Witchery and Elizabeth Goudge

Little white horse

Here's a second passage from The Joy of Snow, the autobiography of Elizabeth Goudge (author of The Little White HorseLinnets & Valerians and other classics), who lived in a small village on the coast of Devon in the 1940s. It was, she says,

"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.

"The villages folded in the hills still had their white witches with their ancient wisdom, 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.

Village gate

Sheep in a Devon field

EJ's piglet

Queen Ann's Lace

Fresh nettles

"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.

Lamb by the leat

Cow in the green

"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.' 

"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."

Dream horse coming

Dream horse going

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."

The Joy of Snow by Elizabeth Goudge

Books by Elizabeth Goudge

Words: The 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 estates.

Pictures: The daily magic of Devon, and a few of Goudge's fine books. Related posts: Fairies and Elizabeth Goudge and Visiting Moonacre Manor (from The Little White Horse).


Fairies and Elizabeth Goudge

Dartmoor 1

Faery King & Queen by Alan Lee

From The Joy of Snow, an autobiography by Elizabeth Goudge (author of The Little White Horse, Linnets & Valerians and other classics), who lived in Marldon near Dartmoor in the 1940s: 

"I think that in my heart I have always believed in fairies,not fairies as seen in the picture books but nature spirits whose life is part of the wind and the flowers and the trees. Born in the West Country, and returning to it in middle life, how could I do anything else? But alas, I have never seen them.

"William Blake saw fairies, but he was a unique person, and so was a Dartmoor friend of mine who used to see them, and how I envied her! But if I did not see them I could feel how magic ran in the earth and branched in one's veins when one sat down. The stories that some of my Dartmoor friends told me would be laughed at by most people, but they were sensible persons and they did not laugh. I think that probably the one among my friends who experienced most was the one who said the least about it, Adelaide Phillpotts, Eden Phillpotts' daughter. She lived for years upon the moor and she loved it so deeply that she was not afraid to spend whole nights alone on the tors; but she is a mystic and mystics seem always unafraid. Her book The Lodestar is full of the wild spirit of the moor.

Dartmoor 2

Cowslip faery by Brian Froud"The friend who saw fairies, when she first went to live in her cottage on the moor, was visited early in the morning by a little old woman, wearing a bonnet, who walked quietly into the kitchen where she was preparing breakfast. Friendly and smiling the old woman refused breakfast but sat down to chat. She wanted to know exactly what my friend intended to do in the garden. What flowers would she have? What vegetables? She had very bright eyes and nodded her head in approval as they talked. She seemed a happy old woman, very much at home in the kitchen, but when my friend turned away for a moment she found on looking around again that her visitor had left her. She was never seen again and when the neighbors were questioned they denied ever having seen such an old woman in the village.

 

Dartmoor 3

"Another friend was driving back to her home on the moor one summer evening when she found herself in the most beautiful wood. She had no sense of strangeness but drove through it entranced by the loveliness of the evening light shining through the trees. Coming out of the wood she found herself at home, put the car away and went about the normal business of the evening, and only gradually did she remember that her road home lay through an open stretch of moorland. There was no wood there; not now.

Dartmoor 4

"The next day she went to see an old man who had lived all his life on the moor and told him what had happened. He nodded his head.

"'I know the wood, ma'am,' he told her. 'I've been there myself. But only once. You'll not see it again. It's only once in a lifetime.' "

Fairies by Arthur Rackham

Although Goudge never saw fairies herself, she did have a mystical experience in Devon:

"My mother and I had a cottage in an apple orchard at the edge of a village," she explains, "and behind the cottage, between the orchard and the village, there was  a steep hill. To the right, Dartmoor was visible, but otherwise the place was a little valley in the hills that had a magic of its own. There were a few other small dwellings besides our own, an old house behind a high wall, a farm and some cottages, and so strictly speaking the place was not a lonely one, and yet, because of its particular magic, it was. Especially in the early morning and especially after a snow-fall. There is something very lonely about a deep snow-fall and Devon snow, because the average rainfall is high, is almost always deep. One is walled in and cut off. The world seems very far away and the heart rejoices.

