Page finalised 5th November, 2010.
Lorna Hill by Clarissa Cridland.
Veronica, Sebastian, Guy and Jane – art, life, love and landscape
A Personal View of "The Sadler's Wells" Series by Jim Mackenzie.
Castle in Northumbria'
Reviewed by Jim Mackenzie.
BOOK List in alphabetical order | BOOK List in reading order | COMMENTS


Lorna Hill
by Clarissa Cridland
[ The following is adapted from an article by Clarissa Cridland published in 'FOLLY'  issue 4, September 1991. Used with the author's permission, with thanks. ]

Lorna Hill was born in 1902, in Durham City, England. She was educated at Durham Hill School for girls and Le Manoir on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland. This was a finishing school at Lausanne. Lorna obtained her BA at Durham University, which is where she met her future husband, a clergyman. They were married at Newcastle Cathedral and four years later he was posted to a remote vicarage at Matfen, in Northumberland. They now had a daughter, Vicki, and Lorna played the organ on Sundays, ran the Sunday School and carried out the many duties expected of a country vicar's wife.

One day when Vicki was about ten, she appeared with a story her mother had written at school with a request that Mother write more stories about 'Marjorie & Co’. Lorna eventually penned eight books for her daughter, illustrated by herself, and that was when good fortune arrived in the shape of a publisher's reader who happened to stay with the family one weekend. He recommended an agent who sent the books (as they were, in longhand, with Lorna's watercolour illustrations) to a publisher, Art and Illustration. The publisher wrote back, asking that she bring the other seven books to London but Lorna replied that she couldn't afford the train fare. They advanced her fifty pounds so Lorna packed the books into her suitcase and off she went. A & I typed 'Marjorie & Co for her and published it in 1948, by which time Lorna had taught herself to type, two-fingered style. Art and Illustration went out of business before the final of the initial eight stories, 'Castle in Northumbria', was published. Harold Stark, the publisher, took the books with him to Burke Publishing Co and later accepted the 'Patience' series.

Flush with funds, the family attended a performance of Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin at Newcastle's Theatre Royal. They left, totally entranced with ballet, Vicki deciding she wanted to be a dancer. She enrolled at Sadler Wells (now the Royal Ballet School) in London,. Lorna missed her so much that she began to write books with a ballet background, the first being 'A Dream of Sadler's Wells', published by Evans Bros. Meanwhile, publishers Thomas Nelson, who had lured Lorna away from Burke, republished the first three 'Marjorie' titles. This caused some confusion with those published by Burke being called the 'Patience' books, those by Nelson the 'Marjorie' books.

When both publishers dropped their Children's series in 1964, Lorna having typed (still using two fingers) forty books, Evans asked her to write a biography on dancer Marie Taglioni. This became 'La Sylphide'. Two adult novels followed from Robert Hale in 1978 but Lorna stopped writing following a couple of serious operations. She passed away on August 17, 1991, age 89.

The books in alphabetical order

A Dream of Sadlers Wells (Evans 1950)
Back-Stage (Evans 1960)
Border Peel (Art & Educational 1950)
Castle in Northumbria (Burke1953)
Dancer in Danger (Nelson 1960)
Dancer in the Wings (Nelson 1958)
Dancer on Holiday (Nelson 1962)
Dancer's Luck (Nelson 1955)
Dancing Peel (Nelson 1954)
Dress-Rehearsal (Evans 1959)
Ella at the Wells (Evans 1954)
It Was All Through Patience (Burke 1952)
Jane Leaves the Wells (Evans 1953)
La Sylphide, The Life of Marie Taglioni (Evans 1967) (biography)
Marjorie and Co (Art & Educational 1948)
Masquerade at the Wells (Evans 1952)
More About Mandy (Evans 1963)
No Castanets at the Wells (Evans 1953)
No medals for Guy Nelson (Nelson1962)
Northern Lights (1999)
Principal Rôle (Evans 1957)
Return to the Wells (Evans 1955)
Rosanna Joins the Wells (Evans 1956)
So Guy Came Too (Burke 1954)
Stolen Holiday (Art & Educational 1948)Swan Feather (Evans 1958)
The Five Shilling Holiday (Burke 1955)
The Little Dancer (Nelson 1956)
The Other Miss Perkin (Robert Hale 1978) (romance)
The Scent of Rosemary (Robert Hale 1978) (romance)
The Secret (Evans 1964)
The Vicarage Children (Evans 1961)
The Vicarage Children in Skye (Evans 1966)
They Called Her Patience (Burke 1951)
Veronica at the Wells (Evans 1951)
Vicki in Venice (Evans 1962)

