Monday, 27 August 2012

Old friends

Recently I was looking for a book - it was a particular title and I knew it was in one of the bookshelves in one of the rooms in our house. I didn't find the book, but I did find several old friends. In every room there were books I hadn't thought of for years but that, in the moment of seeing them again, brought back a rush of welcome memories. I remembered The Good Master by Kate Seredy, which I read when I was six and loved for its naughty heroine, Kate, the city cousin who arrives at her uncle's farm on the Hungarian plains and climbs up into the rafters and eats his favourite sausages. And Pippi Longstocking whose hero was another little girl - only one with superhuman strength and a massive streak of independence. Emil and the Detectives, Lottie and Lisa and The Flying Classroom, all by Erich Kastner were books that enchanted and enthralled me. Because they were about ordinary children who did things that, though extraordinary, were possible. While I loved Enid Blyton's Famous Five, Secret Seven and Five Findouters I knew that their sorts of adventures weren't very likely to come my way, whereas the characters in Arthur Ransome's Swallows & Amazons series or those in Paul Berna's A Hundred Million Francs seemed real with real, possible adventures. I've never forgotten that moment in Paul Berna's book when Marion gathers all of the dogs she's fed and loved and takes them to confront the villains. The words she speaks in that moment still ring in my head: 'Go on! Pull 'em down! Rotten swine who pinch kids toys in the rue des Petits-Pauvres!' Such great drama and so intensely satisfying!

There are so many voices that remind me of those days when I could spend a whole Saturday reading or nights pretending to be asleep and reading instead. There's Jean calling, 'Come away now Geordie' in Geordie; Miss Flisty whisking Jan off to the beach in Karalta; Tock telling Milo he 'must help himself' in The Phantom Tollbooth, poor (unfairly maligned) Pollyanna explaining 'the Glad Game' and Anne of Green Gables telling Marilla 'how much you miss!' after her benefactress tells her she never imagines things different to what they are. And those other voices - the ones that rang strong and true no matter what the cost: Dick Fauconbois in the Black Riders who looks Jasper the Terrible in the face and says him 'nay', Elnora Comstock in A Girl of the Limberlost who refuses to accept defeat and Hilary in Schoolgirl Honour standing firm despite the consequences.

They shaped my life and wove themselves into my flesh these books and their bright, clear voices continue to reach across the years and succor me in ways that only best friends can.

Like old friends rarely seen but always welcome.

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