What book is this? English kids discover fairies in the wood...
July 8, 2007 7:44 PM   Subscribe

Childhood Book: Please help me figure out what book this is from decades ago. An English boy (and maybe a girl) discover a hidden fairy society living in woods near relative's house on holiday. They befriend a fairy and get involved in the internal fairy struggles. Long train ride featured. Book may be older, from 1950s?

It's possible that the train ride is the Evacuation of London, but this is not a Narnia book. The fairy society is not a magical land like Oz, but rather a colony on or near the relative's property. The fairies are wee folk, and become close to the kids. The book portrays the world as contemporary, but it takes place sometime around the 1930s-1950s, maybe WWII. So period costume, tech, language, trains, etc.

The book is a novel, not a picture book.

(This one has been driving me buggy for years, so thanks in advance for your help!)
posted by ScarletPumpernickel to Writing & Language (57 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Can you remember any details about it? Names, situations etc? There's a lot of this sort of 'Magical Faraway Tree' stuff out there.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 7:59 PM on July 8, 2007

My first guess without details would be Magic Faraway Tree too...
posted by teststrip at 8:17 PM on July 8, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the prompt responses. I looked at Magic Faraway Tree, and this is definitely NOT it.

Details: (First a caveat -- I've already posted the things I'm sure about, so all other details are foggy childhood fragments.)

I recall it being dark and mysterious more than sunny and cute. The hardcover volume in the library had a black cloth cover with slender silver lettering like the logo for Nightmare Before Christmas.

That darn nighttime train ride sticks in my head. Maybe more than one train ride. I remember the kid carrying the fairy(ies) in a valise, hiding them from everyone. Maybe another train ride where the kid was lonely, heartbroken and alone.

I also have the blurry recollection of the fairy colony being mysterious, magical and secret.

Does that help?
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 8:58 PM on July 8, 2007

Any chance it's Elves and Fairies? (a once long lost book from my childhood that I went looking for a few years ago and found on the internet)
posted by freshgroundpepper at 8:59 PM on July 8, 2007

whoops, I missed you saying that it's a novel and not a picture book, so this probably isn't it. I'd still check out the loganberrybooks link I put there to see if they have it under something else. They have a ton of "lost" books that people tend to look for there.
posted by freshgroundpepper at 9:00 PM on July 8, 2007

Wild ass guess...
is it The Borrowers?
posted by NickPeters at 9:33 PM on July 8, 2007

Response by poster: Nope, not the Borrowers, but thanks for your help.

It is possible that it has the word "Magic" in the title, but I can't be sure.
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 10:07 PM on July 8, 2007

an E. Nesbit book? she wrote lots about that sort of stuff...
posted by aielen at 10:09 PM on July 8, 2007

Long shots but possibles:

Annabel and Bryony

The Cinematograph Train

Colin's Naughty Sister
posted by iconomy at 10:12 PM on July 8, 2007

Very familiar to me, too. I have an Edward Eager vibe, but I can't place it with any of his books.

Maybe The Magic City?
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:03 PM on July 8, 2007

My wife thinks it's Borrobil.
posted by beniamino at 11:24 PM on July 8, 2007

Response by poster: No joy yet, but thanks for some truly excellent suggestions.

wemayfreeze, Edward Eager is a great guess, but I couldn't find any of his books with fairies in them.

Don't think it's Borrobil, because the main fairy character was the good, sympathetic character who needed the kid's help.

There's no doubt in my mind that it's a book about the friendship between the lonely traveling kid(s) and the wee folk. It's definitely a story about fairies.

Dark and mysterious, kind of melancholy, IIRC.
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 12:06 AM on July 9, 2007

It's not John Masefield's "Box of Delights," is it?

I read that book when I was a child and loved it, although I don't remember much about it.

According to the internets, there was apparently a movie.

Or BBC miniseries. Whatever,
posted by dersins at 12:38 AM on July 9, 2007

Response by poster: Not Box of Delights, though it looks like a good book.

I think the key element is fairies. It's not about kids going into a fantasy world like Oz, it's about a fairy colony in the ordinary world, and they bring one or more fairies back home with them.


