It was Janet’s review of The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge that made me eager to read it, and then when I saw it on other lists of favorites (and notably on the Ambleside Online Year 3 list), I decided to give it a try. I originally bought this for Lulu and then realized that while she could read it, she probably wouldn’t (yet) because of its denseness. In a fit of trying to be all things to all people, I decided to do a group read-aloud and a read-aloud to each girl individually way back a few months ago. We quickly misplaced my thirty year old copy of Charlotte’s Web which Louise and I began reading together, but Lulu and I started The Little White Horse and stuck with it, even when a week went by between readings. Louise eventually got in on the action, too, mostly because she happened to be in the same room in which Lulu and I were reading, and this story just has a way of drawing a person in. This is a very dense story, and I won’t say that I actually remembered every little detail of the rather complex tale (due to my tired brain, reading while entertaining a two year old, and letting too long go by between readings). However, I truly don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a story this much. Rich is the best word I know to describe it.
The Little White Horse is the story of Maria Merryweather, an orphaned girl (of course!) who, along with her governess the good Miss Heliotrope, goes to live with her second cousin Sir Benjamin Merryweather of Moonacre manor in the village of Silverydew, somewhere in the West Country of England. (The names in this book alone are enough to keep one completely enchanted!) Things are not exactly normal at Moonacre. For one thing, the door to Maria’s bedroom at Moonacre is so small that only a child or someone decidedly not human can enter. (Who, then, attends to Maria’s needs when she’s out or before she awakens in the mornings?) For another, Cousin Benjamin has a pet that might be a dog, but then again, might not be. As Maria delves into the Merryweather past, things grow more mysterious, and Maria learns of a great wrong that she must set right because it’s her assigned fate (for lack of a better word) to do so, and she has the moxie to carry it through.
I thought of L.M. Montgomery’s writings when I was reading this book, and I can’t say that any other author has made me think of Montgomery the way Goudge does in this book. Something about the otherworldiness of the tale that borders on the strange but still resides on the side of the lovely makes me think of some of the yarns Montgomery’s characters spin, and in general of Montgomery’s own love of nature and imagination. Like Montgomery, Goudge also has a most wonderful ability to describe people and places so that not only does the reader feel like she’s there, she wants to be there. Truly, I could turn to any random page in the book and pluck out a paragraph to share Goudge’s skill and delightful imagination, but I want to share this description of Maria’s first encounter with the Moonacre cook:
One of these stools had been pulled up to the table, and standing upon it, facing Maria as she came in, was a little hunchbacked dwarf making pastry. He gave a brief nod and pointed with his rolling-pin to the bench against the wall.
“Marmaduke Scarlet, at your service, young Mistress,” he said in a crisp squeaky voice. “Seat yourself, but do not articulate. I cannot indulge in conversation while I am engaged in the creation of veal pie.”
Yet though his manner was abrupt he seemed well disposed towards her, for there suddenly flashed across his face a smile so broad that the ends of it seemed to run into his ears, and his small round sparkling black eyes twinkled at her very pleasantly. (83)
This part literally made me laugh out loud–imagine his broad smile disappearing into his ears! This is good stuff. We loved this story, every one of us. Lulu even picked it up and read it immediately after we finally finished reading it together. We give it a Highly, Highly Recommended. (Puffin, 1946, 1971)
What’s in your family’s read-aloud basket this week? Are you prepping your Christmas reads? I’ve shared a few read-aloud and Christmas related posts this week, and I’ll be sharing more in the near future. Stay tuned!