Dartmoor 5

"In spring, in Devon, there is often a sudden late snow-fall taking one entirely by surprise. I remember once seeing irises and tulips with their bright heads lifted above a deep counterpane of snow, and boughs of apple blossoms sprinkled with sparkling silver. But the snowfall [on this occasion] was earlier in the year. There were only the low-growing flowers in bloom in the garden and they were all buried out of sight. There had been no wind in the night, no suggestion that the last snow of the year was falling, and when I drew the curtains early in the morning I was astonished to see the white world. And what a world! I had never seen a snow-fall so beautiful and I was out in the garden at the first possible moment. The snowclouds had dropped their whole treasure in the night and were gone. The huge empty sky was deep blue, the air sparkling and clear. The sun was rising and the tree shadows lay blue across the sparkling whiteness. The whole world was pure blue and white and it seemed that the sun had lit every crystal to a point of fire. There was a silence so absolute it seemed a living presence. And then came the singing.

Dartmoor 6

"It was a solo voice, ringing out joy and praise. One would have said it was a woman's voice, only could any woman sing like that, with such simplicity and beauty? It lasted for some minutes, and then ceased, and the deep silence came back once more.

And a Fairy Song by Arthur Rackham

"I stayed where I was, as rooted in the snow as the trees, but there was no return of the singing and so I went back to the cottage and mechanically began the first task of the day, raking out the ashes of the dead fire and lighting a new one. The light of the flames helped me to think. None of us, in the little group of dwellings in the valley had a voice much above a sparrow's chirp. No one in the village that I knew had a voice like that. It was war-time and visitors from the outside world seldom came. Even if by some extraordinary chance some great singer had descended upon us, what would she be doing struggling down the steep lane from the village in deep snow at this hour of a cold morning? And wouldn't I have seen her? I could see both lanes from the little terrace outside the cottage and had seen no one. There were only two explanations. Either I was mad or I had heard a seraph singing. Later when I took my mother her breakfast I told her of the singing. She looked at me and, as usual, made no comment whatsoever.

Dartmoor 7

Dartmoor 8

"And so, for some years, I inclined to the former view and told no one else about the singing. And then, one day after the war had ended, a very sensitive and sympathetic cousin came to visit us and told me about a holiday he had had in the wilds of Argyll. He had always wanted, he said, to talk to someone who had heard the singing and at last he come upon an old crofter who could tell him about it. The old man had been alone in the hills when he heard a clear voice, unearthly and very beautiful, singing in the silence. He could see no one, he could distinguish no words in the singing and the song was one he did not know. He tried to hum the air and my cousin tried to write it down, but they neither of them made much of a job of it. 'You never heard it again?' my cousin asked and the old man said, like the old countryman who was in the wood only once, 'No, never again.'

Dartmoor 9

"My cousin told this tale so beautifully that I was too awed and shy to tell him, then, about my own experience. Besides, the great paean of praise I had heard in the snow seemed at that moment a little theatrical in comparison with the soft unearthly singing in the hills of Argyll. But, some years later, I did tell him. He was very kind, and he did not doubt my sincerity, but somehow I seemed to see at the back of his mind the figure of a stout opera singer from Covent Garden who had somehow, even in war-time and deep snow, got herself hidden behind the fir trees at the corner of our Devon garden.

'It does not matter. I remember that singing every morning of my life and I greet every sunrise with the memory. The birds, who had been singing so riotously, had been chilled to silence by that snowstorm. I have decided now that she, whoever she was, sang their dawn-song for them."

The Fairies' Tiff with the Birds by Arthur Rackham

Three books by Elizabeth Goudge

Words: The passage by Elizabeth Goudge is from The Joy of Snow: An Autobiography (Hodder & Stoughton, 1974). The poem in the picture captions is from Marrow of Flame by Dorothy Walters (Poetry Chaikhana, 2015). All rights reserved by the authors.

Pictures: "King & Queen of the Faery Hill" by Alan Lee and"Cowslip Faery" by Brian Froud are from their book Faeries (Abrams, 1978); all rights reserved. The last three fairy pictures are by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939). The Dartmoor photographs were taken by the Scorhill stone circle, near Gidleigh. The beautiful quilt in the last photo was made by Karen Meisner. A related post: Visiting Moonacre Manor (from The Little White Horse).


