nother audio book to while away the excel auditing hours, this time from a story written by Edith Nesbit. She wrote The Railway Children, a story of children with pluck which I enjoyed (but alas, which I read long before I’d gotten into the review-blog business). And this one is also of pluckish children but written before, well back in 1899.
So we’ve a largely offscreen father whose children (Dora, Oswald, Dicky, Alice, Noel, and H.O. (Horace Octavius)) (who seem a little overkeen on adventure books) attempt to win back the family fortunes of the Bastables (which, I need to say, is an excellent name for heroes, but perhaps not for plucky children. Where did Edith come up with this?). They are clearly poor; their father struggling with a failing business and their mother passed on. Food is scarce, money moreso. They no longer can afford to go to school. So home they stay, with imaginations burning. Their wish is to elevate themselves out of poverty (not as a blunt mission statement, no. Rather, they wish to seek treasure).
And that’s largely the story – each chapter delineating their quests. For each is a misunderstanding of the real world. Yet around them are kindly people, ones who don’t just give dirty orphans a handout but rather ones who treat them as little adults, playing along with their games and further fueling their fantasies. There is one fellow (known as Mr. Burglar), apprehended in the middle of a supposed break in. This fellow gives them his word of honor he will not attempt to escape, and regales the children with stories of his past efforts in crime (including, fantastically, the captain of a pirate ship). But then a real burglar attempts to break in that the story takes a charming turn.
And that’s this book. The children with their hijinks, making a go at every method of wealth and getting nowhere. And the adults around them (I dearly loved Albert’s Uncle next door over), operating gamely in their make-believe worlds. And on it goes, misunderstanding and calamity, with people being assaulted by youthful highwaymen on the heath, with attempts to start newspapers and produce medicines, all wrapped up in the childlike innocence that lends an air of magic to depressing poverty. Of course, in the end, yet another misinterpretation of the facts permit the children to shine on just the right fellow at exactly just the right time, bringing about comfort and rising fortune and a happy ending all around. Silly, yes, but I liked it.
I was a little reluctant to begin this one. The text was read by one Karen Savage from Waco, Texas – what sort of rootin’-tootin’ cowgirl would this be? But Ms. Savage was a prim and proper English accent, one that lent itself perfectly to the effort. It helped to bring the air of the tale across in perfect fashion. For, mom and dads, you might want to pull down these audio files and let your kiddies get their storytimes from your tablet for the next week or so.
And for the rest of you, by all means, listen to this book. It’s pure delight.
You can get it HERE.
P.S. Interesting closing note – I thought one of the childrens’ names had sounded familiar. Of course, Oswald Bastable was the hero of Michael Moorcock’s Warlord of the Air trilogy. Interestingly, he picked the name because Ms. Nesbit was also a founding member of a society with aims to bring socialism non-violently into the mainstream. As his book was about neo-colonialism run amok, he did so as a tip of the hat to her. But seriously, I think it was just becuase it was one bitchin’ name!