The Dragon of Og by Rumer Godden

The Dragon of Og cover

I read The Dragon of Og by Rumer Godden ages ago but I’m so behind with some book thoughts that I’m only getting around to it now. It was published in 1981, it’s only the second or third children’s book by Godden that I’ve read and I must admit that it was the book cover that attracted me to it although I’m quite a fan of her books for adults. Pauline Baynes illustrated the book in colour and black and white and the cover. I’ve always liked her designs, she designed C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books in the 1960s.

Anyway, I was particularly delighted when I started to read this one as the setting is the Scottish Borders at a time when the castles were made of wood. The Castle of Tundergarth stands high on a hill overlooking broad meadows and forests through which flows the Water of Milk which isn’t as benign as it sounds as beneath its pools lies a deep cave where a dragon lives.

This isn’t an ordinary dragon though, he’s a lonely soul as his mother left him at the cave as a youngster and he has no friends, and no idea of what it means to be a dragon. The young wife of the new laird befriends him, but the laird isn’t pleased with that as Og the Dragon occasionally eats one of his bullocks and the laird is determined that Og must die. Matilda and the locals villager are up in arms about that. The story is based on an old legend of the Scottish Lowlands.

What amazed me about this book is that Godden writes quite a lot of the dialogue in Scots, using a fair few Scots words and ways of speech. She even uses correctly amn’t I instead of the less grammatical English aren’t I. That is a big bugbear of mine as editors often wrongly anglicise it and even directors have Scottish actots saying it the English way when they definitely shouldn’t be as they are speaking Scots.

I always thought of Rumer Godden as being one of those very English women – in the way that a woman who had grown up in the Indian Raj always was. But after a teeny bit of research I discovered that in her old age she moved to the Scottish Lowlands to be close to her daughter. She certainly soaked up all of the atmosphere of the area, she must have enjoyed living here I think.

My Christmas Books

books 1

I’m thankful to be able to say that most of the gifts I got at Christmas were either books or book related, in fact I got so many I think I’ll be doing two posts on my haul.

I went a bit Dorothy Dunnett mad and decided to collect her Niccolo series, I hope I enjoy them.

As it gets towards Christmas I just tell Jack to wrap up any books that I buy in second-hand bookshops, most of the time I forget what the books are by the time it comes to unwrapping them at Christmas so it’s still a surprise, the kind I like. I really don’t enjoy real surprises as sometimes they turn into real shocks!

The Gaudy by J.I.M. Stewart
The Young Patullo by J.I.M. Stewart
The Madonna of the Astrolabe by J.I.M. Stewart
Papa La-Bas by John Dickson Carr
Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden
Mary Poppins in the Park by P.L. Travers
Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd
Words of Mercury by Patrick Leigh Fermor

and by Dorothy Dunnett:

Niccolo Rising
The Spring of the Ram
Gemini
The Unicorn Hunt

I didn’t read the Mary Poppins books as a child and after enjoying the film Saving Mr Banks at Christmas about P.L Travers’s relationship with Walt Disney and the making of Mary Poppins I thought it was about time I rectified that and luckily I found an old copy in St Andrews.

This year I plan to concentrate on reading my own books!

Recent Book Purchases

More Old Books

These are some of the books that I’ve bought over the last few weeks. The Naomi Mitchison and Mary Stewart books will obviously be featuring in my Read Scotland 2016 Challenge. The others are all authors that I’ve enjoyed reading in the past.

1. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen
2. Kingfishers Catch Fire by Rumer Godden
3. The Land the Ravens Found by Naomi Mitchison
4. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor
5. The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart
6. An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden

At the moment I’m in a hotel room in Ypres (Wipers) – a place I never thought we would get around to visiting, but here we are. Strangely we’re in a lovely hotel with a beautiful view of bomb craters that have become a small lake. At the moment I’m about 30 yards from where the Germans used flame-throwers for the very first time, a sobering thought.

We’ve already visited the Menin Gate and witnessed The Last Post ceremony which takes place at 8 pm every night. It was very well attended.