Books on Books, Part 5

Fierce Bad Rabbits by Clare Pollard

I started this series of post announcing that we'd be looking at four specific "books about books," but we're halfway through the discussion now and I'm going to expand that number to five. In Satuday's post, Lucy Mangan described the special magic of picture books for very young children: the first books that we have read to us, and also the first books we read to ourselves. Clare Pollard has written an excellent volume on the subject: Fierce Bad Rabbits: The Tales Behind Children's Picture Books, and I honestly don't know how it slipped my mind when I sat down to plan this sequence of posts.

Fierce Bad Rabbits is so good that it's hard to chose a single passage to share with you here, but let's start where we left off on Saturday -- with another tale about owls:

Owl Babies cover art by Patrick Benson"Owl Babies (1992), written by Martin Waddell and illustrated by Patrick Benson, explores family relationships through absence and presence. Waddell has spoken interestingly about how 'animals are used in picture books because you can make them do things that you wouldn't be able to let children do,' and in Owl Babies the babies are put in a situation that would be impossible to depict in the human world without the mother being reported to social services. They wake in a dark wood and find she has gone, leaving them entirely alone. With their podgy bodies, stumpy wings and flattened, big-eyed faces owls make the perfect avian substitutes for toddlers (hence their ubiquity in books such as I'm Not Scared and WOW! Said the Owl). The three owl babies each react differently, with Sarah trying to be grown-up and sensible, Percy not really helping, and little Bill only able to utter the desperate refrain: 'I want my Mummy!'

Owl Babies illustrated by Patrick Benson"...The interest of the book lies in the question of what your mother does when she's not with you. It is a thought experiment many small children have barely attempted, yet the owl babies spend most of the pages pondering this. Is she hunting? Is she getting them treats ('mice and things that are nice' in Sarah's rhyming phrase)? Is she lost? Has she been caught by a fox?

"The spread on which the owl mother returns shows this, beautifully, from a vantage point high in the treetops. We see her swooping back towards her babies, who are in the distance with their backs towards her, not yet aware their ordeal is over. It says simply, with heartfelt relief: 'And she came.' Waddell has spoken of how originally there was much more text: 'They were the best lines I wrote, but when I saw the image I knew they were redundent.'

Owl Babies illustrated by Patrick Benson

Owl Babies illustrated by Patrick Benson

"Behind every story, a different story.

"Martin Waddell was born in Belfast in 1941. Just before the Blitz, Waddell's family moved to Newcastle, County Down, beneath the Mountains of Mourne. As a child, life in the area was idyllic, populated by animals and folktales. After his parents split in the 1950s, he moved to London where he signed for Fulham F.C. before realizing he was not going to be able to make his living as a professional footballer. When he turned his hand to writing, he found immediate success with a comic thriller, Otley, made into a film starring Tom Courtenay. Then, in 1969, he married Rosaleen, and they settled back in County Down, and Donaghadee.

"Waddell has described, in an interview with The Independent, how, following the birth of his second son in 1972, a life-altering event occurred. His young family now lived opposite the Catholic Church, and the local UDA would often perform their drill in the street outside. One evening, after he saw a gang of kids hurrying away from the church, Waddell entered the vestry to investigate and saw 'what looked like a wasp's nest' on a chair. The 'nest' lit up. It was a bomb. His first thought after he regained consciousness was that his family were dead. For months afterwards, he would wake up screaming.

Can't You Sleep, Little Bear? illustrated by Barbara Firth

Can't You Sleep, Little Bear?illustrated by Barbara Firth

"For six years, such was the 'total body shock' he suffered, Waddell couldn't work, so ended up looking after his three small sons at home. In the winter of 1972, they rented a dilapidated house on a rock overlooking the sea, its kitchen often ankle-deep in water. He has said that he was 'given a privilege which very few fathers have: the day-to-day business of looking after the kids. This didn't feel very much like a privilege at the time but it actually led to the richest vein of my own work.' He thought of moving far away but felt too deeply attached to County Down. He watched his children grow up where he had grown up, and where all his stories are set, at the foot of the Mourne Mountains: his precious, vulnerable, only home.

