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Bittercon: "Forgotten Treasures"

What I think of as the "Harry Potter Effect" - a renewed interest in YA or children's fantasy - has resulted in the welcome recent republication of authors who had been well-known in certain circles, like DWJ, or well-known from the past, like Edward Eager. It has also seen the reprinting of some rather more obscure but equally deserving works, like A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond or Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Perilous Gard. I've been thinking for a while of beginning a series of posts on old forgotten treasures from my own collection - not necessarily SF or fantasy, but books I loved that I wondered if anyone else had heard of, that I think deserve a bigger audience and potential reprinting. So, I thought I'd launch that series here, and invite others on my flist or from the bigger bittercon community, to link comments to posts about their own forgotten but deserving treasures.

My first oldy but goody is Ellen Kindt McKenzie's
Drujienna's Harp, which begins on a day in an unnamed city in what seems to be our world - indeed I've always assumed it was San Franciso. It is uncharacteristically hot, and the sky is a strange translucent pink. Tha and her brother Duncan visit a curio shop and pick up a bottle that the shop-owner warns them has a curse on it. They are instantly transported to another world.

Of relevance to one of sartorias's panel topics on world building, this is one of the most distinct and well developed worlds I remember encountering in children's fantasy. It has almost a quality of the surreal, with its pink sky, killing winds, geographic areas spreading out in concentric circles from a mysterious and deadly mound in the center. It is also unusual in children's fantasy for its bleak picture of political totalitarianism. The inhabitants are kept in a kind of controlled state of unknowing; asking too many questions is punishable by imprisonment or death. Yet there are mysterious Histories and a Prophecy, suppressed but not forgotten, that hint of "two" who will come and put the world right - or destroy it. This book deals with many extremely serious and important themes: ignorance, real or feigned, the importance not so much of physical courage but of moral convictions. Tha is a strong and believable heroine and there is a cast of well-drawn supporting characters, from the morose Eshone and even more grim Acheron to the delightful "Know-nothing" Zacapoos.

Like Victoria Walker's equally obscure but not entirely forgotten work, The Winter of Enchantment, this fascinating novel is now listed on ABE with absurdly high prices. I used to borrow it time and again from the library, and managed to snag a copy a few years ago at a less than astronomical price, and I treasure it. Just writing about it now makes me think I should reread it again - I suspect it will not have lost its magic.

So now it's your turn! How many of you have read any of the books I mention, especially this one? What are your own forgotten treasures? And don't forget to write a review of your favourite and link it here.

Comments

( 103 comments — Leave a comment )
gillo
Nov. 4th, 2007 05:37 pm (UTC)
This sounds intriguing but is totally new to me.

One I adored when I borrowed it repeatedly from the library as a child was "Merlin's Magic" by Helen Clare (aka Pauline Clarke of "The Twelve and the Genii" fame). It was based on the intriguing idea that a number of gold tokens were spread through time and literary space and a group of children had to recover them. The one that sticks most in my mind is the boy who had to go to Xanadu and recover a token from Kubilai Khan and then escape via Alph the sacred river through the sunless sea. Long before I knew the poem the imagery had a powerful impact on me. I've not been able to find it on Abe even!

intertext
Nov. 4th, 2007 05:41 pm (UTC)
Wow - that sounds interesting, and is - I think - new to me, though the title rings a faint bell. I know Pauline Clarke, but had no idea she wrote under another name!
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weatherglass
Nov. 4th, 2007 05:52 pm (UTC)
I'm fond of Elizabeth Marie Pope's other YA book, The Sherwood Ring. It's not as good as The Perilous Gard, but it has a couple of really marvellous scenes. And I'm a sucker for anything set during the American colonial period.

But the childhood favorite I'd most like to see reprinted is Palmer Brown's Beyond the Pawpaw Trees, about a girl who is sent off to visit an aunt who lives on a mirage in the desert. It has tiny, intricate, tasselly pen and ink illustrations, and bits of odd poetry and songs. It's another one that's unobtainable except at exorbitant prices online.
intertext
Nov. 4th, 2007 05:55 pm (UTC)
I think I actually own a copy of that book... somewhere. I believe the "tiny, intricate, tasselly pen and ink illustrations" are by Edward Gorey, which may help account for its exorbitant online prices.

