Jane Langton, illustrated by Erik Blegvad
I drove past a house I’ve always admired recently, and it was for sale. I looked it up online and it is my dream home. Not so much for the house itself, which is lovely, but for the grounds. Not yard. Grounds. (It goes without saying that any house with grounds is way out of my price range.) Behind the house, not visible from the street, there is a garden abutting a field, and a stream and a little island and a small domed structure. My covetous response was so intense I had to think hard about what was causing it.
The answer was T. H. White’s Mistress Masham’s Repose.
That book is about a girl who lives on a crumbling estate and spends a lot of time exploring the grounds. She rows to a small island with a domed structure on it and discovers a colony of displaced Lilliputians living there. Who wouldn’t want to live in the non-crumbling, less lonely version of that?
The reason I sought Mistress Masham’s Repose out as a child was that Jane Langton said it was one of her favorites, and Jane Langton was one of my favorites. She was also the first author I ever saw “live and in person,” at a library visit.
Here are some awesome things about Jane Langton and her Hall Family Chronicles, which were the ones I was devoted to:
- She came to my local library live and in person,
- Where she recommended Mistress Masham’s Repose, which I probably never would have read otherwise and obviously took to heart based on my decades-later longing for a home with some vaguely similar outdoor features;
- She lived in a town near me;
- The books she wrote were set in and around an actual house that you could drive by in a town near me;
- The books she wrote were about ordinary modern kids having magical adventures in and around an actual house in a town near me;
- She managed to work Transcendentalism in there too.
This was my first brush not only with an author live and in person but also with fantastic (in both senses of the word) books that showed magical things happening currently and locally. For me, a major implication of the Jane Langton books was that you didn’t have to hitch a ride in a tornado or travel through space and time or be born in a whole other world to experience magic. Magic could happen now, here, to kids like me.
Side note: As a young adult I got to spend a night in the Halls’ house. Nothing magical happened. It was thrilling.