Photos will be forthcoming at a later date.

The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden

The Battle of the Villa Fiorita cover

The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden was first published in 1963 and I have to admit that although I really enjoyed this book it does seem very dated now. In fact I suspect that the book seems quite unbelievable to younger readers.

The story begins with two children who have made their way to Italy on their own. Their parents are newly divorced and the father who is a Queen’s Messenger – some sort of diplomat I think – has got custody of the three children who are aged between almost 12 and 16. The 16 year old girl is off on holiday in France when her younger siblings decide to track their mother down to take her back to the family home and their father, they just can’t accept that she won’t be living with them any more.

The mother (Fanny) was quite an ordinary woman, not the sort to wear make-up, perfume or fancy clothes and she was seen by her so-called friends in the village as rather drab and uninteresting. When some film-makers appear in the village to make a film it’s Fanny that the director is drawn to and given that Fanny’s children are away at boarding school and her husband is often away from home for work purposes, it’s inevitable that she’s very flattered by his attention, which of course leads to the divorce and the children’s attempts to get her back.

It’s a piece of social history now as the mother almost always gets custody of the children in divorce cases but back in the 1960s a woman who chose to leave her husband for her lover was deemed to be an unfit person to bring up children – how times have changed!

Quite a few women around the internet seem to be quite angry about this book probably because they just can’t get their heads around the fact that the mother doesn’t get custody, but she did abandon them and her unobjectionable husband for a bloke she hardly knew.

This is a good read but not my favourite by Rumer Godden.

Edinburgh Botanics and books

On Thursday we had a family dinner date in Edinburgh so as it was a lovely bright day we decided to go early and have a walk through the Botanic Gardens. As you can see the crocuses were enjoying the sun.

Crocuses

Then it was on to the Stockbridge area of Edinburgh. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll realise that Stockbridge is usually a dangerous destination for me, due to the secondhand bookshops in the vicinity. Mind you it was only about three weeks since we had been there so I did think (half hope) it might be a case of slim pickings book wise, but I was wrong!

Books Again

China Court by Rumer Godden
The Princess Sophia by E.F. Benson
The Three Hostages by John Buchan
The Hand of Ethelberta by Thomas Hardy
Harding’s Luck by E. Nesbit
The Herb of Grace by Elizabeth Goudge

I know I read China Court way back in the 1970s but I’ll read it again and I seem to be collecting the Goddens that I read when I was a teenager but then I borrowed them from the library.

I have a horrible feeling that I gave my Nesbit books away before we moved house, when I was trying to de-clutter. But they might still be in a box in the garage, I live in hope, I definitely haven’t read Harding’s Luck anyway. The House of Arden comes before it so I think I’ll have to read that one first, I might just put that one on my Kindle.

I don’t think I’ve read anything by Goudge before but I know she is well loved by some people.

The Princess Sophia was written in 1900, long before Benson wrote his Mapp and Lucia books that I love.

I seem to be collecting John Buchan books although it’s a good long time since I actually read any.

I read a lot of Thomas Hardy books as a teenager and I loved them although they are often quite grim, especially the endings. The Hand of Ethelberta is apparently a comedy in chapters – could be interesting, but then again, might not be. Anyway it’s one of those wee books with thin paper and gold topped pages, like most of my other Hardy books, so it’ll fit in well – after I’ve had a bit of a shuffle around of that bookcase!

Have you read any of these books?

Two Under the Indian Sun by Jon and Rumer Godden

Two Under the Indian Sun cover

Two Under the Indian Sun by Jon and Rumer Godden was first published in 1966. It was a surprise to discover that Jon Godden is actually a girl. The Godden sisters had originally been living in colonial India with their parents, the father was working for a shipping company. The prologue says that the book isn’t so much an autobiography as an evocation of a time that is gone.The girls had been living in India when they were very young but had been shipped back to England for their education. When World War 1 broke out it was decided they would be better off being back in India, to avoid the zeppelins in London.

