The winner of FMK # 1! Alas, I did not fall madly in love with it, but I did enjoy it. FMK is definitely off to a good start, because God knows how long that book has languished unread on my shelves. I'm pretty sure at least five years and possibly ten. But I'm very glad I finally got to it.

Twelve-year-old Lucy returns to the small English village of Hagworthy, which she hasn’t visited since she was seven. There she stays with her aunt, reconnects with some childhood friends and finds that both she and they have changed, and looks on in growing alarm as the well-meaning but ignorant new vicar resurrects the ancient tradition of the Horn Dance, which is connected to the Wild Hunt.

The premise plus the opening sentences probably tell you everything you need to know about the book:

The train had stopped in a cutting, so steep that Lucy, staring through the window, could see the grassy slopes beyond captured in intense detail only a yard or two away: flowers, insects, patches of vivid red earth. She became intimate with this miniature landscape, alone with it in a sudden silence, and then the train jolted, oozed steam from somewhere beneath, and moved on between shoulders of Somerset hillside.

This is one of my favorite genres which sadly does not seem to exist any more, the subset of British children’s fantasy, usually set in small towns or villages, which focuses on atmosphere, beautiful prose, and capturing delicate moments in time. Character is secondary, plot is tertiary, and there may be very little action (though some have a lot); the magical aspects are often connected to folklore or ancient traditions, and may be subtle or questionable until the end.

You can see all those elements in those two sentences I quoted; the entire subgenre consists of inviting the reader to become intimate with minature landscapes.

This is obviously subjective and debatable, but I think of Alan Garner, Susan Cooper (especially Greenwitch), and Robert Westall as writers with books in this subgenre, but not Diana Wynne Jones. The settings are the sort parodied in Cold Comfort Farm. Hagworthy is full of darkly muttering villagers who kept making me think, “Beware, Robert Poste’s child!”

In The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy, Lucy’s parents are divorced, and her mother is now living in another country with a baby brother Lucy has never met. This is mentioned maybe two or three times, very briefly, which is interesting because so many books would make a much bigger deal of it. Lucy returns to Hagworthy for a vacation with her aunt, a botanist.

Of her childhood friends, the two girls have become horse-mad and have nothing in common with Lucy. The boy, Kester, is now a moody misfit teenager, and Lucy, who is also a bit of a moody misfit, becomes friends with him all over again. They wander around the countryside, fossil-hunting and stag-watching, periodically getting in fights over Kester’s refusal to discuss the thing hanging over the story, which is the new vicar’s revival of the Horn Dance to fundraise at a fete. This is very obviously going to awaken the Wild Hunt, and Kester has clearly been mystically targeted as its victim. Though there is a ton of dark muttering about what a bad idea this is, no one does anything about this until nearly the end, when Lucy finally makes first a misfired attempt to stop the Horn Dance, then a successful one to save Kester.

The atmosphere and prose is lovely, and if you like that sort of thing, you will like this book. Even for a book that isn’t really about the plot, the plot had problems. One was the total failure of any adult to even try to do anything sensible ever, for absolutely no reason, until Lucy finally manages to ask the right person the right question. This could have been explained as some magical thing preventing them from acting, but it wasn’t.

The other problem I had was that nothing unpredictable ever happens. Everyone is exactly what they seem: the blacksmith has mystical knowledge, the vicar is an innocent in over his head, the horse-mad girls have nothing in their heads but horses, and so forth. I kept expecting something to be slightly less obvious—for the vicar to know exactly what he’s doing and have a nefarious purpose, for the horse-mad girls to not be as dumb as they seem or to have their horsey skills play a role in saving Kester, for Lucy’s aunt to know more about magic than the blacksmith, etc—but no.

I looked up Penelope Lively. It looks like her famous book is Ghost of Thomas Kempe, which I think I also own.

There’s an album of music based on the book which you can listen to online. It’s by the Heartwood Institute, and is instrumental and atmospheric.

