I first came across Tom o’Bedlam via Kipling – in Stalky & Co., when Beetle (or was it M’Turk?) copies in his notebook the eerie and fantastical last verse:
With a host of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander,
With a burning spear and a horse of air,
To the wilderness I wander.
By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond the wide world’s end:
Methinks it is no journey.
It struck me enough that I did the same thing: copied it in a notebook. This was back, back in the day – long before I learnt to seek things in the Internet – and it took me some time and work before I found out where the lines came from, and what they were about…
But even without knowing, I remember the first impression of restless, wild imagination. Vivid and powerful stuff, don’t you think? I can perfectly see why Patricia Finney chose Tom as her narrator in Firedrake’s Eye: the wonderfully unreliable narrating voice, split between Poor Tom and The Clever One, now world-weary, now talking to the angels, and opening windows into other people’s heads, is perhaps the book’s greatest joy.