(Maurus E. Mallon, 1975, New York, Carlton Press, Inc.)
A group of students and a scholar-senator called Doctor Tavares are taken on an expedition to a secret place in the Andes by the Peruvian army, who, it turns out, are on a mission of their own to recover gold from an old plane crash site. The team discovers cave paintings of a young boy and a Pegasus, and so begins a fantastical journey back to the late 1930s when a boy gets stranded in the wild after a massive earthquake destroys his village, and life as he knows it.
The boy, Cholo, soon learns to adapt to his new landscape in the Place of Enchanted Fire, and lives in harmony with the plants and animals in this new home; he communes with the ancient spirits of the land and water, and makes offerings to the gods to keep him safe, warm and knowledgeable. Mallon’s descriptions of the natural world are so thoughtful and evocative:
A white cascade falls over a hundred feet to become a stream watering this infant vale. The stream has three pools of crystal purity… The spirit of the little valley was very real, very close. A young spirit, innocent as the clear, calm waters into which I gazed.
How much do you want to just want to jump into this lovely, perfect pool of water?
Young Cholo has an affinity with animals and befriends a lizard, the wild llamas and a majestic, god-like horse who mysteriously appears after a great thunderstorm, which causes the aforementioned plane crash.
I very much enjoyed this book: I love the descriptions of nature and the wondrous setting, and the notion of gods and spirits communing and discussing the actions of humans. That human desires are a source of jest that makes the wind whoop with delight is just beautiful!
However, the opening and closing chapters are unfortunately the weakest. The story opens in the Andean spring and follows a condor in flight over the mountains. The condor is murdered by the soldiers as they shoot him down from their helicopter. This mindless slaughter heralds the arrival of human interrupters, their inevitable disregard for the natural world and desire for material gain.
I much prefer the second act where we go to the recent past, even if it may be imagined or speculative. I find it hard to engage with any of the characters, except Cholo whose story is bookended by current events. Doctor Tavares, the scholar/poet/senator, is too far removed to empathise with; his students are background noise, although the artistic female one inspires an epiphany; and the army are just three-dimensional and villainous, interested only in gold and killing wildlife.
Apart from these faults though the novel is great. There are so many beautiful passages about the natural landscape and wildlife, and as the story progresses I loved the stuff about Inca beliefs and ancient folklore: did you know the Incas believed gold was ‘the very perspiration of the sun’ (p.20)? It’s an unusual book and all the more interesting as a result.
This book, like all other works by Maurus E. Mallon, is out of print. I’d love my own copy of Pegaso but it’s not to be, sadly. I intend to read the other books we have by Mallon, who died in January 2020. He mainly lived in North America and his books were published there. So if you do manage to find Pegaso, or the others, in a vintage bookshop or if your library stocks Mallon’s works, you are very lucky indeed.