For ordering information on GGB reprints, please go to http://www.rockterrace.demon.co.uk/GGBP

The books in series in reading order:

1 Marjorie and Co (Art & Educational 1948)
2 Stolen Holiday (Art & Educational 1948)
3 Border Peel (Art & Educational 1950)
4 Northern Lights (privately pub. 1999)
5 Castle in Northumbria (Burke1953)
6 No medals for Guy Nelson (Nelson1962)

1 A Dream of Sadlers Wells (Evans 1950)
2 Veronica at the Wells (Evans 1951)
3 Masquerade at the Wells (Evans 1952)
4 No Castanets at the Wells (Evans 1953)
5 Jane Leaves the Wells (Evans 1953)
6 Ella at the Wells (Evans 1954)
7 Return to the Wells (Evans 1955)
8 Rosanna Joins the Wells (Evans 1956)
9 Principal Rôle (Evans 1957)
10 Swan Feather (Evans 1958)
11 Dress-Rehearsal (Evans 1959)
12 Back-Stage (Evans 1960)
13 Vicki in Venice (Evans 1962)
14 The Secret (Evans 1964)

1 They Called Her Patience (Burke 1951)
2 It Was All Through Patience (Burke 1952)
3 So Guy Came Too (Burke 1954)
5 The Five Shilling Holiday (Burke 1955)

1 Dancing Peel (Nelson 1954)
2 Dancer's Luck (Nelson 1955)
3 The Little Dancer (Nelson 1956)
4 Dancer in the Wings (Nelson 1958)
5 Dancer in Danger (Nelson 1960)
6 Dancer on Holiday (Nelson 1962)

1 The Vicarage Children (Evans 1961)
2 More About Mandy (Evans 1963)
3 The Vicarage Children in Skye (Evans 1966)

Adult Books
La Sylphide, The Life of Marie Taglioni (Evans 1967) (biography)
The Scent of Rosemary (Robert Hale 1978) (romance)
The Other Miss Perkin (Robert Hale 1978) (romance)

For ordering information on GGB reprints, please go to http://www.rockterrace.demon.co.uk/GGBP

Northern Lights - publishing history

In September 1997, while visiting Lorna Hill’s daughter Vicki, we were looking at the original exercise books in which the Marjorie and Patience stories were written, when we noticed the words ‘Northern Lights’ at the front of one of the books, among the titles written. On enquiring, Vicki explained that this was an unpublished book by her mother.

Northern Lights is the fourth Marjorie title, coming after Marjorie and Co, Stolen Holiday and Border Peel, and before Castle in Northumbria and No medals for Guy. (Some readers might be confused by our listing Castle in Northumbria as a Marjorie book when publishers’ listings in the 1950s and 1960s showed it to be a Patience book. For various reasons, the publishers were wrong. There are four Patience books only – They Called Her Patience, It Was All Through Patience, So Guy Came Too and The Five Shilling Holiday.)

