These fantasy novels for young readers, released in 1959 and 1965, are well-written stories with humor, creative plots, and appealing characters. They certainly owe a debt to Tolkien’s The Hobbit, but only in a general way for the most part.
In Gammage we learn about The Land Between the Mountains, a hidden valley inhabited by small people who call themselves Minnipins. They have ten small towns along the Watercress River that flows through the hills of their valley, surrounded on all side by impassable mountains. Some 880 years ago, a small band of Minnipins, led by one called Gammage, fleeing enemies during a severe drought, found their way through a tunnel carved by the river at the lower end of the valley, which was soon made impassable when rain storms returned. Finding no enemies in this place, they’ve flourished, but a small group of misfits has been growing worried about lights and sound heard near one mountain. They think their old enemies, the Mushroom people, have found a way to their home. The important Minnipins don’t believe them, so the misfits go off on their own to investigate, taking ancient armor and swords from the earliest days of the settlement. These characters are Gummy, the wandering poet, artist Curley Green, historian Walter the Earl, Muggles, the keeper of the local museum, and Mingy, the town treasurer. What they find in their search is ancient mines into one mountain that have been breached from the outside, opening a way in for the Mushroom people, who are indeed planning an attack. But how can just a few Minnipins stand against them?
In Whisper, the main characters are another small group of Minnipins from the lowest town in the valley. When the Watercress River suddenly begins to back up, no longer exiting under the mountain, their town and several more are flooded out, and those folks must escape by boat to higher ground. They meet the original heroes from Gammage, who convince them to make a heroic journey of their own to find out why the river is blocked, and hopefully unblock it. The reluctant group is Glocken the bell-ringer, town leader Gam Lutie, loner Crustabread, fisherman Scumble, and timid Silky. The heroes lead them through the ancient mines, unblocking an exit to the daunting desert outside their familiar valley, and the group begins a journey fraught with unexpected perils, and also some unexpected help at times. When they reach the other side of the mountain river tunnel, things become clearer, but even more hopeless.
These are fun reads, and still appealing to me, though I like the first book best. Recommended.