I always loved The Sherwood Ring! It's delightful. I agree that it's not quite as good as The Perilous Gard, but is one of my "old favourite comfort reading" selections :)
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curtana
Nov. 4th, 2007 05:55 pm (UTC)
I don't know if this book is forgotten, per se, since it's still in print and available on Amazon, but I loved The Owlstone Crown by X. J. Kennedy when I was a kid. It's also got some quite dark sections, as I recall - one that vividly stood out in my mind was when the two child protagonists are starving and encounter a group of ?peasants who give them a tomato to eat, and they devour it as if it were an apple. I think I was particularly moved/horrified by that because I hated tomatoes so much when I was a kid ;) But anyway! It also has a character named Fardels Bear (har dee har har - I didn't get the joke until much later, of course) and creepy stone owls for the bad guy's army. I believe there's also a sequel, but I don't remember much about it.

I'm also glad that the Harry Potter effect has meant that Joan Aiken's books have nearly all been reissued :)
intertext
Nov. 4th, 2007 05:58 pm (UTC)
Yes, I think I've read that, once anyway. I remember being creeped by the owls... And I agree about Joan Aiken's books. Have her short story collections been reissued, too? I always thought those were even better than her novels.
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curtana
Nov. 4th, 2007 05:58 pm (UTC)
Oh, and I meant to say, I loved Edward Eager's books when I was younger. They remind me a little bit of Lucy Boston's Green Knowe series, another set of favorites (those, I've purchased in adulthood - again, they've been nicely reissued in the past few years.)
gillo
Nov. 4th, 2007 06:11 pm (UTC)
I adored Eager too - especially because he was so respectful about Nesbit. It's surprising that some of her books are not in print either!
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sartorias
Nov. 4th, 2007 06:11 pm (UTC)
I have to go on a 200 mile round trip slog (that means 123,675,674 miles because of LA traffic) so I don't get to play on the Internet for a while, but mine would be Mary Chase's Loretta Mason Potts. Mary Chase had an interesting career, and I wish she were more well known today--except for the giant rabbit story, her stuff is impossible to find.

This story doesn't have great worldbuilding, what it has is fascinating character, especially on the kids-eye view. Through the closet to a secret world, where kids can pretend at being adults , . . . oh, it's just a wonderful story. I used to check it out over and over again from the library, from age nine on, until their copy wore out and they did not replace it.

I found a used copy only with difficulty, some time back.
intertext
Nov. 4th, 2007 06:30 pm (UTC)
I remember you posting about that book once before - and I had read The Wicked Pigeon Ladies in the Garden but not that one. From the comments on Amazon, it looks as if it will be hard to find.
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therck
Nov. 4th, 2007 06:13 pm (UTC)
I'm thrilled to encounter someone else who read and loved Drujienna's Harp. I read and re-read the copy in my elementary school library and even told the story to my younger sister in fragments as part of our night time not yet ready to sleep but required to have the lights out ritual. I wonder if she remembers it...?

My contribution here is Sheila Moon's trilogy, Knee Deep In Thunder, Hunt Down the Prize and Deepest Roots. They're technically in print, but they're not easy to find. My elementary school library only had Hunt Down the Prize. I read it repeatedly before discovering Knee Deep in Thunder at the public library. (Deepest Roots didn't come out until nearly ten years later.)
intertext
Nov. 4th, 2007 06:19 pm (UTC)
Oh my. Knee Deep in Thunder was one of my favourite, favourite books! And talk about obscure - surely you and I are among the only people who have ever heard of it?? I was bitterly disappointed in the sequel, though, and didn't actually know that there had been a third! I found that there was a change in tone, and some forgotten details - things that disconnected from one book to the next - that bothered me. "I shall stand knee deep in thunder, with my head against the sky" - the epigram - I used to chant to myself! Unless you want to post about it, I'll add Knee Deep to my list of forgotten books to write about in upcoming posts...
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asakiyume
Nov. 4th, 2007 06:39 pm (UTC)
Oh I ***Loved*** Drujienna's Harp! And you're the first person outside my family I've found to share that enthusiasm. When I went off to college, I copied the prophecy/song from that book into a book I kept of poems and (incongruously) recipes.