Northern Lights was written for Vicki’s Christmas present in 1941, and is Lorna Hill writing at her very best. The reason why it was never published before is that it features the war, which the other Marjorie titles don’t, and by the time a publisher had seen the books, in the late 1940s, the British public were apparently tired of books about the war. So, Northern Lights had languished in the attic since then. We decided to publish it, and thus complete Lorna Hill’s publishing opus.
- A & C

Veronica, Sebastian, Guy and Jane – art, life, love and landscape
A Personal View of "The Sadler's Wells" Series
by Jim Mackenzie.
[ jmackenzie48@yahoo.com ]
The main virtue of series literature for the reader is that, once the second or third book is under way, the territory is familiar and the boys and girls and men and women are old friends. We are close enough to the characters to be able to understand them and relax with them. To a certain extent we are more deeply involved because we have their interests at heart. After all, we bought or borrowed this second book about these people because we liked the first. We want to see what happens. Naturally this very familiarity can also become the drawback and the same old routine can become irritating rather than therapeutic, intriguing or uplifting. The same repertoire of narrative tricks, character foibles, closely described settings and procedures, can be intolerable to both reader and writer. Perhaps the reader has this effect deadened by the passage of time, for most series emerge over a period of years and much other reading intervenes before the next in the line of sequels is available. The author is usually afforded no such relief and often returns immediately to the world which he or she has created. Two temptations lie ahead: to rely too much on sure and safe ground, or to try for risky innovation in order to re-stimulate their own imagination.
I have included this preamble before I turn to a close examination of Lorna Hill's very popular Sadler's Wells series because I believe that it is a useful framework for helping to assess this section of an important children's writer's output. I hope to approach this task in a spirit of positive detachment. "Detachment" because I am male, had never read any of the series up to three months ago, was neither pro nor anti ballet as either an art-form or as a topic for children's literature. "Positive" because last year I read "Castle in Northumbria" (one of the "Marjorie" series) and thoroughly enjoyed it. My own claim to specialist knowledge with regard to Lorna Hill concerns Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northumberland and the North-East of England. For instance, I now know that I attended the same university as Timothy Roebottom (See "Rosanna Joins the Wells") but he was ten years before my time. The books were read one after the other with very little time intervening. Incidentally the library system of Newcastle Upon Tyne held only four "Wells" copies, which, I was assured, were scarcely ever requested. To all intents and purposes Lorna Hill is an "unknown" author even on her own native heath. Why should this be so ?
The central characters must always be the first consideration. Are they interesting ? Do they mature ? Do they grow ?
The very first book, "A Dream of Sadler's Wells", begins with a zest that promises well for the rest of the series. To start in the middle of a journey with someone in distress immediately engages our attention and our sympathy. An intriguing meeting with a self-confident "interesting rather than good-looking" boy relieves the misery of fourteen year old Veronica Weston's rail journey north to stay with her relations in the wilds of Northumberland. All readers will immediately know that the two young people are destined to meet again. It's a first-person narrative, of course, and perhaps the best section of the whole book, indeed the whole series, occurs in chapters two and three. I mean it as a compliment when I say that it is like diluted "Jane Eyre", with the penniless orphan, Veronica, subject to the whims of the rather strange Scott family. The younger daughter, Caroline, is fine, but, aged eleven, has little sway in family matters. Uncle John is a remote business man who disappears to his shipping office in Newcastle for most of this and the subsequent volumes. Aunt June is a snob, in the early books the worst example of the nouveau riche, who has very fixed ideas about what Veronica should and shouldn't do. This is quickly brought out by her reaction when her strange niece offers to get out of the Rolls Royce and open the gates for the chauffeur.
"Sit down, dear. Perkins will see to it."
And then there is Fiona, the older daughter. Fiona is something else again. She is so awful that it is a joy to read about her. Lorna Hill appears not to have given her a single redeeming feature. She resents having to share her room with Veronica and grumbles about the compromises that people expect her to make.
