All right, this is technically a recent re-read, as I have read this book more times than I can count. I think the last time, though, may well have been ten or twelve years ago, when I was writing my own “children from our world are whisked away to another, which only they can save” book. Halfway through, I basically fell into a complete panic that I was not writing THE SECRET COUNTRY and that what I was doing was disasterous, so I did something I never ever do, which is went and read a book while writing one. And I discovered that although THE SECRET COUNTRY was indeed perfect in all ways, it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell, so it was all okay.
I still find it astonishingly wonderful. I love…God. Everything about it. It encapsulates the pure belief and strength of childhood storytelling, albeit with more Shakespeare references than your average 8-14 year olds have a handle on (and I say this as one who had quite a handle on them, for a person in that age range). The repeated impulses the children have once they realise they’re really *in* the Secret Country–”Let’s say that this happens instead!” Exactly how kids tell stories, except of course it doesn’t work when the game turns real. And the depth of that discovery, that it is real, the things that go wrong from how they’ve told the story, their mirror being imperfect–it’s all exactly how a game turned real should play out.
The relationships between the children are beautifully done, with characterization layered through their reactions to one another: Laura liked Patrick, but she did not trust him. God, Patrick is so annoying! In exactly the right way. They all play off each other well, although–and this is a personal thing due to having grown up with the family I did–the way that they tell each other to shut up all the time bothers me. But I recognize that’s because my family were taught that shut up was especially rude, so I don’t like seeing or hearing it often in any scenario. I like the struggle, particularly with Ted, to fit into the character they’re supposed to be playing.
I love the language, and I don’t mean the Bardic references. It is told in the way children tell each other stories as they’re playing them, with deceptively simple language and sentences. I wish I could do that, but I have a really hard time with it.
It *does* end a little abruptly. :) I wish I hadn’t packed my copies of THE HIDDEN LAND and THE WHIM OF THE DRAGON so I could carry on immediately, particularly since there are several things I think of as having happened in book one that actually happen in book two…
Someday I will get to meet Pamela Dean in person, and get her to sign my 28-year-old copy of THE SECRET COUNTRY, and the only slightly younger copies of its sequels, and then I will retire those battered, beloved, yellow-paged, bent-cover, broken-spined, finger-sweat-stained books to the Shelf Of Honor along with DRAGONSONG and one or two others, and I will get newer copies to actually read. (Somehow.)
(x-posted from The Essential Kit)