Be My Friend
Book 4 in "The Tomorrow Series" by John
the plot of this novel
Please don't read on if this concerns you
"Darkness, Be My Friend" starts
with the dominance game between Ellie and Homer going full swing.
Homer forces the issue of returning to Australia as a way of getting
the upper hand and Ellie is both infuriated and battered by it.
By the end of the novel the issue is resolved. Ellie Linton, one
of the bravest, most innovative, most dogged and determined characters
in Australian literature has fully hit her stride and the contest
The characters are now truly creatures of the night, they feel
right out of place during the day time, and presumably the title
reflects this. For me though, there is another layer of meaning,
perhaps unintended. The characters are not the same as they were
in "The Third Day, The Frost". Looking back across
the series I see this book setting a darker tone which is continued
through "The Other Side of Dawn". This novel
is still powerfully uplifting and inspiring, but the characters
have gone through too much and they are starting to unravel. Fear
is taking over Fi and Kevin - though they react in very different
ways; the consumption of Lee by hate and a desire for revenge takes
a great step forward; Homer starts to lose his sensible, planning
side; Ellie's emotional disintegration starts to bite even as she
stretches beyond herself to keep the group alive. All these things
have happened in previous novels but each time before they bounce
back. This time they don't quite make it. From this novel on, to
my way of thinking, there is a darkness that is slowly consuming
them, slowly destroying them from within. They are starting to embrace
the inner darkness, it is becoming their friend.
Its not hard to see why. They all share the terrible experiences
of Cobblers, Stratton Prison and the death of Robyn. Fi has in addition
her betrayed trust in the Commandos ability to look after them;
Kevin never wanting to return; Lee the murder of his parents; Ellie
the party in NZ, her failure with the commandoes, finding Corrie's
grave and the killing of the enemy officer; Homer, the particularly
crushing experience of his escape from Cobblers. Then, of course,
their betrayal at the end by Colonel Finley - though this plays
out mainly in the next novel. Given what has happened it would be
very surprising if they hadn't been affected. At the same time,
this sort of character development is very rare in adventure fiction
for any age group and, for me, is it this ability to draw characters
so well and allow them to develop that is John Marsden's true gift
as a writer and what takes the "Tomorrow" series
beyond your normal fare.
The first time I read this book, the mix between action and contemplation
seemed firmly on the contemplation side, but that impression was
false. Its just that there is a lot of character development packed
into not that many pages and none of the action results in a spectacular
success, just survival. The evasion up into the trees, the breakout
on horseback, the bushfire, the insanely persistent attempt with
the sugar, the hostage officer; all are written with power. But
they are overwhelmed for me by the drama of Ellie's struggle about
returning, her reaction to the party in NZ, her failure with the
commandoes and the self doubt that flows from that, Fi's terror,
Corrie's grave, the loss of Lee's parents and their final betrayal
by Colonel Finley. There is plenty of action but the drama of the
characters experiences overshadows it.
I find the most powerful - and important - piece of writing in
"Darkness, Be My Friend" to be Ellie's reaction
to seeing Corrie's grave. You can't help but feel Ellie's heart
break. She crosses her Rubicon there in the graveyard that night.
The next night, for the first time, she feels a "savage
pleasure" when she kills.
On the other hand, the most interesting is the insane persistance
with the sugar. A basic rule of guerrilla warfare is patience. Their
last big attack was Cobbler's Bay and I can't help but remember
Homer's comment about playing it safe on page
116 of "The Third Day, The Frost" and how different
Ellie and Fi attitude is this time. The comment on page 232 as they
give up suggests Ellie had learnt her lesson "Patience
and persistence. The opposite of bloody-mindedness and a lot smarter."
Another particularly interesting section is Homer's insistance
on using a Golf Cart to carry the sugar. This is the first time
he had become attached to a really dumb idea. Its the first big
indicator that all in not well inside Homer's mind.
The team is truly over-confident in this novel. One of the most
dreadful things about the modern (WWI and after) infantry combat
environment is how it destroys people mentally. This
has actually been studied and stages of mental reaction to combat
have been identified. In "Darkness, Be My Friend"
the team as a whole seem to have moved firmly into the "Period
of Over-Confidence / Hyper-Reactive" Stage. Rest in a place
of safety generally helps with Combat Fatigue, and they end with
a retreat to the safety of Hell, but there Finley betrays them and
their own mental problems drive them quickly out to seek action
again with the start of "Burning for Revenge".
One other thing that really comes through strongly in this novel
is John Marsden's discomfort with guns. (Its always been there,
but here is where it becomes really obvious and continues to be
so through the rest of the series). There was a perfect opportunity
to properly equip the team and let them become real commandoes but
instead he brings them back to almost exactly the same situation
as before, just with a radio for support. No cover identities, no
weapons, no ammo supply, no uniforms to protect them from being
shot as "unlawful combatants". Pretty irresponsible of
the New Zealanders. These are the only war/action novels I recall
where the heroes spend most of their time unarmed and have to rely
entirely on their wits. Time and again the author goes to great
lengths to strip the team of weaponry (or more particularly - ammunition)
even when doing so is quite implausable.
However, it works, it allows the creation of interesting situations
that would otherwise have never occurred. Much better that the author
writes about situations he is comfortable with describing than not.
I just cringe when I think of the risks involved if the situation
Finally, one of the pleasures for me in reading "Darkness,
Be My Friend" again is to imagine Ellie's memiors being
published a few years down the track and different characters reading
them, for "Darkness" and "Burning for
Revenge" I could well imagine Ian or any of the other
commandos racing through them and imagine what their reactions would
be. Or better still, the reactions of anyone who knows "that
creep Adam" - thank you Fi.
another view of this novel, check out Declan's comments
for more of the "pin the tail on the invader" game, see
and, of course, take a look at Tim
Chmielewski's take as well.
Go to the commentary on "Burning