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This was an example of what some people (including someone else who read it) call a 'book ghost' - i.e. a book you read as a child, and of which you later forget the title and author's name, but which never entirely leaves you, haunting you with key scenes and characters that you can't quite place. Since the last such book to float up from the depths of my childhood memory turned out to be Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones, and prompted a massive love affair with her many books when I re-read it, I took myself seriously when I kept having persistent flash-backs to a mysterious castle full of strange people, and a vision of a far-off magical land inside a glass marble. Thankfully, in this Google- and eBay-sponsored age, it was the work of about ten seconds to track those memories down to a specific title, and bag my own copy of it.

Having re-read it, I can see why it appealed to my childhood self. It's about an ordinary girl called Emma who one day steps through a hole in a fence to find herself in a huge garden, face-to-face with a strange and intriguing girl called Cassandra. Cassandra (who prefers to be known as Sandra) is lonely and desperate to make friends - but her family turn out to be sinister, dangerous and not entirely human. Despite the friendship which has grown between them, in the end it proves impossible for the two girls to be part of one another's worlds. Sandra's family disappear as suddenly as they had arrived - leaving nothing behind but the marble I'd remembered in the first place.

It's perhaps not as great a work of children's literature as I'd hoped, and certainly not up to DWJ standards. But it's definitely worth reading. It does some nice things with the genres of magic, science fiction and Greek mythology (specifically the Atlantis story), and addresses social gulfs in much the same way as Brideshead Revisited does. I suspect it may also be the origin of my habit of capitalising Hokey Concepts in my writing today, since Sandra has quite a lot to say about True Friends who Never Let You Down. And I'm certain it was where I first learnt the term 'folly' in the sense of a whimsical and functionless building.

The odds are that if you like children's fantasy literature, you've already read this. But if you haven't, it's worth a go.

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( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 2nd, 2008 11:02 pm (UTC)
Nothing to do with this book, but the resurfacing of childhood books generally. At primary school I had to read 'Powder Monkey' by Andrew Wood, a typical Boy's Own type seagoing yarn from the '50s and not yet pulped. Not long after I started at Englefield Green in June I went to visit a member of the congregation who, while we were talking about buying things on eBay, handed me a book which she'd been delighted to purchase because it was the only one of her father's books for children she had a copy of. I scanned the list of titles in the front and found - Powder Monkey! I was talking to the daughter of the man whose books I'd read thirty years before and never seen or heard anything of since.
Nov. 3rd, 2008 11:09 am (UTC)
Aw, how sweet - a tale worthy of J.R. Hartley himself! I bet she has met scant few people who have actually read his books, too. I trust you expressed delight and enthusiasm for it! ;-)
Nov. 3rd, 2008 10:50 am (UTC)
Funny, I learned the word 'folly' from The Hundred and One Dalmatians (which I re-read every Christmas)!
Nov. 3rd, 2008 11:11 am (UTC)
Ah, well I have not sampled that particular work of literature. But it just goes to show - thar's learnin' to be had everywhere!
Nov. 3rd, 2008 12:24 pm (UTC)
folly castle
Hello there :) :)

Was it my copy you read years ago (or did I read yours)?

I think it is a fab book and very dark and I actually went away and read a few more of hers a few years ago, apart from the fact they are obviously written for children, they are dead good.

In fact i might get my own copy and read it again.

Amy :)
Nov. 3rd, 2008 08:48 pm (UTC)
Re: folly castle
I was trying to remember myself if I had my own copy or had read it at school or something. I think I did have my own copy actually, so may have lent it to you. The cover of the one I read definitely looked like this - but then again I suppose most copies of it were that edition when we were children, so it doesn't really prove anything.

I looked up some of her other titles when I'd finished Folly Castle, and I've a feeling I may have read The Wishing People at school. Some of the others sound good too - like Cold Christmas. Have you read that one?

(Oops - sorry for broken HTML the first time!)

Edited at 2008-11-03 08:48 pm (UTC)
Nov. 3rd, 2008 10:41 pm (UTC)
Re: folly castle
Yes - that's the edition.

Also I've read both the wishing people and Under the Enchanter (I think her most famous book) recently and I still have in my bookshelf Under the Enchanter! Am happy to lend the next time we see one another.

Did you ever read Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr? Again, slightly kiddish but definitely creepy and plays about with some interesting ideas. If you ever see it in Oxfam I'd recommend.
Nov. 4th, 2008 01:26 pm (UTC)
Re: folly castle
Well, shall we swap my copy of Folly Castle for your copy of Under the Enchanter when we're in Brum at Christmas, then? As far as I'm concerned, you're welcome to keep Folly Castle - it was fun re-reading it, but I don't think I'll need to do so again.

I shall look out for Marianna Dreams and Mistress Masham's Repose, too. You're right - some children's literature has a great deal to offer, and I think it's a pity to miss out on it just because we're grown up!
Nov. 5th, 2008 01:36 pm (UTC)
Re: folly castle
Sounds good, I shall bring it to Brum with me.
Nov. 3rd, 2008 10:49 pm (UTC)
Re: folly castle
Oh and on the same subject (I think I never get bored of kids' literature) Mistress Masham's repose by TH White (who wrote the Sword in the Stone trilogy) is another fantasy read for kids that is really based in reality. Very funny, and true.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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