Thursday, November 17, 2011

I remember reading...

When I was a little girl, people didn't have nearly as many possessions as we have now, and that included books. I loved reading and I had books which I read and reread, but a lot of them were by Enid Blyton. I enjoyed them, but even then I think I understood that they weren't particularly original. I liked the familiarity with the same situations, the predictability of the characters; but I wasn't particularly inspired by them. Mallory Towers, the Famous Five, the Secret Seven - they were pretty formulaic and that was fine. They were soothing. But they didn't fire the imagination.

The ones that I remember really loving included "Five Children and It" and others by E Nesbit, "The Cuckoo Clock" by Mrs Molesworth and "Thimble Summer" by Elizabeth Enright. They all described worlds totally unfamiliar to me: the past (with a sarcastic magic creature); the past (with a magic cuckoo clock); or America (where rain was longed for and there were exotic and never- explained things such as Kewpie dolls and slickers).

And then there was perhaps my favourite: Philippa Pearce's "Tom's Midnight Garden. That's Philippa Pearce in the picture, and till I typed the previous paragraph it had never occurred to me that Tom's situation in it is rather like Griselda's in "The Cuckoo Clock".

I did own the Nesbit, Molesworth and Enright books but I got "Tom's Midnight Garden" out of the library. As I grew older, I always remembered the title and the story (of the clock that strikes 13 in the middle of the night, which Tom goes to investigate, discovering a garden which existed in the past and a little girl who played in that garden) but I didn't remember who wrote it. It was long before the days of the internet, which makes such things easy to discover. But I found it in a shop when I was in my late teens, bought it and loved it just as much as I had when I was a child.

But there was another library book that I also really enjoyed as a child and would like to reread. I've never come across it again or spoken to anyone who remembers it. I don't recall the title but it was about a boy who - I don't remember how - is transported back into the past and finds himself in a mediaeval castle, under siege. The plot is lost to me but I remember various scenes, as I imagined them, of this boy among strangers who think he's one of them, and how bewildered he is by this.

Does this ring a bell with anyone?

"Tom's Midnight Garden" is recognised as a classic, I now realise. It may be that if I reread the castle book, I'd think it was piffle. Possibly my critical faculties weren't that good when I was nine. For example, I don't think I considered that a twentieth century boy would have some difficulty understanding the English of the mediaeval inhabitants of the castle. But I'd still like to read it again. So if anyone recognises the description, do let me know.


  1. would it be "A Connecticut Yankee in King Authur's Court" by Mark Twain. The story line is similar

  2. Thanks for the suggestion but I'm almost positive that it wasn't by Mark Twain and that the boy was English. But it was maybe inspired by this. Maybe I'll read it.

  3. I read Tom's Midnight Garden for the first time this year, and I thought it was breathtakingly lovely.

    I can't help you with your search for your other book, but there is a blog, Collecting Children's Books, and the writer is very knowledgeable about children's literature. He is American, though, so he may not know as much about the less famous British titles, but still, he might be a good resource to try.

  4. Well, clearly you loved that third book 'cause "Thimble" is in the title. ;-D

    I have many fond memories of books from childhood -- and luckily Mom held on to many of those books so we still have them. They're girly books though, so I need a GIRL to share them with LOL!

  5. Hello Isabelle! Hope you and Mr. Life and the cats are well! I just dropped into your blog. Try looking on AbeBooks - they are quite good at finding things if you give them a few clues.
    Have you read The Stream that Stood Still and The Tree that Sat Down and The Mountain of Magic? I loved them when I was a child. I think they are by Nicholas Bentley but will check.

  6. Don't know about your castle book, but it sounds like you would love "The Last Unicorn" by Peter S. Beagle, and "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern. Happy reading!

  7. Sorry, no idea what your book could be. Sounds intriguing though. I too read Enid Blyton as a child - I really, really wanted to be George in the Famous Five. I think my favourite though was "The Children of Cherry Tree Farm" where one of the children befriended a hermit or "wild man" in the woods and, if I remember correctly, ended up being allowed to spend the night with him in his cave! Can't imagine that storyline going down well nowadays!

  8. After swift consultation with husband who has a great collection of children's novels from teaching days - we think the one you're after is 'The Gauntlet' by Ronald Welch. It is in print in Oxford Children's Modern Classics. It's a terrific read, very well written.
    Most of my childhhod books came from jumble sales and much older siblings and cousins so Enid Blyton etc were supplemented by all sorts - Anthony Hope's Prisoner of Zenda and the sequel, Rupert of Henzau, Captain Marryat's Children of the New Forest and the Katy books regardless of the suitability for my age. All the Cynthia Harnetts were also great favourites and are now back in print again.

  9. I was addicted to the E. Nesbit books as a ten year old. At the same age my sons loved (and still love) T.H White's Arthurian books, The Sword in the Stone, The Once and Future King, and The Book of Merlin. I failed to interest them quite so much in the same author's Mistress Masham's Repose.
    All wonderful stories.

  10. Anonymous9:48 pm

    In one of the books in the Half Magic Series by Edward Eager I think they get transported to a castle and have a battle. I loved that series as a child, as do my children now. There is also The Castle in the Attic (and its companion, The Battle for the Castle) by Elizabeth Winthrop which my boys have enjoyed - but I think these are more recently published than when I was young. I have all my childhood books, and my boys have a large collection as well... I LOVE books!