The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy
movingfinger: (Default)

From: [personal profile] movingfinger

This sounds like what happens when fantasy is written by a non-fantasist.
movingfinger: (Default)

From: [personal profile] movingfinger

But so flat! At the very least, the horse-mad girls should get to ride with the Hunt.
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio

oh no, now I want to write a book about a horse-crazy teenage girl who runs off to join the Wild Hunt and/or gets recruited somehow. HALP.
staranise: A star anise floating in a cup of mint tea (Default)

From: [personal profile] staranise

To shamelessly steal from quite another genre:

The Queen of Elfland's Virgin Stable Girl
mrissa: (Default)

From: [personal profile] mrissa

This train: I am on board it and waiting impatiently in my seat munching my snack that I have thoughtfully brought along.
dhampyresa: (Default)

From: [personal profile] dhampyresa

Sounds like the kind of book that would inspire great music! (Fyi your link is broken.)

I'm a bit sad that it's so obvious-about-everything, though, otherwise it sounded like the sort of thing I like to read.
ironed_orchid: pin up girl reading kant (Default)

From: [personal profile] ironed_orchid

Interesting that I liked all the authors you list as typical of this genre very much when I was a child, ut subsequent readings have been enjoyable but not super engaging. Whereas now I love Diana Wynne Jones more than ever.
staranise: A star anise floating in a cup of mint tea (Default)

From: [personal profile] staranise

Oooh, this sounds a bit intriguing.
ranalore: (dbsk boys books)

From: [personal profile] ranalore

Oh, that is disappointing, because the premise sounds like exactly the perfect vehicle for the unpredictable and numinous. What's the point of a Wild Hunt book where everything is by the numbers?

From: [identity profile]

It's not Lively's best book for children, for sure. Here is my personal list, in order:

The House in Norham Gardens. This is the most sophisticated and my favourite, although not as purely successful as the more comic The Ghost of Thomas Kempe. A Stitch in Time is also very good, and in some ways a surprising satire on the genre of which it is an example. I also have a soft spot for The Whispering Knights, although its flaws are obvious. The Revenge of Samuel Stokes is fun but a tad too much of a Thomas Kempe retread. Then we're down to The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy, Astercote (her first and it shows) and The Driftway - which is an interesting but unsuccessful experiment. I could barely finish The Voyage of QV6, an animal fantasy in a genre not to my taste. Finally there's Going Back which, although originally published for children, is (unlike the rest) not a fantasy, so I don't count it here.

As for other writers, I think you're right that DWJ more usually wrote in the next genre over, though I wrote a long book pointing out some of the correspondences and connections between her, Cooper, Lively and Garner. More in the same tradition would be William Mayne, Penelope Farmer, John Gordon and Jenny Nimmo; or (if you want a contemporary writer) Catherine Fisher - though only in some of her books, and more generally the early ones. That said, you might enjoy her Darkhenge for a sophisticated book in much the same vein.

From: [identity profile]

Thank you! "A satire of the genre" sounds fun - do you mean timeslip?

William Mayne is one of the first people who came to my mind, but...

I never even heard of John Gordon. Do you have recs?

From: [identity profile]

Yes, timeslip and the wider genre. It's possible to read the heroine as a kind of Catherine Morland figure, who expects things to work out as they would in a conventional timeslip novel, only for more mundane explanations to intervene.

Yes, of course I understand your hesitation about Mayne - but neither he nor his estate will benefit from reading Earthfasts, all his work having gone out of print around the time of his conviction and only second-hand copies being available. (By contrast, I'll never watch a Polanski film, because the bastard will still get royalties.)

The best known Gordon is his first - and it's a good place to start: The Giant under the Snow.

By the way, there's a whole parallel television genre, which you might be interested in, which also flourished in the 60s and 70s. I particularly recommend Children of the Stones, set in Milbury (aka Avebury).

From: [identity profile]

Oh, wow, I had no idea there was a TV equivalent! Thank you!

I actually feel the same way about Mayne - his prose is extraordinary and I read a bunch of his books either before he got charged or before I heard about it - so my hesitation was more that I didn't want mention of him to derail all discussion into "Is it OK to read books by terrible people?"

From: [identity profile]

I recollect reading something of hers years ago, which I enjoyed. But I subsequently never saw anything more of hers at the library.

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