I loved the *places* in it; they were so vivid: The Shophosian mists, in particular, but also the cracked dry place--what was it called?--before they reached the ocean.

Yes, it was marvelous; completely unlike anything else I've ever read.

She's written some other books which are quite good too: Taash and the Jesters and then a prequel that I liked even more, called Kashka--they are more traditional fantasy stories, but they have the same **humaneness** to them--concern for people more than ideas.

intertext
Nov. 4th, 2007 06:44 pm (UTC)
I knew there was a good reason I friended you :) And, yes, I liked Taash and the Jesters a lot, too. I had no idea there was another one set in that world! (scurries off to ABE)
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asakiyume
Nov. 4th, 2007 06:47 pm (UTC)
Did you ever read one called The Broken Citadel, by Joyce Ballou Gregorian?

It was hugely long, and it lost steam (at least, so it seemed to me, as a young reader) near the end--or got confusing, or I got confused--but it was very, very vivid. I remember the heroine; I remember her scaring away bandits by grabbing a torch by its burning end, as if it didn't even hurt her--and then later having her hand healed by the tears of a phoenix-like bird.

I can't say it's a favorite of mine, but I remember it made an impression on me.
intertext
Nov. 4th, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC)
No - I've never heard of that one! It sounds rather good...
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asakiyume
Nov. 4th, 2007 06:59 pm (UTC)
And, as an afterthought (sorry to be spamming the page, but it's a great topic and I love what everyone is saying...), I've found that The Perilous Gard is a common thread connecting many, many of my story-oriented friends on LJ. I loved it, too--down to memorizing the illustrations in the hardback edition I read (they were by Richard Cuffari. He had a particular way of doing noses and mouths, and a particular pen-and-ink style that made his work instantly recognizable).

I wanted to get instruction on how to walk, just like Kate did.
intertext
Nov. 4th, 2007 10:04 pm (UTC)
Yes - isn't that interesting; I remember the Richar Cuffari illustrations, too. And yes - I agree with you that he's one of the most instantly recognizable illustrators. I liked his illustrations for Sylvia Louise Engdahl's The Far Side of Evil (another lesser known fave - I liked it better than Enchantress from the Stars)
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pixelfish
Nov. 4th, 2007 08:03 pm (UTC)
Fantasy books I loved as a youngster:

+ The Great Book Raid by Christopher Leach - A boy named Jim runs into a man who claims to be Long John Silver....and they call up book heroes from the past(Jason, Robin Hood, King Arthur, etc) to save Jim's farm in Cornwall. It was the sort of book that made me want to read the books it referenced.

+ The Dragon Circle (and the other Wynd family books) - a New England family practises wizardry and witchcraft. Each kid has particular talents and their father, a professor, teaches them. Well before the Harry Potter craze. The Dragon Circle is the first one I found but I think there are three or four books total with these characters.

+ The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye. This is a favourite from my childhood. (And along with Patricia Wrede's Dealing With Dragons and Vivian Vande Velde's A Hidden Magic, got me into the feisty princess trope. Amy, the ordinary princess, was probably the most old fashioned of the group though. )

intertext
Nov. 4th, 2007 10:08 pm (UTC)
I've never heard of either The Great Book Raid or The Dragon Circle! Both of them sound worth checking out. This is great - I'm getting all kinds of new book recommendations :)
ladyofastolat
Nov. 4th, 2007 08:20 pm (UTC)
Ooh, I love The Perilous Gard, which I read last year when on a Tam Lin novel binge. As coincidence would have it, The Sherwood Ring turned up from Amazon just yesterday. Based on that precedent, I'm noting down other recommendations from this thread.

