I consider myself a fan of Elizabeth Goudge, but that fan status (fanship? fanhood? fanaticism?) is really based only on countless re-reads of a few of her books: the trilogy about the Eliot family of Damerosehay, Linnets and Valerians, and The Dean’s Watch. This mostly means to me that I have the enormous delight in store for me of books that are at once strange and familiar: strange because, after all, I have never read them before, and familiar because they contain the same themes, the same wonderful writing, and the same marvelous satisfaction of the other books I’ve read by Elizabeth Goudge.
At the beginning of The Little White Horse, Maria Merryweather, her governess Miss Heliotrope, and their dog Wiggins are traveling by the night coach to Moonacre, the mansion where they are are to live with the orphaned Maria’s uncle Benjamin. Despite their fears, Moonacre proves to be all they could wish, and the denizens of the area — Marmaduke Scarlet, Loveday Minette, Old Parson, Wrolf (can you see why I’m naming them all? I can’t resist!) — are Maria’s friends and protectors. But Moonacre is under an old curse, thanks to one of Maria’s less-than-virtuous ancestors, and it is up to Maria to join the great virtues of courage, love, purity and joy in order to right an old wrong, join what has been sundered, make friends of enemies, and bring the little white horse back to its rightful home.
This book is indescribably wonderful. The plot absolutely crackles with excitement and humor; there’s lots to eat (always satisfying to a child-reader); there are all sorts of nooks and crannies to explore; there’s wickedness and unhappiness, but none of it is irredeemable; the ending leaves you sighing with delight. Maria, the heroine, despite being a genteel 19th-century young lady, is brave, intelligent, insightful, and forthright. There just aren’t words to say how much I wish I’d read The Little White Horse as a child, and how happy I am to have read it now. If you haven’t read this book, go read it now. If you have, go re-read it. It will reward every moment with joy.
Unrelated to this book, but related to books in general: I was checking out at the library tonight, and I heard the librarian say to the person next to me that they have a program whereby children can “read off” their fines at the rate of a penny a minute. Ha! I would be able to buy the library a new wing at that rate!