‘The Little White Horse’ is one of a number of stories that Elizabeth Goudge wrote for children. It is set sometime in the 19th century, in the Devonshire countryside that the author so loved; and it is an engaging and old-fashioned tale, underpinned by both magic and faith.
Maria Merryweather was born and raised in London, but when was thirteen she was orphaned and sent to live with her last living relative – Sir Benjamin of Moonacre Manor – in the heart of the country. She travelled with her governess, Miss Heliotrope, and her beloved spaniel, Wiggins. Night was falling when arrived, and they were all enchanted by the sight of a moonlit castle set in a beautiful and expansive grounds.
The travellers are made wonderfully welcome, and immediately feel completely at home. Everything that they might want has been thought of and every detail is right. Maria is particularly taken with her tower bedroom, its ceiling covered in moons and stars, its silvery furniture, its little tin of sugar biscuits ….
There are no servants to be seen, and Sir Benjamin declares that no woman has set foot on the house for twenty years!
Maria finds that her imaginary friend from London is a real boy living in the nearby village of Silverdew.
Yes, there is magic in the air.
There is also something darker. Maria learns of her sadness and wrong-going in her family’s history, and she realises that it has fallen to her to set things right.
Elizabeth tells her story beautifully; she really was a mistress of the art of story-telling. Every sentence is beautifully wrought; every character is clearly and distinctively drawn; every place, every meal, every setting is perfectly explained; and there is a wealth of lovely detail.
I think that this is a book that would work best read in childhood – and I do wish I had discovered it as a child – but it still has a great deal to offer to the grown-up reader who is still in touch with her inner child who loved books.
I say ‘her’ because this is a very girly book.
My inner child loved this book.
But as a grown-up reader I have to point out a few failings.
It has a little too much squeezed into its pages, and as a result sometimes things feel rather rushed and there isn’t quite as much suspense and intrigue as there could have been.
And in the end everything was tied up rather too neatly, with happy-ever-afters for all.
I think I might understand why. I think that just after the war Elizabeth Goudge wanted to say – wanted to believe – that the world could be a better and happier place, that everything could be alright again.
The Little White Horse won the Carnegie Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature in 1946, when it was described as ‘not merely the best children’s book of this year, but the best which has appeared for the past ten years.
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I’m very pleased that I chose this book to read for Elizabeth Goudge Day .
Thank you Lory, for steering me back towards her work again.
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I inherited a love of Elizabeth Goudge’s writing from my mother. She has been seriously ill, she is probably near the end of her life, and that is why I have been quite elusive over that last few weeks.
She recommended a few authors when I progressed from the junior to the adult library, and others over the years since them; but now, as I look back, I think that it is her recommendation of Elizabeth Goudge that says much about the woman she was and is.
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