I'm not sure counts as a forgotten book, but my favourite "ought to be a household name, but somehow isn't" book is Mistress Masham's Repose, by TH White. I find that even people who are huge fans of his Arthurian books have often never heard of it, and it was out of print over here for years, until reprinted by a specialist publisher dedicated to reprinting classics that should never have gone out of print.

I first read it when I was about ten. This was when I was busy falling passionately in love with D'Artagnan and Edward Beverley and the like, so this book was never a burning love affair with me, but I have always so deeply admired it. Rereading it now makes me feel warm and fuzzy and every time.
intertext
Nov. 4th, 2007 10:13 pm (UTC)
I loved Mistress Masham's Repose, and, interestingly enough, my friend lidocafe just bought it for her daughter because it's been reissued in a wonderful New York Times (? I think) series of classic children's books. Another in that series is another wonderful forgotten treasure: The Wind on the Moon, by Eric Linklater.

And speaking of Tam Lin - my still-favourite book on THAT topic is Catherine Storr's Thursday - another obscure but wonderful book.
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wordweaverlynn
Nov. 4th, 2007 09:46 pm (UTC)
A book that was old when I first read it in my early childhood: The Little Lame Prince. It may seem intolerably preachy and sentimental now, but I loved it, and love it.
intertext
Nov. 4th, 2007 10:17 pm (UTC)
Remind me - I know it's familiar, but I think I'm getting it confused with one by Oscar Wilde...
penmage
Nov. 4th, 2007 10:56 pm (UTC)
I've got two. One is The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw, in which Saaski, a changeling child, struggles to understand her nature as she grows up in a medieval Scottish village. It's gorgeous and heartbreaking, and speaks to anyone who has ever felt different.

The other is The Gammage Cup, by Carol Kendall. I loved this book as a kid; as an adult, it is not quite as brilliant as it used to be, but it is still a wonderful read. It's often silly, and sometimes preachy (about being yourself and the dangers of conformity) but mostly it's clever and fun and smart, and the ending still makes me cry, every single damn time I read it.
intertext
Nov. 5th, 2007 01:06 am (UTC)
Oh yes, both of those are great books. I agree that The Gammage Cup doesn't stand the test of time quite as well, but I love the Eric Blegvad illustrations :)
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elianarus
Nov. 5th, 2007 04:21 am (UTC)
part 1 - fantasy and semi-fantasy
I vigorously second the Nesbit, and the Gammage Cup, and Eager, LM Boston, Elizabeth Pope, and, oh my yes, Beyond the Pawpaw Trees (and its sequel!) - I loved them when I was young & it has been so much fun watching my kids discover them.

Less well-known favorites:

Eleanor Farjeon - Martin Pippin in the Daisy Field (and in the Apple Orchard) delighted me when I was small - and her Glass Slipper and Silver Curlew were the first modern fairy tale retellings I can remember reading.

Rumer Godden's doll stories - especially Miss Happiness & Miss Flower and its sequel Little Plum.

KM Briggs's Kate Crackernuts was a later discovery than the Farjeon, but equally loved.

I think Nancy Bond's best two books were Another Shore and Voyage Begun. I had to struggle to track these down (back in the years before ABE and Amazon marketplace made it somewhat easier).
AS is a YA time slip, and exquisitely well done. VB is set in a USnA post energy crisis and deals with messy, painful subjects with grace, integrity, and understatement.

Jane Langton's odd Diamond in the window (and, to a lesser extent its sequels) fascinated me (and one part in particular terrified me as a small child, I was astonished at how tame it was when I reread it as an adult!)

I think some of Elizabeth Goudge's books have been republished - I remember my mother getting Linnets and Valerians from a book company in England... the internet makes things much easier, doesn't it? Her adult books (and there are gazillions of them) remain out of print - there were a few which entranced me, and many others which left me cold... I think Castle on the Hill, and Rosemary Tree(Bush?) were hits, but I had them on ILL, and (foolishly) thought I'd remember the titles until I found copies!