"In 1978 the writing somehow returned. His father has always told him that 'writing books will butter no parsnips,' but Waddell began to draw on his experiences as a father to write picture books. 

Can't You Sleep, Little Bear?illustrated by Barbara Firth

Can't You Sleep Little Bear illustrated by Barbara Firth

"By 1988, when his Can't You Sleep, Little Bear? (illustrated by Barbara Firth) won the Smarties Prize, he was an 'overnight' success. Farmer Duck (1991) followed, with pictures by Helen Oxenbury, which she pithily sums up as 'a sort of Animal Farm...for babies.'  

Farmer Duck illustrated by Helen Oxenbury *

Farmer Duck illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

"Then came Owl Babies. Waddell has claimed it was written in about three hours after an event in a local supermarket. He came across a small, scared girl standing absolutely still, repeating over and over, 'I want my mummy!' They found her mother eventually, and Waddell had found a story.

"When she returns, the Owl Mother wants to know why there is so much fuss. 'You knew I'd come back.' It is, on one level, a comforting tale, used to reassure children with separation anxiety that they are being irrational.

"But, of course, on another level, Waddell knows their fear is not irrational. And anyway, what was the mother doing? When talking about the book with my friend Hannah, she said that her son is always indignant that the mother doesn't bring back nice juicy mice in her beak. What force of nature made her leave her children, then? From what truth is she protecting them?

"Foxes do indeed prowl outside. The UDA practice; nests explode; wives and babies perish. The father who wakes screaming and the child who shrieks for her mummy both share the same terror."

Owl Babies illustrated by Patrick Benson

Fierce Bad Rabbits by Clare Pollard is informative, beautifully written, and thoroughly engrossing. I recommend it highly indeed.

Can't You Sleep, Little Bear? illustrated by Barbara Firth

Words & pictures: The passage above is quoted from Fierce Bad Rabbits: The Tales Behind Children's Picture Books by Clare Pollard (Fig Tree/Penguin, 2019); all rights reserved by the author. The illustrations are by Patrick Benson (for Owl Babies), Helen Oxenbury (for Farmer Duck), and Barbara Firth (for Can't Ypu Sleep, Little Bear?). All rights reserved by the artists.


Books on Books, Part 4

Owls by Angela Harding

Here's one more post on Lucy Mangan's Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading before I move on to the next of the four books under discussion. The passage below appears earlier in the text, where Mangan writes about the books that turned her into a reader as a very young child. One of them was The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson (1968), the story of a young barn owl named Plop who wants to be a day bird:

The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson"It was with The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark that I truly fell in love with the act of reading itself. I had adored being read to, enjoyed the stories, but the ability to take a book off a shelf, open it up and translate it into words and sounds and pictures in my head, to start that film rolling all by myself and keep it going as long as I pleased (or at least until the next meal, bedtime or other idiotically unavoidable marker of time's relentless passage in the real world was announced) -- well, that was happiness of a different order. When I was reading, the outside world fell away completely and required the application of physical force to break my concentration. Though my mother, as one for whom fiction could never assume any kind of reality, never believed me (any more than she would believe in the years to come that her children were hungry, thirsty or tired outside appointed hours) I never deliberately ignored her calls to come to lunch or dinner or to start cleaning my teeth and get ready for bed. Like every bookworm before or since, I simply and genuinely didn't hear them. Wherever I was with a book -- on the sofa, on my bed, on the loo, in the back seat of a car -- I was always utterly elsewhere.

Owls by Maurice Sendak and Petra Brown

"Adults tend to forget -- or perhaps never appreciated in the first place if lifelong non-readers themselves -- what a vital part of the process re-reading is for children. As adults, re-reading seems like backtracking at best, self-indulgence at worst. Free time is such a scarce resource that we feel we we should be using it only on new things.

"But for children, re-reading is absolutely necessary. The act of reading itself is still new. A lot of energy is still going into the (not so) simple decoding of words and the assimilation of meaning. Only then do you get to enjoy the plot -- to begin to get lost in the story. And only after you are familiar with the plot are you free to enjoy, mull over, break down and digest all the rest. The beauty of a book is that it remains the same for as long as you need it. It's like being able to ask a parent or teacher to repeat again and again some piece of information or point of fact you haven't understood with the absolutely security of knowing that he/she will do so infinitely. You can't wear out a book's patience.

