Note: Prompted by Goodreads, I am reposting some archival reviews I did ages ago while working at the Jim Henson Company, many of them for a series of proposed children's fantasy TV movies which never actually happened. Alas.

BB is the pen-name of Denys Watkins-Pitchford (1905-1990), based, according to Goodreads, on the lead shot he used on geese. He wrote a whole bunch of nonfiction about the English countryside, which I am certain I would adore. Unfortunately, it's all out of print and expensive.

The Little Grey Men

The last gnomes in Britain, three tiny brothers, decide to go looking for their missing brother Cloudberry, who sailed up the river two years ago and never returned.

This book ought to be on the same list of British countryside classics as Watership Down and The Wind In The Willows, which it somewhat resembles. (Down to a mystical drop-in by Pan.) It was a favorite of mine as a child, and it holds up when I read it as an adult. “BB” balances sweetness with the harsh realities both of nature and of encroaching civilization to create a book that is enchanting but unsentimental.

While there is enough adventure, danger, and charming tiny details like the gnomes’ name for rabbits (Bub’ms) or the delicious-sounding meals the gnomes create from smoked minnows, blackberries, and peppermint creams to delight the child that I was, I found myself now responding most to the sad and lovely evocation of the vanishing English countryside, and of time passing by. In 1942, according to the author, there were only four gnomes left in Britain; now, one supposes, there are none.

(When I posted this on Usenet's rasfw about a million years ago, Jo Walton replied on Usenet's rasfw with a great little monograph on the endangered gnomes of Britain, who did indeed survive into the present day.)

Little Grey Men

BB also wrote a sequel, Down the Bright Stream

Bizarre sequel to the lovely Little Grey Men.

After the gnomes spend the entire first book seeking their missing brother Cloudberry, and finally find him in a moving scene at the end, in this book Cloudberry...

...turns out to be evil, tries to murder them for no particular reason, and gets eaten by a snake. The other gnomes - HIS BROTHERS WHO SPENT THE WHOLE LAST BOOK LOOKING FOR HIM - notice that he vanished without a trace, and don't much care.

This book reminded me of the hilarious scene in What Katy Did Next in which Katy got so bored with telling stories to Amy about a sickly-sweet pair of siblings that she told one in which they were crushed by an avalanche and not found until the snow melted in the spring.

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