Books on Books, Part 6

In the Wood Between the Worlds

The next volume in our discussion of books about books is From Spare Oom to War Drobe: Travels in Narnia With My Nine Year-Old Self by Katherine Langrish, pictured here in the most Narnia-like place I know: a bluebell wood at the edge of Dartmoor.

A chroncile of the Seven Chronicles

I loved The Chronicles of Narnia when I was young, studied C.S. Lewis as an undergraduate, have read countless books by and about him since (from biographies and Inkling studies to Laura Miller's The Magician's Book), and it's fair to ask: do we really need a new book about Narnia? It turns out we do. For me, this journey back into the magic lands I'd known best as a child woke feelings I had lost since then: the intensity of my engagement with Narnia, and my utter belief in it, on that long-ago day when I first tumbled through the wardrobe with Pevensie children.

Katherine Langrish is the author of five fine books for children, a splendid book about fairy tales and the Seven Miles of Steel Thistles blog on folklore, myth, and fantasy; and I can think of no better companion to have in the Woods Between the Worlds. Full disclosure: the two of us are friends, and it happened in an unusual way. In Katherine's words:

Narnia illustration by Pauline BaylesNow here is the story of how I had the happy chance to meet Terri Windling. My younger daughter is best friends with her step-daughter, and occasionally, as young people do, she would toss out a small scrap of information about her friend’s family:

"Her step-mum writes."

"Does she?  What sort of thing does she write?"

"I don’t really know, but she’s very nice."

So it took me ages to get around to asking more questions.  (Note to self: always ask more questions!) Presumably a similar rivulet of information was flowing in the other direction too....Eventually however, the penny dropped."

Honestly, what are the chances that two best friends have mothers who write fantasy, and that it took us such a long time to make the connection? But I digress from the purpose of this post, which is to give you a taste of Katherine's book, and to convey what a rich and necessary read it is for all who love Narnia too.

In the book's Introduction, Katherine writes:

"It is impossible to exaggerate the effect the Narnia stories had on me. I loved them deeply, jealously, selfishly: was so possessive about them that when my mother suggested she might read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a bedtime story to me and my brother, I vetoed it. Aslan would have growled, but I wanted to keep Narnia all to myself. (My brother read them anyway.) Another time I remember saying tentatively to my mother, 'It almost feels as if Narnia is real,' when what I meant was, 'Narnia has to be real,' because the alternative -- that it had no existence except between the pages of a book -- was unbearable. My mother didn't spoil anything for me by telling me that Aslan 'is' Christ. She just replied quietly, 'I think you're meant to feel that way.'

Narnia illustration by Pauline Bayles"Philip Pullman, one of Narnia's most outspoken critics, has suggested children enjoy the series because they lack discrimination: 'Why the Narnia books are popular with children is not difficult to see. In a superficial and bustling way, Lewis could tell a story, and when he cheats, as he frequently does, the momentum carries you over the bumps and potholes. But there have always been adults who suspected what he was up to.'

"It's true that children are generally inexperienced readers, but that doesn't mean they're not sensitive ones. I couldn't have explained it very well when I was nine, but I knew there was a qualitative difference between the pleasure I got from reading the adventures of Enid Blyton, say, and my far deeper love of the Narnia books. Yes, I enjoyed Lewis's storytelling, but the real enchantment lay in the rich silence of the Wood Between the Worlds, the black sky of the city of Charn, the almost unbearable light of the Eastern Sea, the bleak, gusty heights of Ettinsmoor, and the stars falling like prickly silver rain near the end of The Last Battle. These were the things I loved about Narnia, the things that drew me back again and again. When eventually I noticed the Christian messages in the books, they seemed unimportant by comparison.

Narnia illustration by Pauline Bayles "Then decades passed. The books sat on my shelves. Except for reading a couple to my own children, who were more interested in Harry Potter, I didn't return to them even though I write for children myself. Had they simply become so familiar that I didn't feel the need, or had the charm faded? What might they mean to me now?

"I thought I would read them again, remind myself of what had once enchanted me and discover if it still had the power to do so. Over a period of about eighteen months I re-read all the Seven Chronicles, and this too became a labour of love: a personal journey hand-in-hand with my nine year-old self, tracing as many paths as we could through Lewis's thick forest of allusions not only to Christianity, but to Plato, fairy tales, myths, legends, medieval romances, renaissance poetry and indeed to other children's books. There were many things I hadn't noticed when I was nine, but you don't have to know where a thing comes from before you can enjoy it. I never connected the cold queenliness of the White Witch with Hans Christian Andersen's Snow Queen, nor did I realise that, as Queen Jardis, she owes even more to the Babylonian Queen in Edith Nesbit's The Story of the Amulet. Even though I'd read those stories, they remained separate for me. I saw differences where I now see similarities, and both are important. The Lady of the Green Kirtle was fixed in my imagination well before I met the courtly, dangerous, green-clad queen of the fays riding down from the Eildon Tree on her milk-white steed in the ballad of Thomas the Rhymer:

   Her shirt was o' the grass-green silk
   Her mantle o' the velvet fine.