Jon and Rumer were thrilled to bits to get back to India as being farmed out to aunts in England had been an unhappy experience for them. The part of India they lived in is now part of Bangladesh and at that time the community was a very mixed one with a multitude of religions and castes. The girls were involved in all the religious celebrations but as their mother was terrified that they would get ill from contaminated food they never got to try Indian food, that must have been terrible, being able to smell it but not eat it. In fact they really led a very narrow life, not being able to play with many other children, the Anglo-Indian children next-door neighbours were off limits to them, except on Christmas Day when they were allowed to speak to them and of course as far as the Indians were concerned the Godden children were untouchables. There were two younger sisters by the time Jon and Rumer got back to India.

Life in India was very comfortable for them though, they had a far higher standard of living than they would have had back in England. In fact when they had to go back to England they had to travel third class on trains, whereas in India it had been first class travel for them.

This is a good read and as I had no idea that Jon Godden had also been a writer I’ll now have to track down some of her books. India was obviously a huge influence on the sisters, so I suspect that all of the books will have an Indian setting.

Have any of you read anything by Jon Godden?

Pitlochry Bookshop

We had a close look at the weather forecast this morning and decided it was good enough to sashay up to the wee Highland town of Aberfeldy to go for a good walk up the Birks of Aberfeldy, more about that at a later date, but you can see images of it here.

It ended up being a gorgeous day up there and on the way back we decided to veer off to Pitlochry, mainly because I had heard that there was a bookshop in one of the railway station buildings. In fact we discovered that you have to go on to the station platform to get into the shop which presumably used to be offices or a waiting room or some such thing. You really have to know that it’s there as you will never stumble across it, unless you’re getting off a train.

There was a display of hardback books from the Reprint Society right at the door so I wasn’t even in there two seconds before I had a couple of books in my hands and in the end I took books to the counter to pay for them. The sales assistant called me ‘madam’ – I’m never sure if that’s a good or a bad thing, it makes me feel old anyway.

However, he was very impressed with my haul of books and he gave me a discount despite them already being ridiculously cheap compared with other secondhand bookshops. I felt quite bad about that as I think the proceeds go to a local charity.

So what did I buy this time?

1. The Edge of the Cloud by K.M Peyton
2. Flambards in Summer by K.M.Peyton
3. Flambards Divided by K.M. Peyton
I loved the first Flambards book, they were published by Puffin aimed at older children I suppose but I only got to know about the books after watching Flambards on TV in 1979 and that was not a children’s programme. I’ve already read the first book in the series.

4. The Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff
5. The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau
6. The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden
7. This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart
8. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
9. Peak Country by Joseph E. Morris which is an A&C Black book from their Beautiful Britain series. 1914.

Not a bad haul I think you’ll agree. I really do have to concentrate on my own books now!

books

The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden

The Peacock Spring cover

The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden was first published in 1975 and the setting is mainly post independence India, but it begins in England where 14 year old Una and her 12 year old sister Halcyon are at boarding school as their father is based in India, he’s a diplomat and has custody of the girls after his divorce from Hal’s mother. Una is good at mathematics and is hoping to be able to go to Oxford to study maths there, eventually. So she’s dismayed when her headmistress calls her in to her office and tells her that her father has decided to take them out of school and they are to continue their education in India, with the help of a governess. Halcyon is thrilled by the prospect though, the sisters are opposites in character and Hal lives for pretty things and socialising, she’s a very precocious 12 year old.

As soon as they get to India Una realises that Alix the so-called governess, can’t teach them anything as she knows nothing of maths at all. She is however a very pretty Eurasian, half Indian and half European and as such is despised by the Indians and the British. Except for the girls’ father, who is obviously besotted by her and doesn’t see how manipulative, greedy and bad tempered Alix is.

I’ve always admired Godden’s writing and I really liked this book, although I’m sure it’s aimed at teenage girls as a warning as to what can happen if you get too involved with the opposite sex. Suffice to say that Una discovers that she is quite similar to her father in some ways.

