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The magic of moor and hill

Elizabeth Goudge: A Sense of Otherness

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I'm embarrassed to confess that it's only this year that I've finally read the English author Elizabeth Goudge (1900-1984), whose Little White Horse and Linnets and Valerians are now two of my favorite children's books of all time. (Oh, how I wish I'd read them as a child!)

I'm still making my way through her long list of books for adults, having paused between The White Witch and The Rosemary Tree to read her charming autobiography, The Joy of Snow. A number of her novels are set in Devon, so I shouldn't have been surprised to discover that she'd lived not far from here for a time -- in Marldon, on the other side of the moor. Close by Compton Castle, the inspiration for Moonacre Manor in The Little White Horse.

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In her autobiography, Goudge describes Devon in the 1940s as "an unearthly place. The round green hills where the sheep grazed, the wooded valleys and the lanes full of wildflowers, the farms and apple orchards were all full of magic, and the birds sang in that long-ago Devon as I have never heard them singing anywhere else in the world; in the spring we used to say it sounded as though the earth itself was singing.

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"The villages folded in the hills still had their white witches with their ancient wisdom," she recalls, "and even black witches were not unknown. I have never had dealings with a witch either black or white, though Francis, our village chimney-sweep, a most gentle and courteous man, was I think half-way to being a white warlock. He was skillful at protecting his pigs from being overlooked. He placed pails of water on the kitchen floor to drown the Evil Eye and nothing ever went wrong with his pigs before their inevitable and intended end.

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"Black magic is a thing to vile to speak of, but many of the white witches and warlocks were wonderful people, dedicated to their work of healing. I knew the daughter of a Dartmoor white witch and she told how her mother never failed to answer a call for help. Fortified by prayer and a dram of whiskey she would go out on the coldest winter night, carrying her lantern, and tramp for miles across the moor to bring help to someone ill at a lonely farm. And she brought real help. She must have had the true charismatic gift, and perhaps too knowledge of the healing herbs.

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"The father of one of my friends had a white witch in his parish in the valley of the Dart. She was growing old and she came to him one evening and asked if she might teach him her spells before she died. They must always, she said, be handed on secretly from woman to man, or from man to woman, never to a member of the witch's or warlock's own sex. 'And you, sir,' she told him, 'are the best man I know. It is to you I want to give my knowledge.' 

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"Patiently he tried to explain why it is best that an Anglican priest should not also be a warlock, but it was hard for her to understand. 'But they are good spells,' she kept telling him. 'I know they are,' he said, 'but I cannot use them.' She was convinced at last but she went away weeping."

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In her lovely essay "Elizabeth Goudge: Glimpsing the Liminal," Kari Sperring notes:

"The most overtly magical of Goudge’s adult books is probably The White Witch, which is set against the early years of the English Civil War. The protagonist Froniga is, as the title suggests, a working witch, the daughter of a settled father and a Romani mother, and she possesses both the power to heal and the power to see the future. Yet while both are important to the plot, the book is not about her powers, but about her selfhood and character and her effect on those around her. A lesser writer would probably have taken this theme in the direction of witch trials and melodrama. Goudge uses it to examine the effects of divided politics on families and communities and the ways in which our beliefs affect others outside ourselves.

"Her characters do bad things, sometimes, and those have consequences, but she rarely writes bad people -- I can think of only one, the greedy and self-obsessed school-owner Mrs. Belling in The Rosemary Tree. Goudge was concerned not with judging others but with understanding them with compassion. In her case, that compassion is linked to her sense of otherness -- the most profound experiences of liminality her characters experience are often when they are most concerned with others than themselves."

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The Joys of Snow by Elizabeth GoudgeThe passage by Elizabeth Goudge is from The Joy of Snow: An Autobiography (Hodder & Stoughton, 1974). The passage by Kari Sperring is from "Elizabeth Goudge: Glimpsing the Liminal" (Strange Horizons, February 22, 2016). The poem in the picture captions is from Poems of Denise Levertov: 1960-1967 (New Directions, 1983). All rights reserved by the authors or their estate. A related post (discussing white or healing magic): In the Story Made of Dawn: on magic and magicians.


