The Boy Behind the Curtain

by

Tim Winton

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The Boy Behind the Curtain: Letter from a Strong Place Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Winton wanders through the woods behind the cottage where he’s staying, checking rabbit snares and noticing the house lights turn on in other homes for the evening. He walks in the shadow of Leap Castle toward the Gate Lodge, where he and his family have been living for a few months thanks to a stranger who called and offered it to them as lodging.
Winton’s behavior in this scene indicates he’s been at Leap Castle for some time—long enough to develop habits and feel comfortable walking through the woods past strangers’ homes.
Themes
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Winton and his wife and small son have spent the winter in the cottage—it’s spring now, and they’re almost ready to leave. Winton is deciding which of his clothes and books will make it to Greece, their next, drier, warmer destination. Every morning he’s been walking to the damp cottage up the hill to light a fire and write a thousand words. Winton is conscious that every part of this land has a name and a story—a rich history. The estate is owned by an Australian who has filled the cottage with literature and art from his home country.
Winton’s habitual behavior demonstrates that he’s deeply committed to his creative work, even in the damp and cold conditions. His awareness of the land around him and its complex history implies he holds respect for this place, even though it’s not his home. And, as in the Australian wilderness, he’s curious about the different stories that have made this place what it is.
Themes
Creativity Theme Icon
Winton writes productively, his story seeming to form its own shape. Over the winter, the cottage was so cold that his hand had trouble making the shapes of words on the page. He and his wife saw their first snow and lit their first chimney fire. Meanwhile, he’s been writing about the hot, dry places of home. Every so often, he’ll glance up at Leap Castle and remember where he is. The castle has had new windows installed, which has confused the birds roosting nearby—every morning, Winton collects their bodies from around the castle and looks up at new blood smears on the windows. He feels “ensnared” by the castle and its troubled history.
Like in the Ningaloo campaign, Winton feels out of place here, which suggests he only really feels comfortable in the Western Australia wilderness. His feeling of being a new presence in the midst of muddy ancient history draws a parallel with the newly installed windows—Winton doesn’t quite fit. The crows’ bodies and blood hint at the gruesome stories Leap Castle holds and suggest that it'll never stop being a place of danger and bloodshed.
Themes
Danger, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
Creativity Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Childhood and Home Theme Icon
Quotes
Many people have written about the ghosts they’ve suspected haunt Leap Castle, and the story of its construction is far from pleasant. When the O’Carrolls had the keep built in the 14th century, poisoning and murder played a large part in keeping rivals at bay and avoiding paying the workers. Over the centuries, the murders—including a fratricide—continued. When he helped to clear out the castle, Winton found an uncovered trapdoor that led to a dungeon into which victims were dropped and left to die; cartloads of bones were removed from it in the 19th century. 
Winton has once again found himself in place of violence and danger. Though his presence at the castle is due to a benevolent gift, his actual experience there is more haunted than blessed. Despite the unsavory stories Winton learns about, he still feels attracted to this place, perhaps because it’s charged with a similar, spiritual absence to the one he felt at Mt Gibson. 
Themes
Danger, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
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Winton spends some of his time exploring the castle and often feeling spooked by it. He and his son wander and play in the gothic wing. But although Winton senses that the atmosphere is heavy with stories, he has no patience for the myths and fictions attached to it; Ireland “seems haunted enough” without the extra embellishments. The stories he’s heard about the castle seem too florid and well-crafted to be real. Still, they built a reputation for the castle as the most haunted in the British Isles, which feeds the enthusiasm of the locals to tell their own stories of ghost sightings.
Winton’s impatience for the myths and stories of the castle suggests he’s more invested in the concrete reality of life rather than fabricated rumor. It's a similar lack of sympathy to the feeling he describes having when he lives near Fremantle Hospital—a frustration with those who bring unnecessary danger into their lives for the purpose of entertainment, when real life is already tragic and dangerous enough.
Themes
Creativity Theme Icon
Despite Winton’s skepticism, there are a few things that he’s noticed in the past months that have helped him to understand why some people think the castle is cursed. Once, all the faucets in the Gate Lodge turned on in the middle of the night; another time, Tim’s son reported hearing voices in the ceiling. And not all the stories about the castle focus on hauntings: in 1922, the IRA bombed and destroyed the building, and it still seems unclear whether they were targeting Protestants with the attack or attempting to get rid of the castle’s curse.
Though the spooky happenings in the Gate Lodge help Winton to empathize with those who share ghost stories about Leap Castle, it seems he still doesn’t completely buy into the mythology surrounding the place. But he acknowledges that there’s something heavy about the stories—especially when they collide with actual historical events like the 1922 bombing.
Themes
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
When Winton arrived, the cottage where he works was a damp, rotting ruin, but with a builder’s help, he patched it up into a suitable working space. Winton writes in the mornings, and in the afternoons, he takes his son to watch the construction going on at the castle, sometimes helping rake new gravel into a path, sometimes watching a demolition.
While Winton isn’t particularly captivated by the history and ghost stories, he’s invested in the current progress at the castle, which implies that comfort and hospitality are more important to him than perpetuating the idea of the castle as a dark, haunted place.
Themes
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
The current owner, Peter Bartlett, bought the castle very cheaply a few decades ago, having found some of his ancestry mentioned in its annals, and he’ll live there once the first stage of renovations is complete. He plans to fill the castle with antiques, art, books, and people—to make it a joyful place rather than a haunted one. He claims that talk of ghosts doesn’t bother him, but he had an exorcism performed anyway. On his birthday, he hosts a huge party in the castle, and Winton notices that not one ghost story is shared all night.
Though neither Winton nor Bartlett claim to believe in the ghost stories attached to the castle, each are suspicious in their small ways—Winton because of the confusing events at the Gate Lodge, and Bartlett in his desire to have an exorcism performed. It’s clear that the castle’s daunting history can’t be evaded by even the most skeptical resident.
Themes
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
After a few months at Leap Castle, Winton realizes he feels weighed down by the history of the place. He’s not accustomed to living somewhere so storied—he identifies as a “New Worlder,” and the surroundings of the castle and all its nooks and niches are becoming claustrophobic to him. One day, he wakes up with light shining on his face—a new sensation—and finds that spring has begun. This makes him think of home. In the cottage, his workspace, he sets to work weaving together the tales and myths of his own childhood.
Winton’s claustrophobia implies he’s more at home in a wide open, even deserted, space than the complex, mazelike structure of the castle. The fact that the light in the morning reminds Winton of home demonstrates that for him, home is a place of brightness and warmth—a stark contrast to the damp, dark climate of Ireland.
Themes
Childhood and Home Theme Icon
Quotes