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.