Growing up in raingreen New Zealand, I thought the most attractive names and stories were those set in distant desert lands. My early reading took in the magic of The Arabian Nights-Sheherezade, Sinbad, Aladdin; the caravan trails along the Silk Route-Samarkand, Bokhara; John Buchan's Greenmantle and Rider Haggard's

'~£rica." The Norse and Germanic legends-Siegfried, llistan and Isolde, the Valkyries and Valhalla-seemed chilly and fatalistic by comparison. It was only in the desert tales that I found the powers of transformation, rejuvenation, illusion, irony, the power to strike down absolutes, archetypal trickster figures and magicians, messengers and thieves-rather than the immovable and implacable Father or Mother.