Today, it’s the turn of Elizabeth Hale to write about her book discovery of 2017.
I’ve made a number of lovely rediscoveries this year, including Susan Cooper’s Over Sea, Under Stone, about three children who become enmeshed a chase to find Arthurian objects, while on a family holiday in Cornwall. It’s full of fascinating characters (the seemingly benign housekeeper Mrs Palk is my favourite), and gorgeous scenery, and an allusion to the Helston Furry Dance, which I’d heard of many times but not really looked up. I spent a happy evening watching youtube clips of the Helston Furry (eg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNdo6wT9Ers), and it brought back memories of reading all sorts of mid-century British fiction in which folk dances, mummers, and other mystical happenings feature.
Another rediscovery is Alan Garner’s wonderful The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, which I found while tidying up bookshelves at my parents’ house. I read it over and over as a child; I think it was the first fantasy novel I really read by myself. It’s set in Alderley Edge, in Cheshire, and again, the natural features of the land connect with a very plausible set of old folk beliefs and old magic. I don’t think I breathed, while reading the scene where the children go through the underground (and sometimes underwater) caves that feature in that landscape.
And last rediscovery is Norton Juster’s divine The Phantom Tollbooth, another of my fantasy favourites as a child. Here, Milo, a bored child, finds a phantom tolbooth in his apartment, and, getting into a mechanical car, pays the toll, and drives into the allegorical kingdoms of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis, where he works to bring back Rhyme and Reason to the warring kings. I’ve always loved wordplay, and the wordplay in this is clever and keeps on coming. A great book for literary kids.
Elizabeth Hale runs the Antipodean Odyssey: Explorations in Children’s Culture and Classical Antiquity blog as part of her role leading the Australasian Wing of the Our Mythical Childhood Project. She teaches children’s and fantasy literature at the University of New England.