Introductory activities

There is an old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Prospective readers, however, constantly do just this. Book covers are often a deciding factor in whether a novel is taken off the shelf and then read as they can suggest what kind of genre or audience the text is aimed at. The Gathering has been re-issued with a number of different covers since it was first published in 1993. Each cover promotes a slightly different aspect of the book.

Students should do a Google image search of The Gathering. They should copy and paste the four different covers into the table below, decide which genre the cover promotes and the reasons why. The different genres are: a school story, a romance, a fantasy and a bildungsroman. A bildungsroman is a story about the protagonist changing from a child to an adult.

Book Cover Genre  Reasons for decision 

Additional activities

  1. Students should write a paragraph on which cover they think best describes the novel and why.
  2. Students should design their own covers for the text. They should write a short statement of intent, explaining their illustrative choices.

(ACELA1560)   (EN5-1A)


Outline of key elements of the text

Summarising activity for the plot

Students should summarise the plot of The Gathering in 100 words exactly. They should then summarise the plot in 50 words exactly, and finally in only 20 words.

What does this distillation of the plot show us what the novel is really about?

Character charts

Students should choose one or more characters from the novel. To analyse each character create a Y chart using the attached template (PDF, 210KB). At the top of the diagram leave room for a statement which sums up the character. The three sections should be labelled Appearance, Dialogue and Actions. Each section should be completed with textual evidence to help demonstrate their overall character summaries.


Students should decide which of the following statements is supported by the novel and why:

  • that evil lives within people,
  • that evil is an external force,
  • that the past cannot be healed,
  • that it is best to conform,
  • that violence is sometimes necessary,
  • that what seems to be strength is really a weakness,
  • that love and friendship are superior to fear and control.

(ACELT1635)   (EN5-7D)


Synthesising task

This novel won the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year for Older Readers in 1994. Students should evaluate why the Council made this choice. Answers may use the following headings:

  • Themes and issues; for example, how important or relevant the issues raised in the book are.
  • Plot; for example, how exciting or predictable is the storyline, or what is the effectiveness of the low fantasy elements?
  • Characterisation; for example, how believable are each of the characters?
  • Descriptive language; for example, the vivid descriptions of settings and events.

(ACELT1634)   (ACELT1636)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-4B)

The writer’s craft including such elements as:

Low and high fantasy texts

Within the genre of fantasy literature, there are two broad sub-genres: high and low fantasy. A high fantasy novel is one in which the author has created an entirely new magical world for the setting of the story. There is no connection with the modern human world. The classic example of this would be the Lord of the Rings books by J. R. R. Tolkien. So detailed was the setting of the novels that he even went so far as to invent new languages and alphabets for the main races to use. A low fantasy novel is set in what we can call the ‘real’ world, but has magical elements which drive the plot. The protagonist often starts in ignorance of the supernatural but gradually comes to accept that magic exists and becomes acclimatised to this new ‘reality’. The Twilight books are examples of low fantasy. They are set in modern America with all the technology of the modern world, nevertheless, Bella quickly learns to accept the existence of supernatural creatures such as vampires and werewolves. Sure signs that you are in a low fantasy novel include: encounters with mysterious strangers who seem to know more than they should; elements of the natural world such as woods or gardens taking on an unnatural elements, the protagonist coming across an old book which contains arcane knowledge or the protagonist discovering that he or she possess powers of which they were hitherto unaware.

The Gathering is a low fantasy novel because, although no specific country is named as the setting, it is recognisably the ‘real’ world with buses, telephones, nursing homes and high schools. The fantasy elements are only gradually introduced and for quite a few chapters, the unsettling experiences that Nathanial undergoes could be put down to an overactive imagination. Some of the chapter questions will deal with identifying low fantasy elements.

Whether a text is high or low fantasy, more often than not the heroes must battle with dark forces which seek to destroy them and the wider world. The Gathering is no exception in this, but it is an exceptionally good example of a low fantasy novel.

Psychological reading

While the novel can be placed in the fantasy genre, it is not magic which solves the main crisis in the story. Each member of The Chain is psychologically flawed. It is only by healing themselves that evil can be defeated. Only once that has occurred will the binding spell work.
(ACELY1739)   (EN5-8D)

Chapter Questions


From the very start of the novel, Carmody establishes Three North High School as an unpleasant, unsettling place. Students should draw a sketch of the school based on the description and label it with the relevant quotations.

  • What element of low fantasy is already present in this prelude?

