"Be still ... I think for England."

Sep 21, 2011 (Updated Sep 21, 2011)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Story-telling unpeels the layers of legend and history embedded in one English valley.

Cons:Assumes considerable knowledge of English geography and history. No maps.

The Bottom Line: Unless you are a very well informed Briton, read PUCK OF POOK'S HILL in a scholarly edition with good backgrounders, maps and notes.
Then let Puck be your guide!

prolog: This is a submission to jenniferkateab's GEOGRAPHY writeoff. AOHCAPABLANCA

Are you set in your ways in reviewing books? I am in mine, I fear. 

(1) For the past couple of years, I have written five reviews of each book that I think well enough of to read to its very end. The first review  cuts through the underbrush, is big picture, from memory, without consulting my 3" X 5" cards. After the fifth and final effort,  I judge that I know the book reasonably well. 

(2) When I finish a first reading of Book A, I immediately set to rereading it with the help of my notes. (3) I may at that time be half-way through a first reading of and-note taking on Book B; I immediately pick up the pace with B to be able to review it soon after my five reviews of Book A. (4) At the same time I begin to read Book C. (5) I also lay out in rough chronological order the next three or four books for imminent reading (D, E, F, etc.) 

That habit just described works reasonably well, unless I start reading a monstrously long, dull book like Andrew Rawnsley's first of two studies of the New Labour of Britain's Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Such books take considerable joy out of my reading and tend to force me out of my reviewing pattern, rut, comfort zone or whatever you might choose to call the way I review books. The pace of reviewing slows.

There are benefits that some might not suspect, to being involved in three or four books almost simultaneously. The method spins off pleasant unintended sometimes mutually reinforcing by-products of information, slants or viewpoints. 

This happened to me while preparing to review Rudyard Kipling's PUCK OF POOK'S HILL. This happy, informative book of literary geography for children shows how successive waves of immigrants first invade then are absorbed by England (Romans, Saxon, Normans, et al.), learn old or create new composite languages, adapt their ruling style to the customs of the ruled, and such like. PUCK OF POOK'S HILL, among other things, is a tale of new intra-human CIVILIZATIONS colliding with and then succeeding to old ones.

A week or so after I send this review up to epinions, I expect to send in one on John Wyndham's sci-fi novel of 1957, THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS -- a tale of possibly avoidable war to the death between a human and a non-human SPECIES within one sleepy English village. One story invites comparison with the other.

Also, not long ago, I also read and reviewed Kipling's STALKY & CO. There, in yarn after yarn three British schoolboys take sometimes cruel revenge for wrongs committed by boarding school staff or fellow students by (a) letting the punishment clearly fit the crime and (b) leaving no way their enemies can start a proper endless cycle of feuding and counter-retaliations. I plan to illustrate this Kiplingesque trait below in two of the ten interlocking prose and verse tales of PUCK OF POOK'S HILL.

In his early 30s, Rudyard Kipling and his American wife bought their "dream home" in Sussex, southeastern England not far from the French coast. Their children grew up there exploring nearby Roman and Norman ruins, being taught by books, parents and working class people the lore and history of that part of Britain. 

PUCK OF POOK'S HILL shows the rural, backwater Sussex that Rudyard Kipling shared with his children. Fictional siblings Dan and Una Reynolds are fortunate enough one midsummer's eve to conjure up England's last remaining Fairy, Faun, Man of the Hills or Woods Spirit, Puck aka Robin Goodfellow. This is Shakespeare's Puck, evoked by Una and Dan as they practice outdoors a scene from MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. 

Genial Puck, in alliance with their home schooled classes in Latin, literature, geography and history, brings their valley alive. The children meet Weland, a minor Norse god who eventually came down in the world and had to work for a living forging horseshoes for local farmers. Una mistakenly hits with a shot from her catapult/slingshot a Roman centurion whose family had lived on nearby Vectis/Isle of Wight for 400 years and who was himself stationed on Hadrian's Wall to fight Picts and Saxons. The same is true of selected Saxons and Normans who gradually -- through marriages, language-learning and the like --  create England after Duke William's invasion of 1066. Gold protected by African gorillas played a role in wresting Magna Carta from King John. The explorer Sebastian Cabot had cannons for King Henry's ships cast in the valley of Una and Dan. And later the marshes of east Sussex were for many decades dominated by smugglers of goods from France. And on and on. Story by story Puck unpeels the layers of turn of the 19th Century England for two young disciples who cannot get enough.

The STALKY & CO. revenge patterns mentioned above are fully displayed in "Old Men at Pevensey" and in "Hal o' the Draft." In the latter, Sebastian Cabot and a renowned church architect without honor in his home community foil a plot by a dread Scottish pirate and local minor criminals to steal cannons intended for King George. In the former tale, a Norman baron, de Aquila, and two of his knights (one Norman with a Saxon wife, the other a Saxon with singing sword made in gratitude by the Norse demi-god Weland) use clever wiles to keep post-1066 England free from fresh Norman invasions. Gold earlier won by the two knights in battles on west Africa's Gorilla Coast plays its part in keeping England England. There is nothing that de Aquila will not do to safeguard the newly emerging English culture. The way he punishes one enemy and rewards another is well thought out case by case and is exemplified in his command, "Be still ... I think for England." 

PUCK OF POOK'S HILL is a model of how to weave fiction and fact to make local history and geography come alive for imaginative young children and readers young and old.
And who but clever Puck could pull together so many seemingly unrelated stories? "'Well,' said Puck calmly, 'what did you think of it? Weland gave the Sword! The Sword gave the Treasure, and the Treasure gave the Law. It's as natural as an oak growing.'" 


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