Thanks for so many good ideas. Please keep them coming!
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 6:19 AM on July 9, 2007

It sound a bit like Raymond E Feist's Fairie Tale, although I don't recall a train ride being part of the narrative.
posted by ahimsa at 8:08 AM on July 9, 2007

Gone-Away Lake? This is not a fairy story, but it has some of the elements you remember.
posted by Miko at 9:02 AM on July 9, 2007

Possbily one of the Green Knowe books?

(Actually, I doubt it, but I just wanted to, you know, represent if we're talking about all the genius British children's books published in the 1950s.... )
posted by jokeefe at 10:08 AM on July 9, 2007

Erm, "possibly". Sorry, sleep deprived today.
posted by jokeefe at 10:08 AM on July 9, 2007

Or... The Wierdstone of Brisingamen?
posted by jokeefe at 10:10 AM on July 9, 2007

So far I've googled variations of these keywords: novel/book/story, English/England/London, train, children, boy, fairy, fairies, colony, wood/woods/forest, holiday, valise/suitcase.

Can you remember any other details, like someone's name? And are you sure the fairies are called fairies, and not faeries or sprites or pixies or something else?
posted by iconomy at 10:39 AM on July 9, 2007

Response by poster: Still no joy, but WOW, what great suggestions. Who knew how many variations there were on these motifs?

ahimsa, Faerie Tale is too current, my book was set somewhere in the 1930s-1950s England, I think.
Gone-Away Lake doesn't have fairies. The wee folk are the central element in the story I'm seeking.
Not one of the Green Knowe books, either, but thanks for representin', it just went on my reading list.
Not Wierdstone, either -- no grown-up wizard figure.

My memory of the book is a tale of the secret adventures of childhood. So the kid(s) find the fairy colony, and it's a secret, and they bring a fairy(ies) home to visit, and it's a secret, too.

I also have a clear impression of it being mysterious and dark, taking place sometimes at night, as opposed to a happy, sunny lark of a kiddie book.

...and the train. A dark and lonely train ride at night. Maybe even in the rain.

Finally, as a wild-ass guess, the word "Magic" may be in the title. As a kid, I randomly pulled the book off a library shelf because it looked cool. Back then, I loved magic tricks. I distinctly remember being put off when I realized I was reading a book about fairies, because the title had nothing to do with them. Then the book dragged me in and I was lost to its spell...

Please search a bit more, thanks.
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 10:49 AM on July 9, 2007

Response by poster: iconomy, sorry I have so little to go on. The fairies could have been called any of those things, but I have a memory of fairy/faerie/wee folk/fair folk. Of course, this could be contaminated by other books, folklore, time, etc.

I do specifically recall that they were little folk, like the size of a sparrow, and the kid(s) carried one or more in their valise. I also remember the colony in the wood was a small, isolated place, inhabited by tiny folk.
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 10:55 AM on July 9, 2007

It's probably not T. H. White's "Mistress Masham's Repose", (another of my all-time childhood favorites...) but that did feature an English girl becoming embroiled in the internal politics of wee people.

They weren't fairies, though.

posted by dersins at 11:44 AM on July 9, 2007

Oh! Could it be Mistress Masham's Repose by T. H. White?
posted by tangerine at 12:05 PM on July 9, 2007

Should have previewed. Sorry.
posted by tangerine at 12:07 PM on July 9, 2007

ScarletPumpernickel, come back! Is it the book dersins and tangerine mentioned? I need closure ;)
posted by iconomy at 12:08 PM on July 10, 2007

Response by poster: Sorry, iconomy, I thought I responded, but I failed to post the preview.

No joy. It's not Mistress Masham's Repose.

The book is definitely about fairies/pixies/magical wee folk, living in a colony in the woods. There are no grown ups involved in the fairy secret AFAICR, and one or more lonely train rides figure prominently in the story.

A fairy is intentionally and agreeably transported in a small suitcase or valise. The kid(s) get involved in the political struggles within the fairy society, helping one or more sympathetic outcasts.

The tone of the book is mysterious, secret and takes place at night. It's not creepy, but it is about childhood secrets.

The book could have the word "Magic" in the title.

