Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Home thoughts

I discovered the Puffin Book in which this illustration appears in the Salisbury branch of WH Smith on a wet afternoon in September 1961. I was eleven years old.

By the time we had returned home I had read the first chapter. I had also become convinced that the author had written his story with me in mind, so closely did it match my criteria of 'a good read'.

Four London children, a couple of whom seemed to be roughly my age, are separated from their parents and obliged to move to the depths of the country. Lucky them.

They haven't, as in my case, been sent away to boarding school.

As it turns out, they have fallen on their feet, fetching up in an upmarket, deliciously gothic mansion, empty save for themselves, a starchy housekeeper, some maidservants and, of course, an elderly professor.

And is if that isn't enough, they discover that the house contains a 'portal' into an even more extraordinary parallel, magical world.

After a variety of adventures the four children are rewarded amply and are crowned kings and queens of their newfound homeland - an outcome, which, unaccountably, had not yet been my fate.

The fast-paced text was interspersed by line drawings by Pauline Baynes. The image shown above was - and remains - my favourite.

This charming sitting room is, in fact inside a cave. Cosy, or what? 

A real fire, tea, cake, books and agreeable, if slightly semi-human, company.

In short, my eleven-year-old idea of heaven.

The Faun is my favourite character: domesticated, self-sufficient and what used to be called 'a confirmed bachelor'. Does he look as if he enjoys a vigorous game of rugby? I don't think so.

He's a book-lover, and happily fond of the 'wrong' kinds of food. In addition, he's hospitable, musical, kindly, yet carrying with him a slight air of melancholy. 

And, of course, he's flawed, vulnerable and not entirely what he seems. 

Hmm, Mr Lewis, what could you be thinking of?

Others told me that the book was a fable about salvation - and, yes, I 'got' the allegory.

But for me, it was, is and always will be about this extraordinary little scene and the thoughts and feelings that it so magically conjures up....


Webrarian said...

Did your new prize in Salisbury distract you from noticing the nice clock on the building?

I'm going to put in an unashamed plug for some rather nice incidental music that Someone once wrote for some performances of a dramatised version of LLW.

Mr Gnome said...

Thank you!

What splendid, atmospheric music

: - )