Owl Babies by Patrick Benson

"And for a child there is so much information in a book, so much work to be done within and without. You can identify with the main or peripheral character (or parts of them all). You can enjoy the vicarious satisfaction of their adventures and rewards. You also have a role to play as interested onlooker, able to observe and evaluate participants' reactions to events and to each other with a greater detachment, and consequent clarity sometimes, than they can. You are learning about people, about relationships, about the variety of responses available to them and in many more situations and circumstances (and at a faster clip) than one single real life permits. Each book is a world entire. You're going to have to take more than one pass at it.

Owl Babies by Patrick Benson

A Parliament of Owls by Eric Carle and The Owl & the Birds by Arthur Rackham

"What you loose in suspense and excitement on re-reading is counterbalanced by a greater depth of knowledge and an almost tangibly increasing mastery over the world. I was not frightened of the world like Plop. But now I knew that some people could be. This was useful. I could be more sympathetic to people who suffered from the same affliction in the real world, and I could also dimly and in a more complicated way understand why some people might find it difficult to understand fears I had that they did not share. The philosopher and and psychologist Riccardo Manzotti describes the process of reading and re-reading as creating both locks and the keys with which to open them; it shows you an area of life you didn't even know was there and, almost simultaneously, starts to give you the tools with which to decipher it.

" 'There is hope for a man who has never read Malory or Boswell or Tristram Shandy or Shakespeare's Sonnets,' C.S. Lewis once wrote. 'But what can you do with a man who says he "has read" them, meaning he has read them once and thinks that this settles the matter?' Exactly. The more you read, the more locks and keys you have. Re-reading keeps you oiled and working smoothly, the better to let you access yourself and others for the rest of you life. 

A page from The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark, illustrated by Paul Howard

"I don't mean to place too much of a burden on Plop's tiny feathered shoulders, but if we were able some day to trace back a person's development of kindness, toleration or compassion, or their willingness to entertain an alternate point of view, or lifestyle or decision -- how much of it all wouldn't come back to a myriad of such tiny moments as learning that others can be afraid of the dark? In 1932, the French scholar and admirable optimist Paul Hazard wrote a book called Les Livres, Les Enfants et Les Hommes in which he reckoned children would learn about each other through books and that eventually this would end conflict. So far at least it hasn't quite worked out like that, but the point he was making -- that as soon as you begin to read, you begin to cultivate empathy, if only at first in the very smallest of ways -- stands."

Jane Yolen's Owl Moon, illustrated by John Schoenherr

Owl and Fox by Jackie Morris

The art today (from top to bottom): Owl and Moon by Angela Harding, The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark cover art by Paul Howard, owl illustrations by Maurice Sendak and Petra Brown, Martin Waddell's Owl Babies illustrated by Patrick Benson, a printed page from Owl Babies, A Parliament of Owls by Eric Carle, Aesop's The Owl and the Birds illustrated by Arthur Rackham, a page from The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark illustrated by Paul Howard, Jane Yolen's Owl Moon illustrated by John Schoenherr, an owl and fox painting by Jackie Morris, Wise Old Owl and The Owl and the Pussycat by Chris Dunn, and The First Star Gleaming by Catherine Hyde.

Two related posts (in case you missed them): In praise of re-reading -- why it's valuable for adult readers too, and The stories we need -- on learning empathy (or, rather, how I learned empathy) from children's books. 

The "Books on Books" series of posts will resume on Tuesday (after the usual Monday music post). Tilly and I wish you all a very good weekend.

Wise Old Owl and The Owl & the Pussycat by Chris Dunn 2

The First Star Gleaming by Caterine Hyde

Words & pictures: The passage quoted above is from Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan (Penguin, 2018).  All rights to the text and art above reserved by the author and artists.