"There isn't loads of room….I hate having my things all squashed together."
In fact Fiona's entire conversation appears to be conducted in snaps and scornful comments. Her comment about Jonathan's painting of Veronica shows you the standard style and content of her part in the dialogue.
"Painted you ?" Fiona broke in scornfully. "Whatever for ? Were you supposed to be a gipsy, or a child of the gutter, or what ?"
For once we also have a character whose bite is as bad as her bark. After describing Veronica's only dress as dirty and "like something the cat's brought in" and that it made her look like "the dog's dinner", Fiona snatches it from her and tosses it into the bath where the colours run and reduce it to a hideous mess.
Having made a bad start in the first story, it would seem to be difficult for Lorna Hill to make the outwardly attractive-looking Fiona any worse. However, as the series unfolds, the spoiled and snobbish child becomes the wilful and selfish young woman. Her own family having fallen on hard times, she is prepared to jump ship and join a family with better monetary prospects. From being the tyrant of the schoolroom she grows into the mercenary young woman who can declare as she prepares to get engaged, "Love doesn't come into it. Love is only something that you read about in fairy tales." In fact, everything about Fiona is counter to the prevailing spirit of the books, the essence of which is that "Amor vincit omnia" or love conquers everything – even sometimes artistic ambition. Fiona's appearance in the first book and her instinctive selfishness and cruelty are therefore no accident. The theme of selfishness and selflessness appears in many guises during the course of the many books. When this is linked with the concurrent idea of the demands of art compared with the demands of life Lorna Hill finds her firmest ground. This theme is sometimes explored through the parent-child relationship but, given the high number of orphans in her books, more often through the plots which show young people growing up and falling in love.
What happens between Sebastian and Veronica is the cornerstone of the first four volumes in the series. At first sight, whilst Veronica, the girl whose determination to reach the top in her chosen art-form and who has talent to match her aspirations, is the ideal heroine for young readers, there are many drawbacks to Sebastian's personality. The world has moved on since the 1950's and many of his statements now appear even more extreme than they did when they were first written. But let us go back to the beginning and build up the picture more carefully and remind ourselves that the narrative in "A Dream of Sadler's Wells" and "Veronica at the Wells" is told from the point of view of Veronica. With the benefit of hindsight we can know that Veronica marries Sebastian and that it is a happy marriage. It makes sense, therefore, that any criticism of Sebastian is withheld. It makes sense that Veronica, not always the most astute of young ladies, (not realising the exact depth of the relationship between Jonathan and Stella, for example) should be unable to put into words the nature of her love for Sebastian and her understanding of his quixotic character
The crucial scene is, of course, the one that takes place in the stable at Bracken Hall just after Veronica has received the telegram about her first part in a performance. In the excitement of the moment Veronica has forgotten all about Sebastian's first concert. Her imminent departure for London precipitates a crisis and Sebastian says things that are difficult to forgive and which appear to mark him down as a thorough male chauvinist.
"Men are forced to have careers. Women don't have to; they just barge into them. It's just silly for a woman to give up everything – friends, beauty sleep, peace of mind – even marriage – for a stupid thing like ballet."
Ironically, just as he treats her so badly, he pays her an elaborate double compliment. She is the inspiration that has driven him to write the music for the concert that she must miss.
"How do you know I'm not playing for you, Veronica ? How do you know I haven't written my Woodland Symphony especially for you – inspired by your grace, your funny remote face, the lovely way you move…"
Then he presents her with the second half of the double-edged compliment, a declaration of love and a desire to kiss her that had been immediately withdrawn when she chose to go to London instead of his concert.
Lorna Hill has presented the reader with a picture of a talented but arrogant young man, confident in his own talents, used to getting his own way by charm and force of personality, genuinely in love with Veronica but living in a world of self-centred expectations. Veronica's rejoinder to Sebastian
"You're only a kid," I retorted. "We're both kids."
"I'm almost seventeen," he answered