Probably written in the 1950s, set between the 1930s-1950s.

I appreciate your efforts, and plead for more. This has been bugging me for years. I joined the blue just to ask this question on the green!

More suggestions, please!
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 3:08 PM on July 10, 2007

I'm going to google the hell outta this when I come back later tonight...it's driving me crazy.
posted by iconomy at 3:35 PM on July 10, 2007

E. Nesbit's Five Children and It?

(full text here.)
posted by dersins at 4:30 PM on July 10, 2007

Response by poster: No, dersins, I'm afraid it isn't Five Children and It. I don't think it's a Nesbit at all, as she tends to write cheery, cute kidlit, and this book was mysterious and filled with secrets.

Also, it was an entire colony of fairies, with one or more outcasts being befriended by the kid(s)

Thanks for the suggestion, though.
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 4:55 PM on July 10, 2007

I've had an email from a lurker who's dying to contribute:
Hi... I am a lurker. You have contact information. I have an idea about the askme question about the child's book set in england in the 1930s-50s. It's killing me not to be able to answer, but I don't have a Paypal account!

Would you be willing to post "over sea, under stone" by susan cooper as a possibility for an answer? It may be a long shot, as it doesn't exactly have to do with fairies. It's a King Arthur plot. Otherwise, the tone, etc. is a perfect match.
posted by jokeefe at 8:15 PM on July 10, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you, jokeefe, for the lurker's suggestion. However, it is definitely NOT Over Sea, Under Stone from The Dark Is Rising, as I recently read these books for the first time.

Not a fairy kingdom in the book, either.

To the lurker's credit, it DOES have that mysterious tone, but the book I'm looking for doesn't have a feeling of lingering evil. (It's like trying to describe a particular blend of coffee, isn't it?)

My book about the fairy colony discovered in the woods has a mysterious/secret/wonder quality not unlike The Secret Garden or Indian in the Cupboard.

P.S. to the lurker -- I don't have a PayPal account, either. Just use a credit card.
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 11:06 PM on July 10, 2007

Lurker here! Thanks for the heads up about how to make an account easily. I've been stalking the site for about a year, but had always been too lazy to figure out Paypal.

I knew shortly after going back and reading more thoroughly that the Dark is Rising series probably wasn't what you were looking for. But I'd already emailed jokeefe. Who had already posted here for me.

I'll keep thinking...
posted by Stewriffic at 4:35 AM on July 11, 2007

Hi Stewriffic, welcome ;)

I think the book is predominantly about the fairies (or whatever they are) and the story pretty much revolves around them. Is that right, SP?

I have no idea why I'm obsessed with this book, having probably spent at least 3 hours of my life googling for it so far.... !
posted by iconomy at 5:54 AM on July 11, 2007

Response by poster: Welcome Stewriffic, glad to be of help.

iconomy, yes --

To my dim and time-addled recollection, the book centers on the relationship between the human kid(s) and the wee magical person(s) they meet.

The lonely train ride is very clear in my mind, as is transporting the fairy/pixie/wee folk in a valise or suitcase to keep them secret from other passengers.

Thanks, iconomy, for joining in my obsession.
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 6:34 AM on July 11, 2007

Argh. This is so frustrating. I just don't think I could ever find it without knowing for sure if the tinies are fairies or lilliputians or sprites or pixies or wee folk something else. There's just too much disparity and too many things to google. I sure do have a much larger list of books I want to read now though... ;)

Good luck finding your book!
posted by iconomy at 12:52 PM on July 11, 2007

Response by poster: iconomy, thanks for trying. I'm sure that the wee creatures were magical. I have a clear recollection of reading the scene where they discovered the fairy colony and thinking, "hey, no fair! The title didn't say anything about fairies! I don't want to read a fairy story!"

So I'm thinking they were fairies, although the author may have called them faeries, pixies, fair folk or summat.
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 4:02 PM on July 11, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the effort.

Does anyone have any other ideas about the book, or suggestions on where I should research on the web?

I've Googled myself out, and I've posted it on BookStumpers as mentioned above.

