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Fay (Elizabeth) Sampson (1935-) - Sidelights

books review pangur december

British author Fay Sampson has written many works of fantasy, including books for children and for adults. Some of her most popular children's works relate the adventures of Pangur Bán, a talking cat. These stories, which draw heavily on Celtic folklore, take place at the time when Christianity is just beginning to erode the traditional, native religions of Ireland and Britain. In Pangur Bán: The White Cat, the title character accidentally causes a young monk named Niall to kill another monk, the son of King Kernac. Kernac tries to avenge his son's death, but Niall and Pangur Bán escape him, only to be pursued by Kernac's daughter Finnglas. She, too, is determined to make Niall pay for her brother's death. In a series of fantastic adventures, the trio are captured by mermaids and eventually rescued by the Christ-like dolphin, Arthmael. In later books, Finnglas is named as her father's successor, the ruler of Summer Land, but she must undergo many trials and learn many lessons before she can truly become queen. "Very much in the tradition of C. S. Lewis's 'Narnia' books, they carry strong moral messages about love, courage, sacrifice, forgiveness, and redemption," wrote David V. Barrett, a contributor to the St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers. Booklist's Carolyn Phelan also noted this emphasis, commenting in a review of Pangur Bán that "the classic 'battle of good and evil' theme finds fresh interpretation in these adventures."

Feline Pangur Bán befriends an Irish monk and a princess who are beset by evil forces and the cat attempts to find the unknown accomplice who can rescue them in Fay Sampson's enthralling story set in the Medieval era. (Cover art by Peter Holt.)

Sampson once commented: "I was a solitary child, taking pleasure in reading and long walks with a dog on the hills above the fishing village where I lived. I loved writing, but no one ever suggested that I might earn a living by it. That had to wait until I had returned from Zambia and my younger child was starting school. Having made a break in my teaching career, I had to face the question, 'What next?' It was my husband and the late Sidney Robbins, an enthusiast for children's literature in education, who encouraged me to take writing seriously.

"I spent five very enjoyable years writing books that almost, but not quite, got published. I finally struck lucky with F.67. At first I wrote out of a deep love of my native west-country, its landscape, history, and legends. But success came when I turned to the present and near future (I regard F.67 and The Watch on Patterick Fell not as science fiction, but as social fantasy—shaking the kaleidoscope of the present and seeing what new patterns might emerge from the chaos). I still have a strong attachment to the west-country, particularly its Celtic past, and this is reflected in my more recent books. But however old the theme, it must still speak to today.

"Every week of the year I come across a news item or snippet of history that would make a good book. But nineteen times out of twenty I don't want to write it. It is too rounded, complete. For me the essential motivation in writing is curiosity. What would it be like if … ? What if they had … ? Or just, 'Why?' My books are an exploration of these questions. For instance, F.67 began with the influx of Ugandan Asian refugees when I visited one of their camps and asked, 'What would it be like if my own children were put into this situation?' But if I have done my work well, the books themselves will raise more questions than the answer, so that at the end the reader is just beginning his own adventure of the mind."

Biographical and Critical Sources


St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.


Booklist, April 15, 1989, p. 1484; May 15, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of Pangur Bán, The White Cat, p. 1662.

Horn Book, June, 1980, Mary M. Burns, review of The Watch on Patterick Fell, p. 309.

New Statesman, November, 28, 1980, Gillian Wilce, review of Landfall on Innis Michael, pp. 30-31; December 5, 1986, p. 29.

School Librarian, May, 1988, p. 67; February, 1991, p. 31.

School Library Journal, March, 1980, George Gleason, review of The Watch on Paterick Fell, p. 143; December, 1989, review of A Free Man on Sunday, pp. 102-103; November, 2003, Patricia A. Dillisch, review of Finnglas and the Stones of Choosing, p. 146.

Spectator, December 13, 1986, p. 44.

Times Educational Supplement, August 30, 1985, p. 37; December 12, 1986, p. 35; November 27, 1987, p. 49; July 29, 1988, p. 21; April 7, 1989, p. B9.

Times Literary Supplement, February 19, 1988, Geoffrey Trease, review of A Free Man on Sunday, p. 200.


Fay Sampson Home Page, http://www.faysampson.co.uk/ (January 15, 2004).*

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