Books on Books, Part 3

Bookworm by Lucy Mangan

Today's "book about books" is Lucy Mangan's Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading (2018). Having made the mistake of picking it up directly after The Child That Books Built (discussed here), I confess that I had an initial resistance to Mangan's breezier style of writing, but her delightful book soon won me over. Like Spufford's volume, Bookworm blends an account of the author's childhood with bibliographic text full of information on classic books, authors, and publishing history. Her tone is witty and she wears her scholarship lightly, but her depth of knowledge about children's fiction is sound; I learned some new things about favourite books, and discovered plenty of new ones here too. 

Mangan's strength is her ability to convey the urgent, vibrant intensity of the relationship children can have with their books. For some kids, of course, books are optional; they get their daily dose of stories through television, games, and other forms of transmission. Mangan acknowledges these alien souls, but it's her fellow bookworms she addresses here: those of us for whom books were (and are) as necessary as water and food. Books, to a bookworm, aren't just ink on the page; they are living presences who share the ups and downs of our lives. They befriend us, console us, startle and change us, tickle us, frighten and devastate us. They feed hungers we didn't know we had and heal wounds we didn't know needed healing.

For a taste of Bookworm, here's a passage describing young Lucy's introduction to Tom's Midnight Garden, during Story Time at her school -- doled out bit by bit as her teacher reads it aloud at the end of each school day:

Tom's Midnight Garden cover illustration by Susan Einzig"Not until the day's work was complete would [Mrs. Pugh] begin. So I spent every day for months in and agony -- or was it an ecstasy? -- of waiting and most of 1984 wishing a short but painful death on my fellow nine- and ten-year-olds who kept delaying us by mucking about and cutting into the twenty-five minutes...on which my day's happiness had come to depend.

"Because the story of Tom Long, who is sent away to stay with relatives while his brother is ill, is exquisite. Lonely and bored, Tom discovers that when the grandfather clock in the communal hallway -- on whose casing is carved the words from Revelation: 'Time no longer' -- strikes thirteen, the magnificent garden that once belonged to the house before it was divided up into flats is restored to it -- along with the equally lonely Hatty who used to play there as a child and who becomes Tom's midnight companion. Tom gradually realises that he is returning to the 19th century, but it takes a visit from his convalescing brother, who accompanies him on one of his nocturnal adventures, to make him realise that time in the garden is moving on and Hatty is growing up. One night, he at last becomes as invisible to her as he has been to everyone else in her world. Soon after that, the garden disappears too and it is almost time for Tom to go home. 

Tom's Midnight Garden illustrated by Susan Einzig

"There is one last twist, which I'm not going to spoil for you, partly because I cannot bring myself to rob you of its power and pleasure by badly summarising it, and partly because if I had to learn, through Mrs. Pugh's meagre apportionments, the painful lesson of deferred gratification, I am most certainly going to force the experience on to others too, whenever I can.

"At the time, however, I was so locked in a battle of wills with my teacher that I restrained myself from asking my father to buy the book for me so that I could read on ahead. But as soon as Mrs. Pugh had turned the final page, I dragged him down to Dillons so that I could read the whole thing for myself -- in one sitting, free from the desire to stab Darren Jones in the heart with his ever-clattering pencil -- a process that yielded a better sense of the finely honed shape of the book and its careful, masterly pacing and let me linger over the beauty of the prose and the wealth of possibilities offered by its suggestion that the past and the present could merge into each other if only you knew where to look. And there were no nasty surprises as the shop -- not only was the book still in print, it was still Mrs. Pugh's edition that was on sale, with its properly glossy green cover, Susan Einzig's beautiful illustrations inside and out.

Tom's Midnight Garden illustrated by Susan Einzig

"I see now and delight in the fact that those tortured days of waiting meshed beautifully with the mood of the book. My own hungry anticipation mirrored Tom's impatient wait for his nightly doses of magic perfectly. 

Tom's Midnight Garden illustrated by Susan Einzig"More profoundly, I responded to the sense of longing -- for companionship, for adventure, for people and places long vanished -- that permeates the whole of Tom's Midnight Garden. My distance from it -- again, being read to is far, far better than nothing but it does not compare to reading to yourself -- gave me a heightened sense of how impossible it is to absorb the books we love as fully as we want to. I bet even the Maurice Sendak fan who ate the card the writer sent him felt a sense of anticlimax afterwards.