Thanks in advance...
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 3:06 PM on July 13, 2007

I wonder if it could be something by BB (Denys Watkins-Pitchford). The time period fits, there's a train in one of the books (The Forest of Boland Light Railway) and I remember them as fairly melancholy, if not dark. This website gives some details of his books. They're mostly about gnomes rather than fairies, except (it seems - haven't read this one) BB's Fairy Book: Meeting Hill, which does also have a human boy and girl.
posted by paduasoy at 9:14 AM on July 15, 2007

Response by poster: Doesn't seem to be a BB book.

Any other ideas? Thanks!
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 7:49 PM on July 25, 2007

I'm still looking for this, believe it or not. I try not to but it keeps popping into my mind and I google it for yet another half hour...
posted by iconomy at 12:07 PM on July 26, 2007

Based on this thread and your memory, could you compile a list of all the books and authors that it's not? It would help.
posted by iconomy at 7:42 PM on July 26, 2007

Response by poster: Books suggested in this thread that are NOT the book I'm looking for:

Magic Faraway Tree
Elves and Fairies
The Borrowers
E. Nesbit book
Annabel and Bryony
The Cinematograph Train
Colin's Naughty Sister
Edward Eager book
The Magic City
Box of Delights
Fairie Tale
Gone-Away Lake
Green Knowe books
The Wierdstone of Brisingamen
Mistress Masham's Repose
Five Children and It
Over Sea, Under Stone
BB (Denys Watkins-Pitchford)books
The Forest of Boland Light Railway
Fairy Book: Meeting Hill

Key elements:

English kid(s) find tiny fairy village in the wood, befriend one or more outcast fairies, bring them back in a satchel, ride a train at night maybe in the rain. Main story centers on kid's relationship with main wee character, and the politics of the fairy kingdom.

Probably from the 1950s. Set in 1930s or 1940s.

Thanks for taking another shot at it!
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 7:47 AM on July 27, 2007

Thanks! This is my life's quest... ;P
posted by iconomy at 8:33 AM on July 27, 2007

Oh and I saw your q at Loganberry, and saw that someone suggested it might be Mistree Masham's Repose....argh!
posted by iconomy at 8:34 AM on July 27, 2007

The Lastborn of Elvinwood sounds a little promising, although probably not in your time period, but I couldn't tell by the descriptions.

And you *have* to register at this fairy novel board and ask! Lots of the people posting there are authors of books about fairies themselves, and seem to know a hella lot about the classic books about fairies. Please post here if you ask there, I would love to read the comments.
posted by iconomy at 5:28 PM on July 27, 2007

Another longshot from another post at Loganberry:

Leprechaun on a ship with two siblings (stow away on return from Ireland?) He speaks in a code. The book would have been published by 1974 or so. I think it had the word "Magic" in the title. I think it opened with two siblings on a ship? returning from a family trip to Ireland? and finding a little man? leprechaun? who has stowed away/accidentally gotten packed in their luggage? I don't remember anything about the plot, but the key detail that sticks with me is that the little man writes letters that sound like advertisements and dry announcements of boring information, but if you count every ten? words, you can figure out the hidden message.

I am not sure about the secret language part, but Ruth Sawyer's Enchanted Schoolhouse has to do with an Irish lad bringing a leprechaun to America! Might be worth a look!

I can't identify the book but was wondering if it might be one of Patricia Lynch's many books possibly one of her Brogeen books.

L99 I think this one may MAGIC TO BURN by Jean Fritz, 1964. It is technically a boggart that stows away with them on the ship, but I remember thinking that the illustrations or description made him sound like a leprechaun. I don't remember him speaking in code, but that doesn't mean he didn't. I think he travels with them because the woods are being torn down to make a road. He comes to America and is really freaked out. Magic happens when he smokes his pipe. I think it ends with the boggart knowing some important information or having an important document of a famous author, which helps the children's father who is a historian/professor/writer? ~from a librarian
L99 Fritz, Jean Magic to burn illus by Beth and Jo Krush Coward, 1964. Irish boggart [like a leprechaun] goes to America - secret code - every 10th word gives the message
posted by iconomy at 1:21 PM on July 28, 2007

Response by poster: iconomy, you outdo yourself. I've joined and posted at the fairy novel board here, and came up with another possibly unreliable clue.