is also Lorna Hill's timely reminder to her readers that Sebastian could be forgiven a little for his cruel words – eventually. He still has a lot to learn.
Sebastian never apologises to her and, indeed, seems to expect that Veronica is the one that needs to seek forgiveness. Fortunately for him Veronica, when she has recovered from the shock and trauma of what happened, understands. As she waits for her first performance of Odette-Odile she reacts to the red roses he has sent,
"Just that ! No word of apology or good luck. I gave a wry smile. How like Sebastian ! He hadn't a big, generous nature like Jonathan. He was brilliant, and witty, and arrogant. Above all, he was proud. No, he would certainly never utter one word of apology to me or to anyone else – I was quite sure of that."
"No Castanets at the Wells" makes us look at this relationship again from another direction. It is another first-person narrative but this time it is told from the point of view of Caroline, the more sympathetic of Veronica's two cousins. In heated debate with Fiona, the hated-one, Caroline tries to explain,
"Because he's a musician, and temperamental. They're both temperamental," I said, trying to explain, though I didn't really understand myself. "It may seem odd to us, but it doesn't mean they don't love each other." In fact we learn far more about Sebastian's feelings after we know that he has come to claim Veronica at the end of "Veronica at the Wells". Through Caroline's story readers discover the extent of his devotion and can recognise some stages of his growth. In their conversation in the roof-garden of a "well-known London store" he says,
"You're wondering about my quarrel with Veronica. It was a very long time ago, that quarrel. I'm wiser now." For a few seconds it looks like he is heading towards humility but this is followed by,
"I'm not going to apologize to her, if that's what you mean," said Sebastian, sticking out his chin, "because I still consider she treated me shamefully."
However, his instinctive sympathy for Caroline in her own time of trouble, where he deals with her tenderly and diplomatically, shows us that he has a heart after all. A confidence from her brings spontaneously a confidence from him. Indeed he even confides to her some of his deepest feelings about Veronica,
"I'll tell you something I wouldn't tell another living soul….I'm going to become engaged to Veronica."
And then the key words are said, "- if she'll have me."
He talks of his first meeting with her "there's been no one for me but Veronica ever since the very first day I saw her funny little pale face in the Flying Scotsman."
Lorna Hill manages to keep his dignity whilst exposing a more loving side and then, with another narrative trick, places him back in his enigmatic, half-joking and half-arrogant character slot once again. The trick in question is giving Sebastian the last word in Caroline's tale by making him the narrator of the last section. Naturally it is told in role and Sebastian reveals few of his inner feelings apart from his continued dislike of Fiona and her mother and his capacity for joking humour that stops just short of a sneer. It would not be Sebastian if he acknowledged his failings (or his deepest feelings) or spared anyone from his sarcasm. However, with a deft touch, the author brings out his love for Veronica, who at this stage of their lives appears to be clearly a better person than he will ever be. Her gesture in kissing Fiona and acting as a peace-maker confirms what Lorna Hill has been asserting all along,
"Madame says that if your thoughts aren't nice, it shows in your dancing, just as it does in music or painting."
This recurring idea is best developed through the character of Toni Rossini who gives unselfishly to his partner. Veronica recognises this and says so, "I don't believe you ever thought of yourself at all." His reward is to have his own performance transformed by his generosity of spirit,
"Yet the strange thing was that when he danced as my partner, people said he was like another person – that his dancing reached heights that no one believed him capable of attaining."
Alas for our heroine, Veronica, a moral message is best delivered, not just through the characters we love to hate, but also through the suffering and painful self-realisation of the character that the reader has been led to like and admire. Lorna Hill is courageous enough to show that her prima ballerina assoluta also has feet of clay, albeit this fall from grace is a temporary one and kept at the sideline of the later stories. Both she and Sebastian do not reach the end of their story after three volumes, in spite of their material success and fame. Nemesis arrives in the shape of Vicki, their talented, wilful and charming daughter. Briefly Veronica does an Irma Foster. In other words she refuses to believe that her daughter can do anything other than follow in her footsteps. Beneath a sarcastic exterior, no doubt inherited from her father, Vicki can't bear to break the heart of her mother and pursue her own dreams. It is one of the reasons why Jon falls in love with her. Events are brought to a climax in "Dress Rehearsal" where Vicki presents Nona as her replacement,