Chapter 1

  1. What do we learn about Nathanial’s relationship with his mother in this chapter?

Chapter 2

  1. In this chapter we meet some important characters: Seth Paul and his father, Danny Odin, Buddha, Indian Mahoney and Mr Karle. From Carmody’s descriptions, some of these characters are likely to be enemies, some friends, while others cannot be decided upon as yet. Students should use the following table to sort out friend from foe.
Character  Friend  Foe  Neutral

As a class discuss your decisions.

Chapter 3

  1. What do we learn about Nissa in this chapter?
  2. What does the security guard tell Nathanial about Cheshunt both now and during its past?

Chapter 5

  1. What are the two metaphors Carmody uses to describe Mr Karle’s eyes?
  2. Indian warns Nathanial not to look into Karle’s eyes. What does this suggest about the teacher?

Chapter 6

  1. The Tod is becoming an important character. What do we know of him so far? What role does he play in Nathanial’s emotional life.

Chapters 7 and 8

  1. In these chapters more elements of low fantasy appear in the character of Lallie. How is she made to appear an otherworldly figure? Think about what she says, her actions and appearance.
  2. How do we know that Nathanial is attracted to Nissa?

Chapter 10

  1. Was Nathanial’s mother right to call the police when she finds him missing from home? What does their argument show about their relationship?

Chapter 11

  1. In this chapter there is a strange gust of wind, similar to that which Nathanial feels in the car during the prelude. What could the wind be a sign of? (Clue: remember that this is a low fantasy novel.)
  2. What do we learn about Anna Galway in this chapter?

Chapter 12

  1. This is a pivotal chapter in the book because the fantasy elements are finally in the open and our characters accept them as real. Make a list of fantasy elements which occur in the chapter. Share it with a partner to make a more complete list.
  2. What is the purpose of ‘The Chain’?

Chapter 13

  1. This is quite a complicated chapter, with many story strands being developed. This table helps to summarise these strands.
Event  Significance  Evidence from text
Nathanial wonders about Mr Karle’s role and then immediately thinks of the frightening yellow eyes. Creates a link between Mr Karle and the mysterious animal eyes. “What did it have to do with Mr Karle? I kept thinking of the yellow eyes…”
 Nathanial links the club ‘The Gathering’ with Lallie’s “gathering of the dark”. Strengthens the idea that the club is evil. “Surely it was no coincidence that Mr Karle’s youth group was called ‘The Gathering’.”
Nathanial receives a strange phone call. Adds another element of suspense and mystery to the story. “There was a faint crackle on the line.”
Nathanial has a strange dream of a love triangle between two girls and a boy. He could be having a vision of the past. These characters could also have counterparts in the present day. ” ‘Dance, dance, I dance with the wind…’ sang the other girl with bitterness under the words.”
Buddha threatens Nathanial when he won’t commit to joining The Gathering. Foreshadows Nathanial getting knocked out by the medicine ball. ” ‘You can’t run forever…’ Buddha shouted after me.”
Nathanial is knocked out during the sports lesson. While unconscious, Nathanial encounters an evil presence which smells very much like Mr Karle. “His breath smelled terrible, like he had swallowed the abattoir.”

2. Carmody often uses the eyes as indications of a character’s inner nature. How does Carmody describe Mr Karle’s eyes to show that he is evil?

Chapter 14

  1. Now it is Mrs Vellan’s turn to have her eyes described. What are the connotations of having the whites of her eyes a “dirty yellow” ?
  2. What link could there be to Zebediah Sikorsky’s poem and the people Nathanial saw in his dream lit by a blood red moon?

Chapter 15

  1. What are the details we learn from Anna Galway about past events at Three North Cheshunt? Which character could she be from Nathanial’s dream?

Chapter 16

  1. What does Nathanial learn about what happened to Danny ‘a couple of years ago’?
  2. What does Danny’s simile about having to live like gorillas mean?

Chapter 17

  1. What is the low fantasy ritual The Chain must complete in order to defeat the Dark?

Chapter 18

  1. Why do the members of The Chain feel closer together by the end of this chapter?

Chapter 19

  1. This chapter explores many ideas about what is meant by ‘evil’. What are three ideas about evil which are discussed in this chapter?

Chapter 20

  1. What happened to Indian’s sister and how does this affect his behaviour?
  2. What does Irma Heathcote tell Nathanial and Indian about:
    • Anna Galway?
    • Zeb Sikorsky?
    • Sam the Caretaker?

Who may the Dancing Master be in the present day?