When thinking about the book today, I recall that the fairies may be involved in a Romeo & Juliet-type forbidden romance, which may account for the turmoil and politics in the fairy society. Can't be 100% sure about that, but it's a strong enough memory that I thought I'd mention it.

I am very sure that my fairy book was about fairies, because of my clear recollection of being disgusted that it was a "fairy story" even though the title didn't mention fairies. I also clearly remember the magical impression that the secret fairy kingdom in the back garden/woods/whatever left on me.

MAGIC TO BURN sounds very familiar. I may have read it, too, and may be mixing elements in my leaky memory.

But my fairy book was black, not green, and it was about fairies, not boggarts, leprechauns, liliputians or others.

Your valiant efforts are certainly appreciated.

posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 11:45 PM on July 28, 2007

Good luck - I hope someone there can answer it for you!

Does this sound at all familiar?

The Shadowy Man.
By O'FAOLAIN, Eileen. Illustrated by Phoebe Llewellyn Smith.
Pub 1949.

In the secret fairy kingdoms of Iverleary and Muskerry live two children. Maura Beag and her brother Peadar Joe. They lose their fairy foal and search for him throughout the countryside and in the fairy realm, and meet plenty of friends along the way.
posted by iconomy at 7:13 PM on July 29, 2007

Two more that are sorta kinda promising (both originally written in the 1950s, so don't be fooled by the covers):

Hobberdy Dick

The Land of Unreason

posted by iconomy at 7:42 PM on July 29, 2007

I have a few questions for you, ScarletPumpernickel.

Do you remember if this was written by a man or a woman?

Why do you think the train out of London may have been the Evacuation?

Are you absolutely sure that this story is a novel unto itself and not part of an anthology or collection?

You just recently mentioned that the fairy in the suitcase may have been an outcast, but you never mentioned that before. Was it banished from the fairy realm?

You've mentioned the technology of the day a few times. What kinds of technology, besides a train, can you recall?
posted by iconomy at 5:42 PM on July 30, 2007

Response by poster: Some answers for you, iconomy.

I don't remember a thing about the author.

I think the train ride might be the Evacuation because IIRC, no parents go with, it's a sad train ride, and it winds up in the country. But it might not be, as well.

Absolutely sure it's a novel. Also that it's about fairies.

Don't remember if the fairy was banished (maybe?) just remember it being the outsider who befriended them.

I don't recall specific technology, just the overall sense of another era.

Hope that helps.
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 6:33 AM on July 31, 2007

Response by poster: UPDATE:

A friend has located a ragged copy of MAGIC TO BURN, and bought it for me. She had the shop send it to me directly, so she didn't read it herself.

I will know in a week or so whether it is the book in question. I do not think it is, because there is no fairy village, and no fairies by name. But I do suspect that I did read this book as a kid.

I'll let you know...
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 11:29 PM on August 1, 2007

Cool. Did you see the three books I mentioned up above my last comment - The Shadowy Man, Hobberdy Dick, and The Land of Unreason? Have I made enough comments to this thread yet?

Oh another question! Is this a children's book? I mean, targeted at young children, or older children, or teenagers, or...? And how old were you when you read it?
posted by iconomy at 6:34 AM on August 2, 2007

Response by poster: Of the three, The Shadowy Man seems like it might have a chance, simply because it has kids and fairies.

Hobberdy Dick is set in Puritan times -- I remember a train.
Land of Unreason has an adult protagonist -- my book is about the kid(s).

It's a children's book, sort of like The Hobbit or Island of the Blue Dolphins. I read it in my elementary school library. (BTW, I visited my old elementary school years ago to find the book, and it had been lost/stolen. Couldn't find the title, just an empty spot on the shelf.)
posted by ScarletPumpernickel at 7:33 AM on August 2, 2007

I just wanted to post again in the post that finally got me to sign up. Ah, the memories!
posted by Stewriffic at 2:15 PM on April 5, 2008

(the thread came up just now when I hit "random" and so I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I wish you had found the book...)
posted by Stewriffic at 2:16 PM on April 5, 2008

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