Margaret Anderson lived for a time in the same city I did - I remember her kindness in inviting me over to her house, letting me stand on her kitchen table and recite Shakespeare speeches, and my autographed copies of her books are the only autographed copies I have ever valued.... not many authors are so welcoming to a ten (11?) year old - or so willing to spend an hour or two discussing their works with even an adult fan.. at least in the pre-internet days! Searching for Shona and Journey of the Shadow Bairins are fairly straight stories (and two of my favorites), but she has a number of more fantasy stories - In the Keep of Time and To Nowhere and Back.. and her slightly disturbing, and my favorite as a kid: Light in the Mountain

Margaret Storey has some very sweet younger kids' fantasy (Timothy and the Two Witches is the only one we've been able to find affordably so far) and some older kids' straight fiction: Pauline, Family Tree, and Wrong Gear (I think that is the right title), and a few delectable things for much younger kids (I need to have my sister hunt these down for me before her next trip over from the UK...)

Two of my husband's childhood favorites (which we diligently tracked down so our kids could enjoy them too): The Spaceship under the Apple Tree (and sequels) by Slobodkin and Eleanor Cameron's Mushroom planet series. Perhaps kids' sci-fi will be republished as they run out of fantasy titles to resurrect!

..Eliana
elianarus
Nov. 5th, 2007 04:23 am (UTC)
Re: part 2 - the rest
LJ is clearly not designed for posters such as myself - those who every now and again post ridiculously long spiels (usually disproportionate to the actual topic)...

Someday I might achieve moderation...

I wish there were a revival of kids' non-fantasy books as well...

I loved Hilda van Stockum's books - Winged Watchmen is such a simple, powerful book (WWII Holland); Andries is another simple story, but with small, personal challenges - no Nazis! She has a grouping set in Ireland and another in (I think) the US.


Ransome's Swallows & Amazons books are fabulous, imaginative as all get out, but only two aren't straight real-world stories (and those two were framed as stories created by the kids in the other books). Pigeon Post and Winter Holiday have always been favorites of mine...

For the much younger set: Francis Lattimore's books have always delighted me. Her Little Pear books are very special. I think they have either been or are about to be reissued (hurrah!)

I was even more excited that the Milly Molly Mandy stories (or at least selections) are readily available now... My mother did me an injustice in introducing me to so many British authors without making sure I had my own copies of all of them!

Although I devoured folk and fairy tales, myths and legends, and a very respectable assortment of sci-fi fantasy, my first love as a younger person was for historical fiction - I think because that is where I found the most vivid world building and characterization... whereas adult historical fiction rarely lives up to those standards.

I cannot, even in my wildest fantasies, imagine a kids' historical fiction book becoming an international best seller and inspiring publishers to reissue all the old treasures...

In no particular order, here are some titles/authors which came to mind:

Nobody's Garden

De Angeli's Thee Hannah and related books

Kate Seredy (especially Singing Tree)

Sally Watson (spunky heroines, rose-tinted history, engaging story lines - and vivid characters)

Cynthia Harnett (Caxton's Challenge is a family favorite)

Esther Hautzig (Endless Steppe haunted my dreams as a child - being a young Jewish girl living in relative comfort it resonated strongly)

Madeline Polland (Shattered Summer is bittersweet, and for an older audience than some of the others, Queen Without a Crown is probably her best known.. she has adult hist-fic as well, but it isn't nearly as *alive*.)

Hester Burton (Beyond Weir Bridge made a vivid, permanent impression.. and is the story which prompted me to track down this author and her books as an adult. Thank G-d for a mother who can take a tangled, muddled story description and point me to the right book! In spite of all terror was another very memorable one... I keep hoping I'll find more than the 6 or 8 books I've managed to collect...)

Margot Bernary-Isbert's The Ark (and Rowan Farm). Post WWII Germany... from the perspective a displaced German girl. First rate (RF is less well written, but worth it for the continuation of the story).


I will spare you all my even longer list of hard to impossible to find picture books...