Lovely, Terri! She understood the power of suffering and darkness, especially mental suffering - it's there in all of her books - but she celebrated light. It's in her work I first met the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins - 'No worst, there is none -' Have you read the Eliot trilogy yet? starting with 'The Bird in the Tree? Those three are her greatest adult novels, I think, but still full of joy and with so many children!

I'm reading Green Dolphin Country now, and have the Eliot trilogy on order through the Chagford library. The mental suffering in her books makes a lot of sense after reading her autobiography and learning that she suffered from periods of depression -- though there, too, she doesn't dwell on it but always reaches for the light.

I have your daughter to thank for getting me to read Goudge. Delia Sherman had been recommending her to me for years, so I don't really know why I waited so long; then Izzy sent me a copy of Linnets and Valerians last autumn, and I was hooked.

I also have Izzy to thank for Tilly, did you know that? On one of Izzy's visits here, we took her and Victoria out to an old country pub on the moor, where the talk turned to dogs. We'd been *endlessly* discussing the pros and cons of getting a dog (this had been going on for months), and Izzy finally said with exasperation, "Just stop talking about it and get one!"

I went home that day, got on the internet, and found a litter of Springador pups on a farm over in Tiverton. We drove over there a week later, and came back with our precious Tilly: http://www.terriwindling.com/blog/2009/09/a-new-member-of-the-family.html

I owe your daughter rather a lot, it turns out. :)


By the way, your wonderful, wonderful new fairy tale collection has arrived...and I predict a post on it in the very near future....

Hello Terri! I am glad that you are feeling better. I loved Elizabeth Goudge's books as a child. I always longed for a tower bedroom like Maria's! And a friendly unicorn, of course. (There's still time...) Smoky House and City of Bells are also lovely. She is just the ticket when one is ill. :)

Terri, my heart breaks for the White Witch whose gift of spells was refused by the Anglican vicar. I wish someone would gift me with such knowldege! And what an insight to the wisdom of Witchcraft that insisted the knowledge was passed from woman to man and from man to woman!Our modern world could learn so much from a belief that recognised and protected the value of both gendas.

I'm also ashamed to say that I've never read any Elizebeth Goudge either. But I certainly intend to do so as soon as I can.

I, Too, Count My Burdens

“If I bear burdens
they begin to be remembered
as gifts”—Stepping Westward, Denise Levertov

Three children live, two never
quite born, their bones
soft water washed
through my womb.

A husband who never
got the chance to grow old,
his eyes on a far shore
long before he set sail.

My mother with lungs
haloed in smoke,
coughing out life
like a leaky chimney.

My father a mirror
of himself, constant
as the shifting clouds
on another horizon.

My talent smaller
than my passion,
luckier than my birthright,
greater than half the world.

Each burden a gift
of time, a hidden treasure
on the soul’s island,
uncovered in time.

©2016 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Thanks for this wonderful post (and to Kath Langrish for linking it on Facebook). I have loved Elizabeth Goudge all my life, and it's partly because of her that we now live (part-time alas) in Devon too. I recognise everything you mention, and which she writes about. My own favourites are The Little White Horse, Henrietta's House and Linnets and Valerians, and I can never see Dartmoor or the sea without thinking of these. I hadn't realised Moonacre Manor based on a real house!

Be forewarned that she's an overtly Christian writer, with Christian themes more central in some of her books than others. Knowing that going in, I found her books very readable despite not being Christian myself...although I suppose for me it helps that she has such a sympathy for old country beliefs and a feeling for the sacred in nature.

Her view of religious faith, grounded in compassion, is not a restrictive one -- and as I result I enjoyed reading about her vicars and canons in the same way I enjoy reading about other communities different from my own and parts of the world I'm unfamiliar with.

Stunning, Jane. Just stunning. I wish Elizabeth Goudge could read this.

You live in Devon! How did I not know this...? We must Katherine down and get together to talk Goudge one of these days. Goudge Fest.

Thanks, Teri--though re-reading it, I would delete "of time" in the second line of the last verse. Revision never ends. As Paul Valery wrote (or close to this), "A poem is never finished, it's abandoned."


