This is a book that I hadn’t read (or heard of) as a child, but was recommended to me by a ‘book’ friend who has led me to discover many ‘new’ favourites, and so I was very much looking forward to reading this. I had seen parts of a movie version of this (The Secret of Moonacre) but didn’t know until much later that this is what it was based on.
Maria Merryweather, a thirteen-year-old is heading from London into the country, to Moonacre Manor where she is to live with her cousin, Sir Benjamin Merryweather, as she has lost her father, while her mother had died when she was younger. With her are her strict but loving governess Miss Heliotrope, and King Charles spaniel, Wiggins. Maria is sceptical of going to the country which she feels will be dull after life in London, and the way there has not been very promising. But as soon as they begin to approach Moonacre Manor, it begins to work its magic on her and when they arrive and she meets Sir Benjamin and they are shown their rooms, she knows she is home. So begins her life at Moonacre where there is much that is mysterious and magical, mostly in a good way (little sugary biscuits placed in her room, her clothes being laid out for her everyday when there seems to be no maid in the house). But life there has its share of troubles too, with broken hearts and relationships, and a band of wicked men out to cause trouble, and Maria finds that it is up to her and her friends, new and old, but much of the time the band of animals at Moonacre–Wrolf the dog, Zacariah the cat, Perriwinkle the pony, Serena the Hare, and Wiggins (well, Wiggins doesn’t really do anything), to put things to rights, as has been foretold by a prophecy. To do this of course, she must also overcome her own shortcomings.
I simply loved this one right from the start, mostly because there is something very magical about the atmosphere Goudge creates—she makes you want to almost step into the book and live in Moonacre manor which is a warm, welcoming place, with lovely surroundings—so are the other houses described, like the old parsonage and Loveday’s house. Her descriptions too are beautiful. As usual I never remember to mark them when I read them but this for instance:
Never in all her short life had she seen such wonderful trees; giant beeches clad in silver armour, rugged oaks, splendid chestnuts, and delicate birches shimmering with light. They had no leaves as yet but the buds were swelling, and there seemed a mist of pale colour among their branches—amethyst and chrome and rose and blue, all melting into each other like the colours of a rainbow that shines for a moment through the clouds and then changes its mind and goes away again.
There are plenty of others as well. Here what she has to say of Wiggins:
But it is difficult to draw up a list of Wiggins’ virtues… In fact impossible because he hadn’t any… Wiggins was greedy, conceited, bad-tempered, selfish and lazy. … But though Wiggins’ moral character left much to be desired, it must not be thought of that he was a useless member of society, for a thing of beauty is a joy for ever, and Wiggins’ beauty was of that high order that can only be described by that tremendous trumpet sounding word ‘incomparable’. He was a pedigree King Charles Spaniel. His coat was deep cream in colour, smooth and glossy everywhere except his chest where it broke into an exquisite cascade of soft curls like a gentleman’s frilled shirt cuff….
While the plot may have its issues if looked at from a present-day point of view, I didn’t think those issues took away the generally magical atmosphere of it or affected my enjoyment of it. I loved the characters too—I thought they were quite unique and likeable. But they are realistic too, some of them allowing their egos to get in the way and taking the wrong decisions, as human beings are apt to do. And there are those that are a mix of the real and the fantastical, like Maria’s friend Robin (who she magically knows in London but meets once again at Moonacre), who might be real but has elements of Pan (I initially thought Puck since he was called Robin but then realised from his playing the pipe and connection with animals that he was more Pan). All the animals too are wonderful—from the lion-like Wrolf to Zacariah who can write in hieroglyphics (a tad much, but fun all the same, it’s a fantasy after all). Wiggins might do nothing but he’s still a sweet fellow.
And of course, I can’t not mention all the food—that was pretty much the level of Enid Blyton, plenty of it, delicious sounding too, and makes one hungry reading about it. This was a lovely read—I thoroughly enjoyed it. Four and a half stars!