Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton


Another book closer to having read the entire BBC Big Read list. The last is proving elusive, but I will track it down. This one was kindly loaned to me by John, courtesy of his son. Ninety-nine down. One to go. 

So, I remember reading a fair number of Enid Blyton books when I was younger - the Noddy books in particular, but also some of the Famous Five. I remember enjoying them, but not much detail remains. This, of course, is of an entirely different universe than those books, and it has all the elements of a charming, whimsical children's fantasy. What it doesn't have is an overarching plot.

I try not to be too demanding of children's books, except when I think I should be even more demanding because children deserve good books, dammit! This is a book of charming little episodes, and that's fine, and scarcely revolutionary for a children's book. However, my favourite childrens' books, even if they are episodic, have something to tie the overarching story together. 

We have four children, because there are almost always four children. Two boys and two girls, again, nothing new. (Except the girls are very thinly drawn - the two boys I can remember, but I retain almost nothing of the two girls' personalities, and I'm not really sure they had any. Disappointing, coming from a female author.)

Three of the children are siblings, and the fourth is their cousin Rick, who is staying with them for the summer. Rick is greedy and apt to get them into trouble. He doesn't listen as carefully to the rules of magic as the other three. 

The three siblings have a secret (and interestingly, in this series, the adults know about and interact with the magic beings the children have befriended.) It's a magic tree, populated by Moon Face, and a pixie-type named Silky, and Old Saucepan, who hangs saucepans all over his body. There's also a washerwoman fairy who empties her water down the tree, and an Angry Pixie, and probably a third. The real magic, however, lies at the top of the tree, where the very tip pokes into the roving magical lands that float about (presumably on clouds) and which the children can visit. But only for a little while, or the land might move off and they'll be trapped!

There is a Land of Presents, and a Land of Do-As-You-Please, and a Land of Topsy-Turvy, where people walk on their hands. Several times, the children get arrested for breaking the rules of whatever land they are in, through ignorance or thoughtlessness. 

All is not always well in the Lands above. Some people would rather live in the Magic Faraway Tree, like the Woman who Lives in a Shoe (and really wants to get away from her children) or the people from the Land of Tempers. In both cases, they try to steal the homes of Moonface and Saucepan and Silky and have to be tricked away.

It's not that any of these vignettes are bad. It's just that I want something to link them together. There's an episode where they are going to get a medicine for their sick mother, but a) she's not really that sick, and b) her being sick is just confined to that one chapter. The comparison that came to mind is The Magician's Nephew, where Digory's mother is not only ill, she's probably dying, and his worry about her colours the entire book. It's for around the same age range, and I think kids can follow an overarching plot perfectly easily. This book is charming, but it's missing something.

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