And Then I Read: Hobberdy Dick

Hobberdy Dick cover
Published by Jane Nissen Books, London, 2000, originally published 1955.

The main character of this British fantasy is a hobgoblin, also known as a brownie in English folklore, the familiar spirit of a house or other human habitat. Sort of a tame fairy, one that helps those he likes and mischiefs those he dislikes, but in general a protector of his chosen home. If you’ve read the Harry Potter books, you’ve seen a distorted version in Dobby and his kin. And author William Mayne wrote two books about a similar creature, the first being “Hob and the Goblins.” I assume the name is related to the old British word “hob” meaning a cooker or stovetop.

I picked this up in Oxford along with another Jane Nissen Book which I’ll get to eventually. In the back the line is described as “a new imprint founded by the former editorial director of children’s books at Methuen, Hamish Hamilton and Puffin. Drawing on her knowledge of children’s books and what young people enjoy reading, it brings back into print a range of favourite books, some of which have been unavailable for many years.” Sounded right up my alley, and three of the line are books I already know and love.

Hobberdy Dick is set in the British countryside during the English Civil War of the 1600s, though that doesn’t enter into it directly. At the open, Dick mopes about a country house that is nearly deserted, the family he has known and companioned for centuries has died out or moved away. Then a new family moves in, and he must learn to deal with them, and they, unknowing, with him. This small sprite is a well-rounded character with a good heart, moving in a world with many dangers. He has some powers of his own, but often must rely on humans to do things for him, once he convinces them. He also interacts with other magical spirits and creatures in the neighborhood, some friends, some enemies, some just annoying, like the two ghosts haunting the house.

Over time, we get to know his new family with Hobberdy Dick, and watch him in his tireless efforts to help and hinder them toward paths that will allow the household to prosper. There are lots of subplots here involving each member of the family and the servants and hired help, and plenty of excitement, danger, romance and sadness. A very rich story that melds the fantasy elements seamlessly with a knowledgable historical and folkloric portrait of the time and people. A rewarding read.

Hobberdy Dick by K M Briggs

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