It’s about prejudice, snobbery and class systems with a bit of Indian politics thrown into it and of course as Rumer Godden grew up in India, I’m sure she captured the atmosphere of the place as it was back then.

Rumer Godden/Dutch

This must be the most books I have ever read in any year, according to Goodreads I’ve read 109 so far and I still have some updating to do there. There are also some books which I don’t bother to put on Goodreads, I’m sure you’re the same, I tend not to bother with cookery books or craft/lifestyle/design books, even though I’ve read them cover to cover.

During the awful weather we had over the last three weeks or so I did almost nothing but read. Burying my head in books seemed like the best way to avoid the inevitable depression of days and days of endless rain. I just took myself off into different and more interesting worlds, even although the sky outside was so dark I needed a lamp on during the day to be able to read anything at all.

Every other activity came to a standstill, I must admit that it’s often sheer laziness which leads to me reaching for a book, instead of doing something a bit more active and productive, such as sewing machine wrangling. My fabric stash keeps multiplying but it’s not being converted into anything, it’s just piling up, in much the same way as my unread book piles do I suppose.

One of the things which I swore to myself that I would do this year was attempt to learn Dutch. Some of my extended family members are Dutch – or half Dutch and when we went to the Netherlands to visit them last year it felt shameful that I couldn’t say anything to anyone in shops – not even please and thank you. Mind you everyone there seems to speak English. The next visit I was going to be better prepared, but my Futurelearn Dutch course came at a time when I was madly busy doing other crucial stuff. It was only a three week course but I only managed the first week, and although I did well with it I just never got around to the other two weeks. Obviously it was just a wee bit of a taster course, but I had bitten off more than I could chew.

The other thing I thought I would do to help me learn Dutch was to read a book, one page in English then the same page in Dutch. I thought it would be good for learning lots of vocabulary. Well it would have been if I could have got further than page one! Whilst in the Netherlands I spotted a Rumer Godden book in a charity shop, I do love charity/thrift shops, you never know what you might find. I knew that I had a copy of the same book in English back home, The Greengage Summer, I bought it to read them in tandem.

Rumer Godden Books

So I’m starting again on page one, with my Dutch/English dictionary at hand – and yes that was another charity shop purchase, and a jotter to note down the vocabulary. I’m determined to get past page one this time.

I’m also going to be reading another charity shop purchase – Two Under the Indian Sun by Jon and Rumer Godden. It’s an account of the siblings’ experiences being brought up in India. The preface begins: This is not an autobiography as much as an evocation of a time that is gone, a few years that will always be timeless for us; an evocation that is as truthful as memory can ever be. It should be interesting I think and I bet I know which book I’ll finish first!

Recent Book Purchases

We were in Edinburgh showing a bookish friend our favourite book haunts in Stockbridge. Honestly I had absolutely no intention of looking at books myself, but you know what it’s like, a book spine captures you attention – and you’re doomed. So I bought this lot:

Latest Book Haul

1. A Croft in the Hills by Katharine Stewart. I bought this purely because of the unbelievably twee cover which is in very good condition, despite the book having been published in 1960.

2. The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden. I read a lot of her books way back in the year dot when I worked in libraries, I now can’t remember which ones I’ve read for sure. I looked at this one and thought I haven’t read it, or certainly have no memory of it. I wish I had kept note of all the books I had read in the past.

3. The Citadel by A.J. Cronin. I was sure that I had this book already but I haven’t been able to find it so I must have given it away. Anyway, I’m not sure if I’ve even read it before as it’s only his Hatter’s Castle which sticks in my mind from way back. If anyone wants to join me in a readalong of The Citadel – let me know.

4. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel. I’ve read the title story from this collection and I’m looking forward to reading the rest in this collection of short stories.

5. Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons. I’ve read her Cold Comfort books and loved them. The Matchmaker was okay, this one is a Virago publication so I have high hopes of it.

6. Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston (1884-1944). This is another of those British Library Crime Classics. Kingston apparently wrote twenty crime novels but he’s new to me.

Have you read any of these book? If so, what did you think of them?