Chapter 21

  1. What echoes of the trip to the zoo appear in Nathanial’s dream?
  2. What happens to Cheshunt after Zeb Sikorsky’s court case?

Chapter 22

  1. What happened to Nissa in the past and how does it affect her behaviour?

Chapter 23

  1. Why do the feral dogs hunt after Nathanial?
  2. Where does the binding have to take place, according to Lallie?

Chapter 25

  1. What does Sam say to indicate that he has been provoked into committing suicide? Who could have been provoking him?

Chapter 26

  1. The killing of The Tod is a horrible act. What does it suggest that The Gathering could potentially do to the members of The Chain?

Chapter 27

  1. As events are coming to a head, what kinds of emotions are Nathanial, Seth and Danny experiencing? How could they be playing into Mr Karle’s hands?

Chapter 28

  1. Look back to the Prelude and read the description of Three North High School. How is the description of the abattoir similar? Why might this be so?
  2. Is Nissa’s unwillingness to love a strength or a weakness?

Chapter 29

  1. What does Nathanial’s dream of Anna Galway and Zeb Sikorsky foreshadow about Nissa and Seth’s relationship? Remember that Nathanial believes that Anna and Zeb were part of a former Chain – a Chain which failed.

Chapter 31

  1. This chapter is the climax of the novel. The scene in the abattoir is set up as a physical confrontation between The Chain and The Gathering, but this turns out not to be the case. What is the true battle and how is it won?

Chapter 32

  1. How has the scene at the zoo foreshadowed Nathanial’s mother’s revelations about his father?
  2. Why do you think his father treated Nathanial’s mother so well while she was pregnant?
  3. What is the last evidence of magic being at work in the novel?


Throughout the novel, the written word has been essential in uncovering the failure of the first Chain, through newspaper articles, magazines and diaries. Writing a book is also Nathanial’s method of prolonging the effectiveness of The Chain. The library is also a sanctuary from the evil drawn to Cheshunt. What value does this imply which lies in literature and literacy?
(ACELA1551)  (ACELA1552)   (ACELA1553)   (ACELA1561)   (ACELT1633)   (ACELT1635)   (ACELT1637)   (ACELY1742)   (ACELY1743)   (ACELY1744)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-4B)


Synthesising task/activity

Chapter questions

All or part of the chapter questions could be used for assessment of students’ textual understanding if so desired.

Map activity

Students should create a map of Cheshunt and surrounds. Each map must include Three North High, the abattoir and the park. Three additional locations should also be included. Next to each location, a quotation about it from the novel should be placed. A short statement of intent explaining the significance of each location in the novel should also be provided.
(ACELY1746)   (EN5-1A)

Ways of reading the text

The Gathering is not a simple battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ characters. There is an ideological struggle between fascism and freedom, but Nathanial also has to overcome the evil within himself, which is the legacy of his father’s violent, controlling behaviour. There is an ongoing debate in Australian society about the right balance between liberty and government control, particularly with regard to efforts to stem terrorism. Sadly domestic violence is also still endemic within our communities. Importantly, Mr Karle is not defeated through magic spells, but through the virtue of forgiveness.

Fascism versus Freedom 

The novel can be examined as a treatise against fascism. The effect of first person narration, as used in the novel, is usually employed to create a sympathy with that character. The reader usually accepts the narrator’s evaluation of other characters and events and supports their values. In chapter three, Nathanial’s mum approves of the curfew because it led to a ‘quiet, law-abiding neighbourhood’. Nathanial, however, believes it to be ‘fascist’. On page 96, he also likens The Gathering to the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth). Nathanial’s condemnation can become the reader’s as well.

Fascism activities

1. Conduct research to find out about the following:

  • a definition of the term ‘fascism’;
  • examples of historical fascist governments (Why are these governments considered fascist?);
  • the Hitler Youth organisation;
  • countries today whose governments could be deemed fascist.

Extension question: What might attract people to fascism?

Freedom activities

  1. What freedoms do we have in our society? It may be helpful to think about what is forbidden by the governments of other countries, but is allowed in Australia. Create a collage to illustrate these freedoms.
  2. Are there freedoms lacking in our society?

(ACELT1635)   (ACELY1746)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-1A)

Anti-domestic abuse activities

Nathanial’s mother suffered abuse from her husband throughout her marriage. This did not always take the form of physical violence but through other excessively controlling behaviours which rendered her frightened and powerless.

