Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Reading in Retrospect: What was the name of that book?

When Chris and Jess posted last week about a favorite childhood book, my mind skipped right over all seven Chronicles of Narnia, my kindred spirit Anne of Green Gables, Edward Eager's books about magic, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Ramona Quimby and her comical misunderstandings, and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's amazing problem-solving abilities, and went directly to That Book. The magical book I read more than a quarter of a century ago whose mysterious plot, though vaguely remembered, had been so enchanting.

In my memory of the story, four siblings were vacationing (or perhaps sent to live) near the ruins of an old castle. The children enjoyed picnicking and playing among the fallen stones. One cloudy day, the courtyard of the castle was full of mist. The children climbed to the top of the winding staircase within the castle walls, where the top floor was all rotted through, and suddenly the youngest (maybe a boy, maybe blond-haired, but maybe not) fell down through the mist towards the ground far below. The other children rushed back down the stairs, afraid the boy was hurt or maybe even dead, but when they reached the bottom he was nowhere to be found . . . because he had traveled back in time! Now, who wouldn't want to read that story?

I spent years looking for this book because I wanted to read it again. I knew I was taking a risk, as my memory of the book might have been better than the book itself, and why ruin a wonderful childhood memory? But my desire to re-read it outweighed my fear of disappointment, and the hunt was on. My search was made much more difficult by the fact that I could remember neither the title nor the author of the book.

I knew my sister had read the same book, so I asked her about it. She remembered the story, but not the title or author. I scoured the Internet, googling for books about castles and children and time travel and mist. (In the meantime, I found a delightful little 1890 edition of The Children of the Castle by Mrs. Molesworth, with beautiful pen-and-ink illustrations by Walter Crane. Lovely, but not the book I was looking for.) I recalled writing a book report on this book in third grade, and dug through dusty old boxes at my parents' house, hoping to find that book report. All to no avail.

At some point during my quest I came across a website called "Stump the Bookseller," where for a measly little $2 I posted a synopsis of that long-lost favorite book from my childhood, and Harriet Logan of Loganberry Books came through for me. Here is the book I was looking for: In the Keep of Time, by Margaret J. Anderson. What a feeling of triumph, to finally succeed in my search! I bought a gently used copy to add to my library.

Of course, as I suspected, the story wasn't quite as magical when I revisited it, but I don't regret finding it and re-reading it. Now I can share it with my children. Not only that, but imagine my thrill when I realized that the setting for this book exists in real life! The "castle" that the children played in was Smailholm Tower, which still stands in Scotland. These days it houses a museum, so obviously the old rotten wooden floors have been replaced, but I would love to see it in person some day. Even if it only figuratively transports me back in time.


anothercookiecrumbles said...

Wow! In The Keep Of Time sounds absolutely amazing. I can imagine how annoying it is to have loved a book so much, and then completely forget its name! Never seen the Stump the Bookseller website before, but I think it's going to be a handy little website to have bookmarked. Thanks!

I was a massive Enid Blyton fan as a child. I don't think I read anything but her books from the time I was five 'til I was nine or ten.

Cozy Book Nook (Lesa) said...

That is so cool! A few months ago, I had a childhood book on my mind but with no title/author. I searched and searched but never found it. I may try 'stump the bookseller'-- I did try a a similar site with no luck but it was a free site-- maybe the $2 will make the difference!

Whitney said...

That sounds like a darling, magical kids book. Good for you for not giving up, persistence is always rewarding.

Also, that sounds like a very useful site, Maybe I should bookmark it as so not to forget.

Kathy said...

Cookie--you make me wish I'd read Blyton as a child. I read my first of hers earlier this year (The Magic Faraway Tree) and, while it wasn't awful, I couldn't help but wonder how much more I would have enjoyed it if I'd first read it as a child, which would have given me a big dose of nostalgia to read it with as an adult.

Lesa--you ought to post about the book you're searching for on your blog!! Maybe one of your readers will recognize it.

Whitney--you're darn tootin' about persistence being rewarding. It felt great in this case!

I thought I would also mention that you can browse that "Stump the Bookseller" website to see if you recognize any of the books people have posted about! It's kind of a fun guessing game, although I don't think I've ever figured one out that wasn't already solved.

Candilynn Fite said...

I stumbled across your blog and had to comment. I too read this book as a young child, and searched for it as an adult. It made such a lasting impression on me. I also visited forums attempting to recall the book, title and author. I could recall the children visited a relative, entered a mysterious tower and went back in time. I knew the cover had an image of a tower, but that was all I could recall.

Just six months ago, I was browsing in my tiny hometown bookstore and found it! There on the cover was the tower, In the Keep of Time. I knew this was the book. It was a discarded library book. I've since reread the book, and will forever keep it. It evoked such pure imagination in me as a child, I could never part with it again. :)

Kathy said...

Candilynn--how awesome that your experience with the book so closely mirrored mine. I could have written your comment myself--all except for the part about how you found your copy. I couldn't help but wonder if the copy you found was the very same one you'd read as a child!!