Yours is a rare and precious world in every sense.
So valuable are my visits that I can never translate for any one not prepared to sink into the lush of thought and place, of the quick shifts between landscape and mind matter so that the one melts into the other. Here the ordinary manifests its extraordinary dimension at every turn, and so much is brought to light that light is itself is nourishment enough for any weary traveler.

compulsively correcting a typo:
"....so much is brought to light that light itself is nourishment enough for any weary traveler.

Thanks for the warning, Terri. Though I have to admit that I've met one or two very pleasant priests with a compassionate and tolerant outlook on the world. It was almost as much of a shock when I realised it was possible to actually like a supporter of the Tory party! One I would even consider a friend, and that really was a shock.

Yep, good (and bad) people everywhere. My husband's aunt is a vicar, and she's delightful.

Yes, she's perfect sick bed reading! And much as I loved the unicorn, it was the hare in Little White Horse that melted my heart and has made me a Goudge fan forever.

Thank you, dear.

I absolutely love Elizabeth Goudge. A favourite author during my childhood, I was convinced that Merryweather Bay was actually Porlock Weir. That lovely secret lane (one of the Toll roads) and tales of the destroyed Manor house fuelled that belief. I did not know that she had lived in Devon, either. It explains her convincing descriptions of the local landscapes. ( I live on the Exmoor edge of Taunton Vale).

Goudge and her mother moved to Devon from Oxfordshire in 1939, after her father died. She lived in Marldon (a small village in the South Hams, near Torbay) until 1950, so she was here all through the war years. Torbay was still remote and wild then; it didn't get built up as a seaside holiday area until after the war. After Elizabeth's mother died, she moved back to Oxfordshire, where she shared an old cottage near Henley-on-Thames with her close friend (partner?) Jessie Monroe and a series of much-loved dogs (little Dandie Dinmont Terriers) -- but she continued to love the West Country. She says in her autobiography that she'd thought she'd be in Devon for life and found it hard to leave, but Jessie, a keen gardener, preferred Oxfordshire's sunnier climate.

I loved Goudge growing up and searched out many of her books later in used bookstores.I particularly loved the Eliot books,The Dean's Watch,A City of Bells,A Scent of Water,and the historical novel A Child From the Sea,and Linnets and Valerians.She even used capital letters in the text in one book,This Island Magic,a technique I would normally roll my eyes over,but won me over.She also did a couple of story collections.One story was about a family of children visiting their grandfather on the island who get grounded,but being stubborn decide to sneak out,with their donkey,trying to carry the donkey past the house windows to be quiet(and getting caught).Hendrickson Publishers are now reprinting her books.

Yay! You're finally hooked! I mean, I'm so glad you like my beloved Elizabeth. I can't wait to hear what you think of the Eliot books, which were my introduction, even before the children's books, which I read as an adult. And you're right, Serena the Hare was my favorite animal in that--so gentle and wise and comforting.

Yes, we all must have a Goudge fest in Chagford. Tea and cake and scones with honey. And much discussion of much her description of Devon white witches resembles Pratchett's Ramtop fictional witches.

With a visit to Marldon and Compton Castle as part of it!

The books sound wonderful, Goudge is going on my list. Beautiful images which got me wondering when I will make it to Dartmoor, some great painting inspiration to be found there, I know!

This moved me, Jane, beautiful.

Thanks, V--


I'm so glad you've found Ms Goudge. I have collected most of her novels over the years but never came across the autobiography. I'll be looking for that. I first discovered her in "The Scent of Water" and then went to our local library and discovered the wealth of other books.

Oh, one of my favorite writers! I read her as a young woman, but only recently read The Little White Horse, which I loved. My favorite Goudge book, read over and over and over, was "Pilgrims Inn," the second book of the trilogy. After I left the house I grew up in, I discovered a copy of it in a used book sale at Catholic University after a class. I have it still. I wanted to be in that world so much - to walk up to the door of the Inn with my suitcase, set it down, and be welcomed by the Eliots. I have read so many of her books, but I don't think I've read "The White Witch." Now, I must and also her autobiography. So glad you have discovered and appreciate her.

I think I've read everything Elizabeth Goudge wrote -- they are intelligent comfort! Terri, I'm looking forward to reading your reactions on the books you haven't read. Especially Child From the Sea ...

