Still Here, with Mary Stewart

I’ve had some kind of chest infection thingy this week so I’ve been a bit logy. As a result, I’ve been sleeping a lot and sitting around on the sofa drinking tea and reading, reading, reading. There are worse ways to spend your time, especially since the weather this week has been so chancy. Lots of wind and rain; not a lot of sun or warmth – in other words, ideal conditions for lounging in my lounge.

My reading blitz has not been particularly high-brow. The Mary Stewart binge continues apace. I’ve just reread The Little Broomstick, which I loved so much as a child. It begins:

Even her name was plain. Mary Smith. Nothing could have been more depressing, she thought; to be plain, to be ten, and to be alone, staring out of her bedroom window on a grey autumn day, and to be called Mary Smith.

Such a wonderful beginning – plain ordinary Mary Smith, to whom you just know wonderful, exciting things are about to happen. And of course they do. Although, oddly enough, the section I always found most appealing was the beginning of the book with its descriptions of the house and garden in autumn and the gardener and cook at work. Mary is bored and lonely, but then the cat comes and everything changes.

I didn’t realise until I started writing this, just what a profound effect the book had on my imagination. As a child, I wished very hard for my own cat to come along and reorder my ordinary childhood world, and I’ve obviously carried the image of a cat as an agent of change along with me. Quite recently, I’ve begun stories of my own with the arrival of cat, without realising where I’d taken that idea from. And the climactic chase sequence invaded my dreams for years, again without me realising the source. I used to dream that I could fly, fly higher and faster than those who were pursuing me, but that I was only hidden as long as I stayed in the bounds of a small forest. It was a fun dream, but I never figured out how to break through the forest. They manage it in the book, but at the cost of giving up the enchantment and returning to ordinary life with only wisps of memory left to them. Perhaps I preferred to stay in the forest rather than give up on the possibility of magic.

I can’t tell if The Little Broomstick is a good book, a great book, or an ordinary one, because it’s so thoroughly a part of my imaginative life. But I’m very pleased to have read it again and discovered just how much of an impact it had on me.

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