Rereading: THE BLESSING OF PAN by Lord Dunsany

Something strange is going on in the remote English village of Wolding nestled among the downs, and only the vicar, Elderick Anwrel, seems to realize how it threatens the souls of every resident. Teenager Tommy Duffin has become obsessed with the standing stones on the hill above the village, the mysterious shadows of dawn and dusk, and the promise of answers to questions he doesn’t even understand. He fashions a set of reed pipes, and begins to play haunting tunes that come to him from some unknown source, and his music is soon ringing across the town every night, luring young girls to join him. Other boys at first plan to beat Tommy, but then they too are captured by the music and join the audience in their rapt attention and dancing.

Vicar Anwrel realizes this sudden resurgence of paganism is something he can’t fight alone, and he appeals to his bishop for help, but the bishop instead sends him on a seaside holiday. Others in the church prove equally unhelpful and think him mad. There’s little he can do as more and more of the townsfolk are taken by the charms of Tommy’s music, and talk begins of a sacrifice on the central stone on the hill.

This book, published in 1928, shows Dunsany writing with more skill about people and their interactions than in earlier years, with characters that are real and sympathetic on all sides of the problem. Yet something is lost by his choice to never allow the real magic to become clear and take the stage. Still a fine read, with a surprising resolution. Recommended.

The Blessing of Pan by Lord Dunsany

Rereading: CART & CWIDDER by Diana Wynne Jones

Cover art by Geoff Taylor

This early work by Jones is the first of four books in the Dalemark Quartet, published in 1975.

Clennen and his family earn their living as traveling entertainers, taking their horse-drawn caravan from town to town in both the north and south parts of Dalemark, one of the few allowed free travel between those warring sides of a fractured nation. Clennen is a talented showman, singer, and storyteller, and in addition to entertainment, he brings news to each town, and sometimes carries passengers like young Kialen, who can find no other way to travel. Clennen’s wife is Lenina, won from a noble house by his singing, and she does most of the work to keep the family fed and clean. The eldest son, Dagner, has is own quiet talent for song-writing, but he’s also very shy and a reluctant performer. Daughter Brid is more outgoing, but not as talented as she thinks she is. Then there’s Moril, the youngest son, his head often full of daydreams. Clennen feels Moril is the most talented of his children, but Moril doesn’t see it that way. He’d rather be in the background.

The family is traveling north with Kialen as their passenger when tragedy strikes, and Clennen is killed by a band of armed men. Moril doesn’t know why, but his mother soon takes them back to the castle where she grew up, and revives the romance Clennen took her away from with the local ruler, Ganner. Before long, the children learn she plans to marry him, and they go off on their own in the cart to continue the life of traveling musicians they all love. But it proves to be far harder than they expect, especially when oldest son Dagner is arrested for treason.

Fine writing, and this book is not as predictable as many of the author’s later works. Unlike most of those, the magic in the story is subtle and hard to notice until gradually gaining importance by the end, this is more of an adventure and coming of age story in a medieval-style fantasy setting. Recommended.

Cart and Cwidder by Diana Wynne Jones

Rereading: THE LONESOME SORREL by Keith Robertson

Cliff Barry’s family is moving from Philadelphia to a small town in New Jersey near Trenton, and he’s not happy about it. He’s just reached the age where he can travel around the city on his own and enjoy sporting events, movies, and time with his friends. His desire is to buy a motorcycle, when he can afford it. New Jersey will cut him off from all that, but there’s a surprise waiting for him in the barn on the grounds of the new home: a horse sent as a gift from his uncle. Cliff has no interest in horses, and would rather ride a motorcycle, but his new next-door neighbor, Addy, is a horse lover, and she agrees to take care of Cinnamon for him. The horse is large and impressive, and curiously, seems quite interested in Cliff, who looks a lot like his former owner, while remaining bored by the attentions of others.

Cliff soon encounters the town bully, Everett Steele, who is also a rider, and who sees Cinnamon as a possible rival in a local cross-country race he always enters and has won twice. Everett tricks his way into riding Cinnamon, and mistreats him, and that leads to a fight between the boys. Their rivalry causes Cliff to rethink his ideas about riding, and he begins learning and training so he can compete in the race, and hopefully beat Everett to the winner’s cup. Cinnamon, at first puzzled by Cliff’s attitude, becomes a happy and willing partner in his new plans, but can they both learn enough to succeed against the veteran competitor and his bag of nasty tricks?

Well written, great characters, clever plot, recommended.

The Lonesome Sorrel by Keith Robertson

Rereading: JULIA’S MAGIC by Eleanor Cameron

Eleanor Cameron wrote many books I love, including five about Julia Redfern. I bought and read them as they were published in the 1970-80s, but oddly, they were written mostly in reverse chronological order, telling stories about Julia at younger and younger ages. I’ve decided to reread them in chronological order, and this is the first, when Julia is a young girl of about five years.

Julia lives with her parents and brother Greg in Oakland, California, across the bay from San Francisco, where her mother’s brother and his wife live in a fancy house they love to visit. Julia’s own house is more modest, and rented, but has a nice yard, and they all enjoy it. Julia is rather good at getting into trouble, and when she accidentally breaks her aunt’s perfume bottle, she keeps it a secret. Later, she finds out that Aunt Alex has accused their cook and maid, Hulda, of breaking the bottle, causing Hulda to leave, and that causes Uncle Hugh and Aunt Alex to fight and separate. Julia knows it’s all her fault, and she wants to set things right, but how?

Meanwhile, their landlady has sold their house, and they must move, but can’t find anything nearly as nice as where they live now. Everything comes to a head when Julia rides the trolley to find Hulda, but gets lost.

Beautifully written, wonderful characters, set around 1915, though the situations somewhat autobiographical and are timeless, and the illustrations by Gail Owens are charming. Recommended.

Julia’s Magic by Eleanor Cameron

Rereading: FREDDY PLAYS FOOTBALL by Walter R. Brooks

The sixteenth book in the Freddy series has football as one of the main subjects, a sport I have no interest in, but I knew the author would make it funny and entertaining all the same, and he did.

A new problem as arrived at the Bean Farm, in the person of Aaron Doty, the brother of Mrs. Bean, who she hasn’t seen since childhood. Or so he claims. Doty is a clever storyteller, and an entertaining speaker, but he’s hoping to collect his half of Mrs. Bean’s family inheritance, money the Beans don’t really have handy, and that makes Freddy suspicious. He begins detective work to find out more about the man, soon connecting him to frequent opponent Mr. Garble, but proof he isn’t really Mrs. Bean’s brother is hard to come by.

Meanwhile, Freddy gets drafted onto the Centerboro High School football team, becoming a school attendee to make him eligible. Freddy can’t throw or run with the ball, but he’s very effective as a tackle, and the team needs help against a rival team that includes players clearly much too old and strong to be high schoolers. For a while, Centerboro does well, until their rival decides to add their own animal team members.

The only way Freddy can think of to keep the Beans from handing over money they must borrow to pay Mr. Doty is to steal it himself, and Freddy is soon once again on the lam, and how can he help the football team then?

Great fun, recommended.

Freddy Plays Football by Walter R Brooks