I love her thoughtfulness and daring wisdom in creating children who are deep thinkers ...

As a child I grew up with all these books on our shelves, my mother simply adored her work and as a bookworm myself, I of course worked my way through them too. They were my first real 'collection' and although they were rather looked down on in the 60s, I think it's time I worked my way through them again to see what drew me in all those years ago.

Thanks Terri for flagging them up.

Add me to the list of devotees, starting when I was a child with Linnets and Valerians and The Little White Horse. Also Towers in the Mist, which I received as a present when I was 12.
I have to re-read them all every few years... most recently, The Middle Window. Next up: The Dean's Watch.
Fortunately, my daughter is also a collector of her works, so I have someone else to talk to about her here in Kansas.

I think it's time I worked my way through them again also.

I am a few days late to this Goudge fan party. But can now say I am reading her Little White Horse under the covers, ironically... Ironically because on this Salish Isle the Scotch Broom is thick and heavy with a pollen that sickens me. It grows in the North Country, yes?

So, this Pacific Island woman has the sweet yellowed library pages with Maria's story to get me through the tunnels of escape while I wait out the seige of Broom.

I love the tale, inhale her lovely messages and magic; and skip easily over the overtly Christian passages with my pagan-light heart. Another wonderful recommendation. Thank you, Terri.

Thank you for this beautiful tribute, with all the wonderful pictures; the sense of place in Goudge's books is one of the things I treasure most about them.
Coincidentally I am celebrating her birthday today with a review of The Rosemary Tree, and an invitation to others to share their posts: http://emeraldcitybookreview.com/2016/04/elizabeth-goudge-day-the-rosemary-tree.html
I hope you will not mind if I include your post in my round-up of the event next week. I was alerted to your blog (which I will not certainly follow!) by Helen of A Gallimaufry, who reviewed The Valley of Song. I would love for more of my readers to know about it.

Hello Terri i wanted to say that this blog is so inspiring... i love it!! thank you so much for sharing your words with us! I have a little request can you write something about witches or recomend me a book about witches in literature? Thank You! I send you a big hug from Argentina

Dona, I too read Pilgrim's Inn repeatedly as a young woman; in my early fifties I still revisit it every few years. It wasn't my first Goudge; that honor goes to Linnets and Valerians and The Little White Horse, which I bought on a trip to England when I was all of 10. All three have remained favorites of mine. During and after college, I hunted down and read most of her other books as well. It nearly broke my heart when my collection was mostly destroyed by leaking pipes about 10 years ago. I'm still rebuilding it. There are one or two I still haven't read, but that's a pleasure greater for being deferred -- I still have them to look forward to!

Lory, I just stumbled across Terri's beautiful post, and was about to pop over and give you the link. I'm delighted that you got here first!

I sympathize with the allergy problems. It hits me every year no matter where I am -- the paloverde blossoms in Arizona, the cherry tree blossoms in New York City, and just about everything that blooms this time of year in Devon. *sigh*

I haven't read the Eliot books yet (still waiting for them to come from our little library), or Child from the Sea (ditto), or her short stories, but I've loved everything else you mention here. She's old-fashioned in all the best ways.

I'd love to see the art that Dartmoor would inspire in you....

The autobiography is a delight, Peg. I highly recommend it.

Dona & Lark:

Oh, I am so eager to read the three Eliot books. So many people mention them as favorites. If my library doesn't get them soon I may have to break down and buy them.

Her child characters are just amazing. Smart, individual, and full of depths. Few writers do it so well. I also love her animals. And her old people, who are so often portrayed as caricatures, not characters, in contemporary fiction...when they're not absent altogether.

I think the pace of her stories -- the slow unfolding -- is what makes them seem old-fashioned now. We've been condition by television and film to expect plots to race along and be full of surprises...and as someone living at a slower, rural pace myself these days, I found it deeply pleasurable to sink into her slow, deep books.

The overtly Christian aspects of her books might be putting modern secular readers off too. As a non-Christian reader myself, her reputation as a "Christian Writer" is part of what took me so long to finally get around to reading her...but in fact, it wasn't off-putting at all. Her spirituality is so generous and nonjudgemental that it never, for me, got in the way of her stories, even though it is integral to them.

