped by emotion, "the creative energy that bred with itself, the source of everything."
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Mike and Val, Midge's agent.
  • Spooky Painting: Midge paints one of the cottage, which Mike falls into and sees the ghost of Flora Chaldean.
  • Spooky Séance: Mycroft apparently contacts Midge‘s deceased parents. It’s a magically induced sham, but then the real ones turn up…
  • The Swarm: Mike is alarmed to find a sizeable brood of bats in the cottage loft , which later simultaneously give birth on masse.
  • Wizard Duel: Mike vs Mycroft.

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