"We can read, and read, and read them but we can never truly live there. It is an approximation so close that it borders on the miraculous, for sure, and -- unless perhaps you are an actor, and a good actor at that -- there is nothing else that even comes near it, which is what keeps the bookworm going. But still -- you are not in Narnia. You are not actually beneath the floorboards with the Clocks. You are not roaming the prairies with Laura, Mary, Ma and Pa. And yet...and yet...Tom's Midnight Garden is suffused with the pain and the pleasure of yearning. Even as he's playing contentedly in the garden with Hatty before his brother arrives, its nightly appearance and morning disappearance already points to its evanescence.  There is always a suggestion that everything is in flux, that nothing can last. The best we can hope for it to live there for a while. And accept that if yew hedges and towering trees cannot endure, happiness too is best understood as fleeting. 

Tom's Midnight Garden illustrated by Susan Einzig"C.S. Lewis once discussed the concept of Sehnsucht -- German for what we would call 'yearning'* - and reckoned this 'unconsolable longing' in the human heart 'for what we know not' was an intimation of the divine. 'If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world will satisfy,' he says in Mere Christianity, 'the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.'

"But perhaps we're more often just made for reading. Each book was to me another world, and none more so than Tom's Midnight Garden, then or now. Because I have re-read it countless times since Mrs. Pugh closed the covers for the final time, and within three pages I am my ten-year-old self again. Within six I am with Tom in his 1950s world and after that we are both in the Victorian garden again with Hatty and the yew trees and hedges that preceded and will outlast them all. I still believe, deep in my heart, that if I wake up at the right moment one night, I, too, will be able to step out of this world and all its inconsolable longings and run wild forever in the gardens of the past. But the best I can do is live there again for a while. Which is, almost, enough. After all, if you are as close to something as you were in childhood, then you have your childhood back again, don't you? Time no longer."

Tom's Midnight Garden illustrated by Susan Einzig

The illustrations here, of course, are by Susan Einzig for Tom's Midnight Garden. Einzig (1922—2009) was born to an affluent Jewish family in Dahlem, Berlin, and studied art at the age of 15 at the Breuer School of Design. Two years later, as World War II loomed, she was sent to England on a Kindertransport train, where she lived in London with former Berlin neighbours. Her mother also made it out of Germany in time, and an older brother (with whom she lost contact), but her father died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Einzig studied illustration and wood engraving at the Central School of Arts & Crafts before being evacuated from London to Yorkshire, she then worked in an aircraft factory and as a technical draughtsman for the War Office. At the end of the war, she painstakingly built a successful career as a illustrator, painter, and lecturer. She produced many book illustrations over the years, beginning with art for Norah Pulling's Mary Belinda and the Ten Aunts (1945) and Mrs. Richard's Mouse (1946) -- but she's perhaps known for her later work, including illustrations for Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1962) and E. Nesbit's The Bastables (1966). Regarding her now-classic pictures for Tom's Midnight Garden, she said: "I had been to see the children’s-book editor at Oxford University Press, who looked at my work and seemed very unsure about it. However, she gave me Philippa Pearce’s manuscript to try to see if I could do it. I did two or three drawings and took them to show her, and then she asked me to do the book....I was paid just a hundred pounds for the whole thing." 

Einzig also taught art at Chelsea School of Art & Design for more than thirty years, was part of the "Soho set" of the 1940s and '50s (with Francis Bacon, John Minton, Lucian Freud, Dylan Thomas, etc.), and raised at least one child, her daughter Hetty, on her own. (Some biographical accounts list a son as well, but that might be erroneous.) For more information on this remarkable woman, go here and here.

Tom's Midnight Garden illustrated by Susan Einzig

The Bookworm by Lucy Mangan

* Though as you might expect with such a porous, abstract concept it has slightly different connotations from our word -- theirs means something more like 'life longings', particularly for a home, or homelike place that you have not necessarily experienced, or for something unnameable and indefinable. - L.M.

Words & pictures: The passage quoted above is from Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan (Penguin, 2018). The cover art is by Laura Barrett; you can can see more of her lovely work here. The rest of the art today is from Tom's Midnight Garden by Philipa Pearce, illustrated by Susan Einzig (Oxford University Press, 1958). All rights to the text and art above reserved by the author and the artists.