Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies
These two books tell how Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, met Dan and Una and
introduced them to figures from history who had connections with their small
village in Sussex. The locations are based on the area around the village of
Burwash where Kipling lived in England, and down to the south coast of
Sussex and Kent around Pevensey and Romney Marsh. Both books contain a
series of chapters linked to each other to a greater or lesser extent and
each chapter is bracketed by Kipling's poems, including what is probably his
most famous and popular poem "If..."
The children first met Puck on Midsummer's Eve in Puck of Pook's Hill,
when they performed "A Midsummer Night's Dream" three times. This is the key
to unlock the magic of Old England and Puck is the last of the People of the
Hills living in England. In a series of linked episodes, Puck introduces
them to myths of the fairy folk and their interaction with humans and the
ancient gods. He also brings them a Norman knight to talk to the children of
the Conquest and his subsequent adventures as the Normans and Saxons started
to amalgamate into the English.
Other figures are a Roman centurion who served on Hadrian's wall defending
the Roman Empire and a Jewish moneylender who helped bring about Magna
Carta. After each episode, Puck magics away their memory "by Oak, Ash and
Thorn" to prevent them telling anyone.
We also see some of the contemporary local people, particularly the hedger
and poacher Hobden, who is shown to be linked to the land and its history
with some of his ancestors appearing in the tales.
The second volume, Rewards and Fairies, is set a year later. The title comes
from a 17th century poem about the departure of fairies from England. Again
the format is the same, the children meet people from the past, from a
neolithic flint knapper, an Anglo-Saxon saint and Queen Elizabeth I to a
shipbuilder who helps Francis Drake and a smuggler who travels to
Philadelphia in the 1790s.
I enjoyed the books when I was young and still do for the way they bring the
history of a small part of England to life and show how it is linked to the
whole world. Some of the language may be a bit old-fashioned for modern
readers, but it is history after all!. As is often the case in older books, some
people may also find that some of the attitudes and words used are offensive
to modern sensibilities (the "n-word" is used descriptively in the
Philadelphia episode, for example).
Reviewed by Adam Quinan, June, 2009
This article is ©2009 by Adam Quinin, and posted on All Things
Ransome with permission.
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