Eliana



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frumiousb
Nov. 5th, 2007 05:51 am (UTC)
Interesting reading, all the comments. I don't have much in common with most of the books published here. Different regions? Different ages?

My own contender for forgotten-YA-fantasy-stuff-that-should-be-remembered is:

The Giant Under the Snow, by John Gordon. I found it really risk-taking, even re-reading it as an adult. I suspect that Gordon is not forgotten in the UK-- in the US, I ever found this one book. Nothing more.
weatherglass
Nov. 5th, 2007 06:36 am (UTC)
One I'd forgotten: Amy's Eyes, by Richard Kennedy. A deeply odd book, about pirates and nursery rhymes and dolls and scripture and orphans and treasure. I read it a few years ago for the first time since I was ten or eleven, and had almost the same reaction of baffled love that I had when I first read it.
roadnotes
Nov. 5th, 2007 12:29 pm (UTC)
I did not like the sequels as much when I was younger, but I like them much more now. The world gets more complicated, and people are less clear-cut.
intertext
Nov. 5th, 2007 05:31 pm (UTC)
hmm - I'll maybe have to try them again, if I can ever find a copy.
roadnotes
Nov. 5th, 2007 12:34 pm (UTC)
I'd add a number of Ruth M. Arthur's books, which are slanted towards 13-year-old girls, I would say: After Candlemas, The Autumn People, Requiem for a Princess, which all tend to have faint time-travel dantasy elements. And Eleanor Cameron's The Court of the Stone Children, which is probably one of my top five YA fantasy novels.
intertext
Nov. 5th, 2007 05:16 pm (UTC)
I very much loved Ruth M. Arthur when I was about 13. Requiem for a Princess was a particular favourite! I also really liked A Candle for her Room which was quite creepy.

The first really complete story I ever wrote was incredibly derivative of Requiem - not "fanfic" but the kind of thing young teenagers write when they've just read something else that they love - like Polly's riff on LOR in Fire and Hemlock :) It was about a girl who plays "Greensleeves" on the recorder and goes back in time to the Elizabethan era and meets a little girl who dies of smallpox or the plague or something (my history was only rather vague).
1crowdedhour
Nov. 6th, 2007 04:11 pm (UTC)
Kashka!
There's another book with Kashka in it! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I had no idea!
danceswithwaves
Nov. 7th, 2007 04:15 am (UTC)
I actually have three definite favorites, listed in order of favoritism, they are,
The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley. I love how Corinna finds her balance between her two worlds. There's a mystery thrown in about her mother and a stillborn child, as well as Corinna's inner strugle to find her place.
The second favorite I read when I was younger, got it from the school library and had a hard time finding it again for a second read since I'd forgotten the title (I tended not to memorize author's names when I was in elementary school). I moved the last year of elementary school and haven't been able to find the book since. :( It's written in diary format, except for the prologue and epilogue, and is about this girl who was raised by dolphins. People find her and try to make her human, but in the end she goes back to live with the dolphins.
My third favorite is Ella Enchanted. I never saw the movie because I heard that the plot was so drastically different. What I loved about the book was the inner struggle of Ella, and how she overcomes the curse with her inner strength. It's tough to show the climax in a movie anyway, but I heard they walloped the plot good, so I stayed away.
Interesting to note is that my favorite books when I was younger (and maybe they still run this theme) have themes that deal with girls who are separate, apart, but manage in the end to find their inner balance and the place that's right for them.
pdlloyd
Aug. 7th, 2008 05:00 am (UTC)
As I read your introduction, a book came to mind. Then, you went on to discuss that very book. I read Drujienna's Harp as a child and my memory of that book remained with me; there was something that resonated strongly. But, I couldn't remember the book's name or author. Fortunately, an adult friend of mine had also remembered the book, had much the same reaction to it, and remembered the title and author. As a result, I was able to re-read the book. It's very strange going back to an old favorite after so many years. I was particularly struck by how bleak the story was, by Tha's anger, and by the disturbing ending.
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Jan. 17th, 2011 04:56 pm (UTC)
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