Some people find it almost impossible to make the mental shift required to think of numbers and letters as marriage partners. The very idea of mathematical metaphor is a stretch too far, so they automatically assume numerology, not numeracy.

However numerical literary style is as far from numerology as astronomy is from astrology. Even Jesus makes a passing reference to it in a famous passage: ‘…till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled…’ Matthew 5:18 NKJ

It’s no coincidence that just one verse removed from this remark, He refers to the scribes, known in Hebrew as the Sopherim. A scribe’s three main tasks were:

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David H. Webb

Anomalos Publishing House

This is a ‘boy-book’.

David Webb makes no apology for it, merely pointing out in the preface the enormous influence of Jane Austen’s Emma on his choice of subject matter. As a teenager in his last year at an all-boys school he had been compelled to make a study of a spoilt heiress who spends four hundred and sixty pages trying—unsuccessfully—to marry off a young friend. Fortunately, no lasting trauma seems to have been resulted.

However, there are moments when I wondered what the book might have been like, had things been otherwise.

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Rosanne Hawke
Lothian Books

Light and delicate, the echo of bells kerlink kerlink followed me through the day long after I’d finished Mustara. Robert Ingpen’s sandy-toned watercolours evoke the starkness and hazy mirages of a desert landscape, hinting too at the sepia-tinted era of eighteenth century exploration.

Mustara is a young camel. Taj hopes he will be chosen for the expedition of Ernest Giles to Central Australia. But Mustara is too young. Everything changes when Taj and Emmeline are caught in a sandstorm. This beautifully-illustrated book highlights the largely unknown contribution of Afghan cameleers to the pioneering of Australia’s interior.

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DM Cornish

Around the age of fifteen or sixteen, when a boy has read sufficient science fiction or fantasy to aspire to create his own literary cosmos, he begins a monster story.

Why boys choose a variation on the name ‘Jabberwock’ for the monster and why the creature’s nature should be ambiguous rather than out-and-out evil is a question I’ve never resolved.*

An archetype is obviously involved. However, this does not explain why, of the seven basic plots identified by Christopher Booker, the choice consistently falls on ‘overcoming the monster.’ Nor why the name remains constant.

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Julia Caroline Gollasch
VMI Publishers

Unlike many people I know, I consider allegory and fantasy to be different—cousins but not twins. I love a good fantasy but I cordially dislike allegory. So, consider this fair warning!

I don’t understand why some people like The Pilgrim’s Progress so passionately. It’s too serious, too plainly didactic. It’s like an undressed parable. It’s been stripped of the cloak of mystery that a parable wraps around itself, it’s been shorn of subtlety and generally misses both humour and irony. Perhaps that’s an unfair assessment. But that’s the way it comes across to me.

Fantasy can also be very earnest in tone but in general, it has the shifting light and shadow of a fairytale. The kindly woman by the wayside may turn out to be a witch or a warrior. In allegory, such uncertainty is rare. One thing you can be sure of: both Faithful and Giant Despair will live up to their names.

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Scott Monk
Random House Australia

‘A mystery is a dull question if there’s not plenty of confusion first.’

A random act of kindness propels Michael, a considerate country boy, into an otherworldly adventure. Tormented at his new city school by the vicious Thornleigh sisters and caught in the middle at home between his siblings, Michael’s life undergoes a strange metamorphosis when he gives a dollar to a homeless man.

He meets the man again in a curious old shop while looking for a fancy dress costume and, realising the man is the proprietor, begins to suspect that all is not as it seems. Quite an accurate assessment as it turns out when he is chased, along with his brother and sister, from the party they’re attending. As they escape the Thornleighs and other assorted bullies, they discover the Knock-Knock Door—a gorgeously-ornamented gateway that opens only when given the answers to knock-knock jokes and obscure riddles.

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Anne Bartlett
Penguin Books

To read Knitting is to be caught up in a weaving of words as cloud-soft as angora, as shimmering as silk, as tingling as mohair.

After her husband’s death, Sandra finds herself in a skin-tight prison of glass, unable to grieve. Reminded of her own desperation during her husband’s last illness by the fleeting look of a woman kneeling over an unconscious body on the street, she is drawn into the lives of Martha and Cliff.

Martha is rosedown warmth to Sandra’s brittleglass cold. A gifted knitter, she inspires Sandra to invite her to collaborate in a textile exhibition. But Martha’s generosity and her fragile hold on sanity, coupled with the escalating scale of Sandra’s ambition, begin the unravelling of their blossoming friendship.

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An Open Swimmer

Tim Winton

Jerra’s family want him to make something of himself. A girl and a job would be a good start.

But Jerra is tormented by secret memories – thoughts that beach themselves like broken shells caught in the tide wrack of an uneasy sexual awakening and a sense that he has betrayed those he loves.

On a bleak southern shoreline in Western Australia, Jerra meets an old codger whose conscience is as tortured as his own. Unable to confess or forgive, they find an ancient law/hope hovering in their mutilated lives: a single witness shall not stand

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There’s a famous story about Karl Friedrich Gauss, one of the most distinguished mathematicians of all time.  His talent was evident from an early age. His teacher told the class to add up all the numbers from one to 100.  Moments later, Gauss appeared at his desk with the correct answer: 5050.  The boy later to be known as ‘The Prince of Mathematicians’ had figured out a short-cut. His cunning method of calculation actually works for all similar situations or for so-called ‘triangular’ numbers. Triangular numbers have this name because, if they are arranged in rows of dots on paper, they form perfect triangles. However, they can also be found by adding successive whole numbers together. For instance, 171 is the eighteenth triangular number because all the numbers from one to 18 add to 171 while 153 is the seventeenth triangular number because all the numbers from one to 17 add to 153.

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Mention the word ‘mathematics’ and most people tend to squirm.  But I love the subject and I delight in finding it in unexpected places. I’m always thrilled to discover a new spot where God has pulled out all stops in a virtuoso display of numeracy.

Most people don’t cope well on being told the Bible is full of mathematics. They think numeracy equals numerology. But they are as different as astronomy and astrology.

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By Any Other Name 1

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

One of my favourite websites for exploring the meaning of names offers this definition of what a name is: ‘Generally a name is a label for a noun – a person, place or thing. More specifically a name is a label for a specific person, place or thing.’

Oh, really? Just a label?  Surely not!

It seems this very popular site would agree with Shakespeare’s famous assessment about the rose and the sweetness of its perfume: That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet. Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Now I disagree with both the Bard and the website.

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Fire of Roses

From the exquisite ending of TS Eliot’s poem, Little Gidding, to the purifying petalled flames in George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin or the purging fire in Anne Bartlett’s Knitting, I am utterly entranced with the symbol of the fire of roses.

From time to time, you’ll find the image haunting my own writing…

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