A Book for Elizabeth Goudge’s Birthday: The Little White Horse (1946)

‘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 ….

8826252_origThere 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.

* * * * * * *

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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19 thoughts on “A Book for Elizabeth Goudge’s Birthday: The Little White Horse (1946)

  1. Dear Jane – I am so so sorry to hear about your mother. This must be a difficult time for you and the Goudge some small consolation. I understand from Hendrickson Publishers webpage about Elizabeth Goudge that The Little White Horse was J K Rowling’s favourite children’s book. I wonder what aspect appealed to her. Perhaps it was the magic. I feel I must have read Goudge’s work when I was a child but I don’t have any of her books in my library and none of the titles leap out at me.. I have chosen to read Green Dolphin Country but have a great stack of books beside my bed and am still trying to finish one for the 1951 Club reading fest a fortnight ago. I see that my library has a DVD of the Secret of Moonacre which is based on The Little White Horse. I might borrow it and have a look. Please take care of yourself and give Briar a pat from me.

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  2. Wonderful review. I am new to Elizabeth Goudge and have just finished The Dean’s Watch, which I adored!. I look forward to reading The Little White Horse.

    I’m so sorry to hear about your mum. I’m sure your time with her is very precious. What a gift of the love of reading she has given you. And you’re right, now that I’ve read some Elizabeth Goudge, it says much about your mum that she would recommend her to you.

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  3. Jane, words don’t always convey as much depth as we’d like, but I can only say how so very sorry that your mum is so ill, it must be incredibly upsetting. Cherish the time you have. This sounds like such a wonderful book, it’s one I missed out on during childhood too, but have wanted to read it, and your post further convinces me that I would like it. I love catching up and reading good children’s books, there were so many old ones I didn’t know about when small. Take care, Lori

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  4. I’ve never read Goudge and you’ve given me the nudge to go and pick her up.
    I’m very sorry to hear about your mother. I always enjoy your mentions of the books you have read together and the influence she has on your reading life.

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  5. I am so sorry to hear about your mum Jane! I know how that feels…I too inherited a lot of authors from her readings and till today, some books and authors feel like a legacy, passed from my grandfather to my mum and then from her to me! Thank You for a lovely review…I agree – I think this is a book my 12–13 year old would have loved!

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  6. Jane, so very sorry to hear the news about your mother. You write movingly and beautifully about her impact on your reading. Sending you and her many hugs and much love.

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  7. Very sorry to hear about your mother, wishing you and her the greatest peace of mind (if at all possible). I am quite an Elizabeth Goudge fan too, and she seems to have sunk into oblivion, with the possible exception of The Little White Horse. I used to read it out loud to my mother while she was cooking, I loved it so much when I was a child!

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  8. What a lovely review! I read this book as a child and I acknowledge your criticisms and I still love it. 🙂

    I am very sorry to read about your mother, it must be very painful for you. I hope that your shared reading experiences bring you some consolation, and I send you both all my very best wishes.

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  9. I’ve only been reading Elizabeth Goudge’s adult novels so far, but I would like to try some of her children’s books as I missed out on them as a child. This one sounds lovely and I’m pleased you think it has a lot to offer adult readers too.

    I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. It’s good that you’ve been able to share a love of reading over the years and I think it does say a lot about her that Elizabeth Goudge is one of the authors she recommended to you.

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  10. I always feel close to the people who love the same books and authors that I do, even if I’ve never met them in person. And it’s wonderful when that person is someone you are close to in real life, so you can consciously strengthen that inner and outer bond. Thank you again for participating and for sharing the gift of your mother’s life with us.

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  11. What a difficult time this is for you, Jane, and circumstances will have made this reading of The Little White Horse particularly special. I hope you have been able to talk with your mother about your reading of this book; it sounds like a book she would appreciate as much as you did. Take care of yourself as you move through these precious days.

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  12. I had been thinking about you and worrying that I hadn’t seen many posts from you, I will now continue to think about you of course. I loved this book as a child and read and re-read it; I still have my childhood copy. Maybe one to leave in childhood, then – useful to know! Although to be honest I could do with some all-ends-tied safe and happy endings at the moment. Much love beaming over.

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