The Perilous Gard: A (classic) Review

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie PopeEngland, 1558. Kate Sutton is serving as lady-in-waiting to Princess Elizabeth when a disastrous letter from Kate’s sister changes everything. Exiled by Queen Mary Tudor, Kate is sent to a distant castle called the Perilous Gard.

The Perilous Gard and the surrounding Elvenwood are steeped in mystery. Villagers fear the inhabitants of the castle and the castle staff refuse to explain why to Kate. The master of the castle, Sir Geoffrey Heron, offers even less in the way of answers as he is keen to be as far from the Gard as often as possible.

Sir Geoffrey’s brooding brother, Christopher, soon becomes Kate’s unlikely source for information. As Kate learns more about the castle and surrounding grounds, she begins to realize the Perilous Gard is hiding a secret–one that could change Christopher’s life. But secrets are dangerous things and trying to get to the truth surrounding her new home could lead to things far worse for Kate than mere exile in The Perilous Gard (1974) by Elizabeth Marie Pope.

The Perilous Gard was a Newbery Honor title in 1975. It is a retelling of Tam Lin.

The Perilous Gard is a perfect blend of historical fiction and fantasy. Kate’s story is very grounded in the reality of life in 1558 England, a period that Pope brings to life with carefully detailed prose and obviously thorough research. The story of Tam Lin is turned on its head here as fairies and Druid customs converge in a story of secrets, peril and human sacrifice.

Kate is an excellent heroine. She is pragmatic, stubborn and loyal to a fault. She refuses to let circumstances (or even dangerous fairies) stop her from doing what is necessary. She is also one of the most level-headed characters you are likely to meet.

Tam Lin, of course, centers heavily on a love story as a maiden tries to save her lover from the fairies who have laid claim to him. While there is still romance here, it is refreshingly honest and realistic. Kate and Christopher are rash and often quite thoughtless. At first they do not understand let alone like each other. Yes during unexpected time together, it becomes obvious that there might be (maybe should be) more to their relationship as this unlikely pair becomes fast friends.

It’s easy to think that a book from 1974–an arguable classic–would feel stale or stilted. Instead The Perilous Gard writing draws readers in and creates an all-consuming story that is an absolute delight. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction, fantasy and fairy tale retellings, this book also has strong crossover potential for readers of all ages.

Possible Pairings: Chime by Franny Billingsley, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles: A Chick Lit Wednesday review

The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles coverThe Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles (1974) by Julie Andrews Edwards (find it on Bookshop)

Julie Andrews, it is safe to say, is very cool. She told us that the hills were alive in The Sound of Music. James Garner was attracted to her in Victor/Victoria (even when he thought she was a man). More recently, Andrews has held her own next to the Plaza’s favorite resident in Eloise at the Plaza and Eloise at Christmastime. Oh, and she was Mary Poppins (and Millie) before Mary Poppins (and Thoroughly Modern Millie) got all trendy with Broadway show(s).

In between all of her amazing film credits, Julie Andrews wrote a book under her pen name Julie Andrews Edwards in 1974 called The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles. I have been meaning to read it for close to a decade, but things always got in the way. After starting the book (again) last month I made a promise that I would finish it this time even if it killed me. Clearly, I lived to tell the tale.

The story starts when Ben, Tom and Lindy Potter are sent to the zoo by their parents. Initially resistant to the idea, the trip proves quite enjoyable. When the children begin to discuss truly unusual animals, a stranger butts in with a straightforward question: “If you’re looking for something really unusual, have you considered a Whangdoodle?”

The Potter children, of course, have not. Tom goes as far as to say that the Whangdoodle could not possible exist. This assertion is thrown into question when a dictionary provides a rather accurate definition of the word. The Potter’s initial interest turns into an alliance with their new friend Professor Savant to try to reach Whangdoodleland and meet the fanciful creature for themselves.

The road to Whangdoodleland is not straightforward. Along the way the children have much to learn, including relearning the very ways in which they look at the world. The journey is filled with wondrous creatures both friendly and dangerous, but the children are now committed to finishing the journey one way or another regardless of the challenges thrown in their path. When the quest reaches its final climax none of the characters’ lives will ever be the same.

I liked this book, but not really as much as I had hoped. As I mentioned it took me a long time to actually start the book and, once it was started, it took a long time for me to finish it. Unfortunately, I think part of that has to do with my coming to this book at the age of 22 when I was unwilling to accept certain aspects of the story. (The feminist in me made it very difficult to appreciate parts of the end of the story.)

At the same time, the book was originally written in 1974. The text is not dated in the usual way, with references to old technology, rather it all feels very different from a 2008 novel. The children befriend a strange man in the zoo. All of the Potters seem younger and more innocent than I would have expected (from children of the same age in the present). I was able to get more into the story once I accepted those things, but it also made me sad because I started to think about what I had lost and, also, what our culture had lost in terms of faith and trust. I wish I had been able to read the book without so many questions and doubts because I do want to see things the way the Potters and Professor Savant do–I’m just not sure that way of thinking is always possible in the twenty-first century.