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Archive for the ‘Children’s Fantasy Classics’ Category

Children's Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

Children’s Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase Plot summary courtesy of Goodreads:

Wicked wolves and a grim governess threaten Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia when Bonnie’s parents leave Willoughby Chase for a sea voyage. Left in the care of the cruel Miss Slighcarp, the girls can hardly believe what is happening to their once happy home. The servants are dismissed, the furniture is sold, and Bonnie and Sylvia are sent to a prison-like orphan school. It seems as if the endless hours of drudgery will never cease.

With the help of Simon the gooseboy and his flock, they escape. But how will they ever get Willoughby Chase free from the clutches of the evil Miss Slighcarp

I think that this is my favorite cover of the five books in this series. There is something so compelling about it. My specific book was the 50th anniversary Yearling issue, and the cover was originally copyrighted in 1962 by Edward Gorey. Which explains in part why I like it so much, because I often like Edward Gorey’s work.

The 50th anniversary printing also had a lovely introduction by the author’s daughter, Elizabeth Charloff, who writes:

From its dramatic opening, “It was dusk – winter dusk,” in the snowy, wolf-filled park of the great house of Willoughby Chase to its glorious and satisfying conclusion, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase sweeps readers into another world.

Joan Aiken was a prolific writer of children’s books, and came from a family steeped in literary talent. Her sister, Jane Aiken Hodge was a writer of romance and suspense novels and her father was poet Conrad Aiken. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is the first entry into the world of Dido Twite, an alternative history Britain.

My thoughts on the book: I absolutely loved it. So far, it is tied with The Children of Green Knowe, and I prefer both of those to The Enchanted Castle. The historical setting is unique and interesting without being fantastical. There were plot elements that reminded me of Burnett’s A Little Princess, Harry Potter, and the books of Roald Dahl. There is a darkness to the book – the evil headmistress really is evil. Children really are treated with cruelty.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase pretty much falls into what I like to call the plucky orphan type of children’s books, a storyline that is frequently seen in children’s – especially British children’s – literature. In this particular case, the kind and loving parents of Bonnie, the daughter at Willoughby Chase, disappear early in the book, and they are subjected to the not at all tender ministrations of the evil, mercenary guardian, Miss Slighcarp (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Miss Minchin. Or to Professor Umbridge). The book chronicles their escape from her clutches, and her ultimate vanquishment, which is highly satisfying.

I can’t believe that I had never heard of this book before I started this project, but I had not. It is a short, quick read at 181 pages, but is highly recommended. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and plan to work on tracking down the remainder of the series.

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Children's Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

Children’s Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

The Enchanted Castle

E. Nesbit wrote: “There is a curtain, thin as gossamer, clear as glass, strong as iron, that hangs forever between the world of magic and the world that seems to us to be real.”

The Enchanted Castle circumnavigates this boundary between magic and reality. There are four children at the center of this classic children’s novel: three siblings, Jerry, Jimmy and Kathleen, and the “castle” housekeeper’s niece, Mabel, whom they meet while exploring the castle grounds. She is dressed in a pink gown, and is pretending to be a sleeping princess who must be awakened, a la Sleeping Beauty, with a kiss. This is a very classic British children’s fantasy, and although I can’t say that it is my favorite by Edith Nesbit, it is a good example of her work. In a Nesbit book, there is generally some sort of magical device or place that is stumbled upon by average, typically upper-class, British children, high jinks and mayhem ensue because the children’s manipulation of the magic tends to go badly awry, there is some mild danger generated by the situations in which they find themselves, the children ultimately develop a respect for and understanding of the rules by which the magic operates, and then there is a happy ending of some sort.

As Kathleen said, “I think magic things are spiteful. They just enjoy getting you into tight places.”

I chose the Puffin Classics version for my reading, which I would recommended – it is a relatively inexpensive version, and is going to be far better than any of the junky print-on-demand books for sale on online retailers like Amazon.com. The illustrations are included in the Puffin Classics publication, although this isn’t a book where the illustrations are of supreme importance. All of Nesbit’s works are out of copyright, so anyone can throw a OCR’d kindlebook or POD book up for sale. In my opinion, purchasers are always better off with a book published by a reputable publisher like Penguin. If you are going for the kindle version, try the free one first, and see if it is miserably formatted before spending money on a version that may not be any better than the free one.

Other writers similar to E. Nesbit include Edward Eager, as his books are written in much the same style and are also completely wonderful (truth be told, I prefer Eager to Nesbit. Heresy, I know.)

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Children's Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

Children’s Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.

So begins Tolkien’s classic children’s fantasy, which I have previously read and reviewed on TDAC. But, it has occurred to me that hobbit holes and allegorical lions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to classic children’s fantasy, a special interest of mine. So, this is the first post in a continuing series that I will be doing over the next three weeks or so about five children’s fantasy classics that I have selected to read for a Goodreads Group challenge in the month of July.

As of writing this, I have finished two of them, and am ready to begin the third.

The list is:

The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit
The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

It is likely that the series will continue past those five books. Stay tuned.

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