The 2015 Australian of the Year was Rosie Batty, who campaigns against family violence and abuse. Her son, Luke, was killed by his estranged father. To learn more about her, the students should watch the YouTube clip contained within the ABC website report on Ms Batty’s acceptance speech, in order to answer the following questions:

  1. What statistics does Ms Batty quote to show the widespread nature of family violence?
  2. What can the wider community do to combat family violence?
  3. What should men do to combat domestic violence?
  4. What should the government do to help victims of family violence?

(ACELT1635)   (EN5-7D)

Forgiveness activities

  1. Why is forgiveness an important virtue in the denoument of the novel?
  2. Students should go to the Virtues Project site and click on the definitions link. They should choose another virtue which is considered important within the novel. Next they can create a poster which both defines the virtue, and which also explains why the members of The Chain need that virtue in terms of the story. An illustration of the virtue in action should also be provided.

(ACELY1748)   (ACELY1746)   (ACELY1742)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-1A)


Comparison with other texts:

The Gathering can be studied as a companion to Morton Rhue’s novel The Wave. This novel is based on events in a US high school where an experiment to teach students about the Hitler Youth, represented as ‘The Wave’, rapidly escalated out of control. In The Gathering, the actual organisation is often alluded to, but is rarely seen until the climax in the abattoir. In The Wave we see the organisation from the inside. It emphasises the sense of superiority the members of The Wave felt and the strength they gained from unity, which then turns nasty as they persecute those who don’t want to join. There are two film versions of the story one released in 1983 and the other in 2008.


Students should watch either the 1983 TV movie or else the 2008 German version (with subtitles) and list similarities, particularly thematic ones, between it and The Gathering.
(ACELY1744)   (ACELT1772)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-6C)


Evaluation of the text as:

Representative of Australian culture

There are a few clues which place the novel as being set specifically in Australia. These are:

  • Nathanial enjoys drinking Milo, which is not widely available in other English speaking countries.
  • The local member of Parliament is called ‘The Honourable Member’, which excludes an American setting, though not a British one.
  • The surnames of the characters reflect Australia’s cultural mix.
  • The characters speak informal Australian English, with few obvious American or British terms.

Discussion question

Is it essential for the story to be set in Australia? What reasons may the author have for not locating the story within a clearly Australian setting?
(ACELY1739)   (EN5-8D)


Rich assessment task (Receptive):

Essay question

  • “Is The Gathering a fascist organisation?” Discuss.

The attached essay writing framework (PDF, 20KB) may be of help with this task.

The research on Fascism could also be done as part of this assessment.
(ACELY1739)   (ACELT1771)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-1A)

Synthesising core ideas

Character development

Character development is an important aspect in creating effective writing. Each member of The Chain has been affected by the events in the novel. Successfully dealing with their pasts is the most important part of the resolution of the novel.

Each of the five members of The Chain has a difficult past to deal with, which affects the way they behave in the present. Lallie’s prophesies about each of them in Chapter 12 hint at how they have been damaged. Use the following table to explain the prophesies and how the characters resolve their problems.

Character and prophesy  What happened to them in the past?  How does it make them behave in the present?  What action do they take to overcome the past by the end of the novel? 
Danny: Extinguish the dark flame of the past, lest it  consume you.
Nissa: Strength without compassion is soulless and cruel. Weakness too has its place, for it brings understanding.
Seth: See the sorrowing earth. Seek your own vision. Trust it.
Indian: Only a wound brought into the light can heal. That which is hidden will in darkness fester.
Nathanial: Time is a circle,without beginning or end. Seek beyond the shadows of the past to know the truth of the future.

(ACELA1553)   (ACELA1561)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-1A)


Rich assessment task (Productive):

In pairs, students are to give an oral presentation of approximately three to four minutes on one of the following topics:

  • Symbolism used within the novel.
  • The depiction of evil within the novel. What form does evil take? Is it an external or internal force? Or both?
  • The depiction of good within the novel. What form does it take? What values are seen to be important?
  • In-depth analyses of the major characters: their roles in the story and how they are portrayed. Characters from the past can be included as well as Mr Karle and the members of The Chain and Lallie.
  • A topic negotiated with the teacher.

The presentation should have a visual element as well. This could be an accompanying PowerPoint, or similar. Symbolic objects to add interest to the presentation would also be acceptable. A style of ‘hot seat’ presentation could be used for the character analysis; one partner is the psychologist interrogating the character. In essence, any form of presentation is appropriate if it allows the speakers to convey their content. As it is an oral presentation, students should be discouraged from just reading from palm cards or their PowerPoint slides.
(ACELY1746)   (ACELY1741)   (ACELY1811)   (ACELT1637)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-4B)