In fact the land of Narnia owes its character, richness and depth to precisely the heterogenous mix of mythologies and sources of which Tolkien disapproved. It is like The Waste Land, for children."

Frontispiece art by Pauline Baynes

While others have written insightful texts about Narnia, both laudatory and critical, there are three aspects of Katherine's book that cause me to love it above the rest:

Narnia illustration by Pauline BaylesFirst, she evokes the sheer wonder of falling into Narnia for the first time, calling up the child in me who loved the books uncritically, alongside the adult reader who appreciates them in a different way. Second, the depth of her Lewis scholarship is evident, but the book is never dry. Katherine unpacks the symbolism of the stories, teases out their influences and references, and explicates their history without disturbing their timeless magic....and that's not an easy thing to do. Third, as a writer herself, she has an interest in the mechanics of the books: what makes them work, what doesn't, and how they relate to other children's fantasy novels written before or since.

Through reading From Spare Oom to War Drobe I have learned some new things about C.S. Lewis, viewed his work from new perspectives, and thought more deeply about the Narnia stories than I have in years. The book made me want to visit the Chronicles again; and, better still, it inspired me to keep on writing, creating my own doors into enchantment.

Narnia illustration by Pauline Baynes

To learn more about From Spare Oom to War Drobe, I recommend the book launch video below, which contains a terrific interview with Kath by our mutual friend Amanda Craig (whose books I also love). 

The art today is by Pauline Baynes (1922-2008), from the first editions of The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-156). You'll find more of it, and more about the artist, in this previous post: Books on Books, Part 2.

Waiting for magic to happen

Words & pictures: The passage quoted above is from From Spare Oom to War Drobe: Travels in Narnia With My Nine Year-Old Self by Katherine Langrish (Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd, 2021). The Philip Pullman quote is from "The Dark Side of Narnia" (The Guardian, October 1, 1998). All rights to the text and art above reserved by the authors and the artist's estate.


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.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

European Hare

I often start the week with women's voices, so I'm giving men equal time today. The voices lifted here, both solo and in harmony, are raising my spirits on a rain-soaked morning.

Above: "Lovely Molly," a Scottish Travelers' song performed by London-based folksinger & song collector Sam Lee, with Jonah Brody and Joshua Green. The recording was made for the The Lullaby Project in 2016.

Below: "Hares on the Mountain," a traditional English song performed by John Smith, who was born in Essex and raised in Devon. It's from his lovely album Hummingbird (2018).

Above: "The Bothy Lads," performed by the Irish folk duo Ye Vagabonds (brothers Brían and Diarmuid Mac Gloinn), based in Dublin. They say: "We've always had a great interest in Scottish songs, and the strong connection they have to the Donegal singing tradition -- songs that travelled over and back with seasonal workers for generations until recent times." The video was recorded for Other Voices in 2020.

Below: "My Love's in Germany" performed by the Anglo-Welsh folk trio The Trials of Cato (Tomos Williams, Will Addison, Robin Jones). This traditional Scottish song (with lyrics adapted from an 18th century poem by Hector Macneill) appeared on the their first album, Hide and Hair (2018).

Next, two fine singer/songwriters based in the north of England.

Above: "Seven Hills," written and performed by Greg Russell. The song appeared on Utopia and Wasteland (2018), a collaborative album with Ciaran Algar.

Below: "Lamentations of Round-Oak Waters" (based on the life and poetry of John Clare), written and performed Jim Ghedi. The song is from his powerful new album In The Furrows Of Common Place, with a video filmed in the Outer Hebrides.

Above: "The Poorest Company" performed by Kris Drever (of Lau), from the Orkney Islands of Scotland.  The song was co-written by Drever, Roddy Woomble, and John McCusker, and appeared on their collaborative album Before the Ruin (2013). This solo version was recorded in 2020 during the first UK lockdown. (Here's the earlier version, also beautiful, with backing vocals by Woomble, McCusker, and Heidi Talbot.)

Below: "Row On," performed by Ninebarrow (Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere), from Dorset. The lyrics are from a poem found in the log book of a Nantucket whaler in 1846, set to a tune by Dorset musician & storyteller Tim Laycock. The song appeared on Ninebarrow's The Waters and the Wild (2018).

Brown Hare  Suffolk  by Michael Rae


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.