It's so nice to know that there are so many Goudge fans here!

I read The Dean's Watch recently -- which had additional resonance after reading in her autobiography about the years her family lived in Ely, the cathedral city in Cambridgeshire, which clearly inspired the story. (Her father was a canon at the cathedral.) I think it's the most Dickensian of her novels, and I loved it.

What a beautiful review, Lory -- thank you so much for posting the link here. I especially like this description:

"This is one of her more overtly religious books, with much musing and discussion on themes of prayer, sin, and repentance, and if you find such language and ideas bothersome, this book may not be for you. But as usual with Goudge’s writing, I don’t find that she’s espousing a rigid system of morality and passing judgment on those who fall short. Rather, she wants to tell about how people experience the brokenness and emptiness of life without love, and how they move toward healing, the wholeness that is the real meaning of 'holiness.' "

That's it precisely.

I loved The Rosemary Tree for its Devon setting, and finished it thinking, "Well, it's not one of her major books, but I definitely enjoyed it all the same."

...And yet it has stayed with me so strongly that I think, in retrospect, it may be (in its quiet way) one of her major novels after all. I keep thinking and thinking about the characters, and the nature of 'holiness' that she explores here...or perhaps 'goodness' is a more comfortable word for me, as a non-Christian reader. The book has gotten its hooks into me, and it may end up being one of my favorites after all.

Yes, I'd be honored to have my post including in your round-up. And did you follow the link in the post above to Kari Sperring's Goudge essay? It's very, very good.

My Thursday post is on Goudge too: her thoughts about Devon's fairies.

Thank you so much, Maria.

A book I'm reading right now that you might be interested in is "Nature Mystics" by Rebecca Beattie, which looks at themes of paganism (including witches & wicca) in the fiction of Mary Webb, Thomas Hardy, Sylvia Townsend Warner, D.H. Lawrence, Elizabeth von Arnim, W.B. Yeats, Mary Butts, J.R.R. Tolkien and E. Nesbit. It was published last year by Moon Books, a small pagan press. I wish the book was better edited, but that's the publisher's fault, not the author's, and I'm finding it quite interesting.

Here's a link to the book's page on the Moon Press site: http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-portals-nature-mystics

I send a big hug back to you from our green hillside in Devon!

Thank you so much, I'm thrilled that you found my review to capture something of the essence of the book, and I will be so happy to share your post with my readers too. I had not come across the Sperring essay, so thank you for that link as well.

By the way, of course I meant in my comment that I will NOW follow your blog, not "NOT" follow it...my typing fingers outpace my brain sometimes!

Hello Terri, did you hear Radio 4 Women's Hour (see catch up on iplayer if not) on 25 Aug? Christine Rawlins talks about her new biography of Elizabeth Goudge, which is called 'Beyond the Snow'. There is also a clip of the good lady's voice. I love her work, and am re-reading Child from the Sea. She is very good at the characters of dogs as well as children. I hope she knew how much her words meant to others. She is a kind of magician too, the ones who can create meaning and beauty and solace and pass it on.

Great to read you post about Devon and Froniga.

Kindest Regards


ps. I am more pagan by nature than christian (though I find great beauty and mystery in this tradition as EG sees it), and have been struck by how well she has interwoven the strands. I think she has captured something of the two British traditions and beliefs which have rubbed along together in more - or less - harmonious ways for centuries. I have not come across any other writer who conveys this sense so clearly, especially of the numinous in the land.

It is such a delight to find your post about my favorite author, Elizabeth Goudge. I discovered her when I was still a girl, 50 plus years ago. Over time I have slowly collected most of her works and re-read them, some more often than others. I just started The Child from the Sea again - last read 10 years ago. Favorites are The Dean's Watch, The Scent of Water, and Linnets and Valerians; also the Eliot Trilogy. Oh and can't leave out Island Magic and The City of Bells. For those who truly enjoy her writing and want to know more, I do recommend the new biography of her by Christine Rawlins, Beyond the Snow. Finally, I would just like to say how wonderful that you live in Devon (a place I've only dreamed of, being born and lived all my life in Southern California) . . . I will be perusing your list of fellow bloggers from your area with interest.

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