Puck of Pook’s Hill

Puck_of_Pook's_Hill_coverThe history of any place is a balance between fact and storytelling — myth, you might say, or even nostalgia — and in any given rendition, one side is weighed down and sometimes the other. In Puck of Pook’s Hill, Kipling’s charming historical fantasy, we have story and fact and myth and nostalgia all mixed together, creating a green and pleasant England for children to be proud of and for them to love and support all their days.

The beginning of the book is perhaps the strangest part of it. Dan and Una, two children, encounter Puck (yes, Puck! Of A Midsummer Night’s Dream) on land they consider theirs. But it was his long before it was ever theirs, and he invites them into the magic of Old Things, to see the history of their patch of land. (This land, by the way, is at Burwash in East Sussex, near Pevensey Bay. It appears that the Pevensies in the Narnia books were named after Pevensey and Pevensey Bay: it’s called “England’s Gate” and has a lot of very interesting history.) What follows is a series of encounters with men who tell them the stories of their times: Sir Richard Dalyngridge, a Norman knight who took part in the Conquest; Parnesius, a Roman centurion stationed at Hadrian’s Wall; Hal o’ the Draft, telling about his deception of the pirate Andrew Barton; the Jew Kadmiel, who schemed to change the wording of the Magna Carta so that his people could be free.

Kipling goes to great lengths to ensure that this book is light and harmless. It begins with a story told by Puck himself, about the pagan origins of England, and how John Wayland Smith, an ancient pagan god, gave a sword to the Saxons that will figure largely in later stories. But Puck insists that he himself is as Christian as Dan and Una, and no one to be afraid of; he doesn’t flinch at cold iron or running water, and although he is the Oldest of the Oldest Things, he has been living with men so long that he is much like them now.

The histories, too, are told with humor and adventure, but not with any of the weariness, gore, or fear that Kipling certainly knows how to put into battle scenes. This is a book for children, and it’s done with a delightfully light touch. That’s not to say that we don’t care for the principal characters — just that there’s not much depth to any of it; it’s a gentle, rolling book about the marvels English history has to offer, yearning back to a lovelier and more exciting past than the past really perhaps was.

My dear, beloved grandmother adored Kipling, and this, I believe, was one of her favorite books. I prefer Kim, but I’m so glad I read this one; going through English history with Kipling is a wonderful afternoon treat.

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12 Responses to Puck of Pook’s Hill

  1. Lisa says:

    I enjoyed this, I love time travel stories, and Kipling had me at John Wayland Smith (which reminded me of the Susan Cooper books as well). I have a copy of Rewards and Fairies but haven’t read it yet.

    • Jenny says:

      Lisa, you have such great taste in books, I should have known you’d know Susan Cooper’s books too! I thought of the same thing during that part. I’ll be reading Rewards and Fairies in a bit.

  2. Marmaduke Scarlet says:

    I haven’t thought of Puck of Pook’s Hill in decades (yikes!) but I loved it as a child – I have just reserved a copy in my local library to revisit old memories.

    BTW, loved Susan Cooper too, as well as everything by Alan Garner (The Owl Service was genuinely creepy) and Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain books. Ah . . . happy days!

    • Jenny says:

      Oh yes — I’m not sure I have enough Welsh folklore to really understand The Owl Service, but I read and re-read it just the same. Terrific stuff.

  3. I read Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies (which is very bit as good) as a child, and I still read them now. I think they are timeless, but I’ must admit I’m not sure how modern children would react to them. And I still read Susan Cooper, CS Lewis’ Narnian books, Alan Garner and Lloyd Alexander, and love them every bit as much as I did first time around.

    • Jenny says:

      Do you know Edward Eager’s books (Half Magic, Magic By the Lake, and so forth)? I think those books make reference to Puck of Pook’s Hill. I think modern children would like this book read aloud to them, invested with enough verbal enthusiasm. And I love all the books you name, too!

  4. I like your post, It reminded me of my studies of English Literature at University. alessia

  5. Jeane says:

    I really really ought to read more Kipling. I did so love Kim (haven’t read that one in years but it was a childhood standby- which I mean to say I read it several times over) but hadn’t even heard of this one. It sounds like a good comfort read.

    • Jenny says:

      I read Kim as an adult, in conjunction with Laurie King’s novel The Game and Peter Hopkirk’s history of Victorian-era spying between Britain and Russia, The Great Game. It’s absolutely fantastic. And honestly, Kipling is worth reading no matter what.

  6. gaskella says:

    I can’t believe I have never read Kipling properly, save for a couple of the Just So stories when I was young. I think I’d enjoy this one a lot.

  7. vanbraman says:

    I will look for this one when I get back home. Just finished reading The Midwich Cuckoos. I don’t remember if it was you or Teresa that introduced me to John Wyndham, but thanks :-).

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