Childern’s Fiction and the Past

Nicholas Tucker

  • The Lord of Greenwich by Juliet Dymoke
    Dobson, 224 pp, £4.95, April 1980, ISBN 0 234 72165 0
  • A Flight of Swans by Barbara Willard
    Kestrel, 185 pp, £4.50, May 1980, ISBN 0 7226 5438 3
  • Fanny and the Battle of Potter’s Piece by Penelope Lively
    Heinemann, 45 pp, £3.50, June 1980, ISBN 0 434 94937 X
  • John Diamond by Leon Garfield
    Kestrel, 180 pp, £4.50, April 1980, ISBN 0 7226 5619 X
  • Friedrich by Hans Peter Richter
    Kestrel, 150 pp, £4.50, June 1980, ISBN 0 7226 5285 2
  • I was there by Hans Peter Richter
    Kestrel, 187 pp, £4.50, June 1980, ISBN 0 7226 6434 6
  • The Time of the Young Soldiers by Hans Peter Richter
    Kestrel, 128 pp, £3.95, June 1980, ISBN 0 7226 5122 8
  • The Runaway Train by Penelope Farmer
    Heinemann, 48 pp, £3.50, June 1980, ISBN 0 434 94938 8

Some sense of history, however vague or inaccurate, has always been an important factor in helping young people define their hopes and fantasies about their eventual place in the world. The story of Dick Whittington, fabled Lord Mayor of London, has for centuries helped underpin a belief that extreme social mobility always remains a strong possibility for everyone, however illusory the idea may often be in practice. Later, 19th-century adventure novels set in the past, such as Kingsley’s Westward Ho! or Hereward the Wake, helped to foster the imperial ideal by suggesting that it was natural for Britains to seek an outlet overseas for all the manly endeavour that would otherwise be unbearably cooped up in one little island. The effect of such novels lasted well into our own century: Graham Greene has written that the stories of Rider Haggard were responsible for his lifelong interest in Africa. But for most children today, James Stephen’s prophecy of a time when ‘The Rudyards cease from kipling, and the Haggards ride no more’ has now come true. If these older historical novels are no longer read, is a new generation of writers getting over an equally vivid sense of the past?

The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in