Charlie Talent Manx III is a special man with a special car. With the help of his aide, Bing Partridge (and his alter ego, the Gasman), and his classic Rolls-Royce Wraith, Manx “rescues” children from their parents and takes them to the magical Christmasland, where children never age and the fun of Christmas never dies.
Victoria McQueen is an unusual child. With a bike able to cross the bridge between lost and found, Vic is able to ride anywhere as long as she knows what she’s looking for.
Maggie Leigh is a librarian with attitude. With her bag of Scrabble tiles, Maggie can puzzle out the answer to any question, so long as the answer doesn’t need a proper noun, of course. More importantly, she’s vibrant, spunky, and has a flair for personal style.
Lou and Bruce Wayne Carmody are two of the most important men in Vic’s life. After helping her flee from Manx as a teen, Lou eventually becomes her lover and partner. Wayne, though he doesn’t become Batman, is their son and the greatest figure in both his parents’ lives.
Young Victoria McQueen often goes on excursions across the collapsed Shortaway Bridge using her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike. Though the bridge doesn’t exist in a conventional way, she doesn’t know that, and neither does the bike. When she needs to escape from her arguing parents or recover something for her friends, she takes off into the woods and crosses her bridge to wherever she can discover her goal. She always returns with a fun story and a hazy memory of where she actually went.
As an angsty teenager, Vic rides off in search of trouble and finds it in the form of Charlie Manx. After a fiery altercation, Manx falls into a coma while Vic becomes the first child to ever escape his icy grasp. She never fully recovers from the experience, but she finds some solace in her love, Lou, and their son, Wayne.
Years later, Manx awakens and comes after her set on revenge. After he kidnaps Wayne, Vic must face off against skeptical cops, vampiric children, and her own past to rescue him. Luckily, she has a sweet new ride, a Triumph motorcycle, and the memory of a long-collapsed bridge to point her in the right direction.
NOS4A2 is one of the few true horror novels I’ve ever read, and to say I am impressed is an understatement. Much of the novel is filled with a creeping insidiousness that leaves a faint chill on the psyche. Implication is as crucial a tool in the creation of NOS4A2’s horror as the images and actions directly witnessed. Set against a backdrop of the supernatural and extreme, Hill’s characters nonetheless show personalities and actions that are, without a doubt, out in the world today. Manx is sincere in his desire to protect “his” children by placing them in a world of innocence and fun. Bing’s childish nature and devotion to Manx and the ideal of Christmasland leads to his committal of heinous and outrageous crimes that he believes are perfectly justified.
Combined with the children of Christmasland, gifted with eternal youth and true innocence, and thus lacking compassion, Hill creates a reminiscence of Peter Pan, darker than the original. Barrie’s Pan can laugh at children plummeting from the sky as they fall asleep midflight, but Hill’s children smile at ripping the wings off moths and see nothing but fun at the thought of beheading their parents. The establishment of total innocence is the loss of a moral compass. While there is definitely horror in hook-toothed children with skin colder than a polar vortex, there is equal, if not greater, horror in the idea of manipulators like Manx and the destruction of remorse.
Vic McQueen, Lou Carmody, and their son Wayne, our prime protagonists, provide an interesting foil to the villainous Manx. Lower class and struggling, Vic and Lou’s social status carries a stigma and it’d be all too easy for them to neglect their son and let their troubles turn them into parents Manx could deem unfit for their child. Instead, they are fully devoted and loving towards their son. Faced with the trials of their lives and their personal flaws, they maintain some of the most important attributes of humanity: compassion, empathy, and the ability to love, especially when faced with personal failings. Through the magnifying lens of these two parents, Manx’s veneer of rescuing children is revealed to be a petty lie, and he is revealed as a master manipulator. In reciprocation, Wayne’s love for his parents is what allows him to resist the lure of Christmasland.
Though the visual imagery of the novel is powerful and shocking, it is the characters, stunning mirrors of the potential and reality of human life, that make NOS4A2 shine like a fresh coat of snow or a brand new motorcycle.