"Will you adopt Nona, and let her do all the things you have dreamed up for me ?"
Strangely enough it is Sebastian who shows perception and sympathy before Veronica,
"Fathers sometimes understand their daughters better than mothers do."
Veronica herself is prepared to confess,
"I've been thinking lately that perhaps I've been too much Veronica Weston, and not enough Mrs. Scott ! Someone told me that my only daughter was often lonely…"
When Vicki tries to find excuses for her parents,
"Oh, Mama – not self-centred !" exclaimed Vicki, horrified. "Let's say single-minded."
it is Sebastian who insists upon the truth,
"Which is a more polite way of saying the same thing !"
"Dress Rehearsal" is the eleventh in the Sadler's Wells series and yet Lorna Hill is still finding ways in which to show that learning is a life-long process. The series has been launched well and we can already see that Lorna Hill can use these central characters as yardsticks for the future behaviour of the succeeding heroines and heroes. Veronica and Sebastian may be kept on the periphery of the action but they still serve a useful purpose and the reader is still interested in their fate. Such are the essentials of a series format.
And yet I fear there is no blinking the fact that after the first five books the series falls away in standard. By the sixth book the reader is deeply integrated into the habits, manners and mores of two communities : the world of the north-east of England and the world of Sadler's Wells. But by the sixth book the reader has begun to realise that the heroines are like runners in a relay race, passing the baton of artistic striving from one generation to the next or falling by the wayside: from Veronica to Jane to Ella to Rosanna to Sylvia to Nona. By the sixth book the reader will realise that a young man will come along and that the girl will have to make a choice. What supports the reader through the rest of the books is the tapestry of familiar people and familiar places that has already been woven and which can act as a backdrop to the increasingly familiar story-lines. They really are old friends and old acquaintances and, in some cases, like that of Nigel and Fiona, old enemies. However, by the seventh book, "Rosanna Joins the Wells", the author has lost her instinctive grip over the power of narrative. It was already slipping somewhat in "Ella at the Wells" which was her second "Wells" venture into third person perspective. But, before I identify what I consider to be the short-comings, let me outline more clearly what was achieved in the opening quartet and comment in some detail on what was perhaps the peak of her achievement in the controversial "Jane Leaves the Wells".
As has already been said, the first two books offer us Veronica's perspective on the world. Lorna Hill stays resolutely inside the character and there are no authorial comments. We experience at first-hand the struggles, the cruelties, the joy of success and the pangs of love. Lorna Hill even manages to convince us of the love of the countryside that transforms both Veronica's attitude to Northumberland and her capacity for bringing feeling to her dancing roles. Choosing to move the next stage of the story through Caroline's narrative in "No Castanets at the Wells" was also a tremendous idea. Caroline's struggles as she comes to terms with her failure at the Wells are interesting in themselves but the insight given into Sebastian, Veronica and Fiona deepens our understanding of their characters in a part of the story that we already know. Sebastian's post-script where he "finishes the story" is another daring attempt to use the narrative form in an interesting way. The twin narratives of Jane and Mariella who swop their lives extends this innovative approach to storytelling into "Masquerade at the Wells". Jane's story of her transformation from the bullied victim to splendid success at the Wells heavily outweighs Mariella's contribution of course. Yet Mariella's "finishing" of the story of Jane's success is also a prelude to a more detailed account of her own story in "Jane Leaves the Wells" where Lorna Hill resorts successfully to the third person narrative for the first time. What makes "Jane Leaves the Wells" such a success, in spite of the missing inner perspective, is a combination of both a judicious selection of content and the way in which the author conveys a tremendous sense of place. Nevertheless, in a way, with the exception of a few minor developments, this book really completes all that Lorna Hill has got to say about the conflicting demands of ballet and of love. The rest of the series would seem to be outings with old friends going to familiar places no matter how much she tries to push unconvincingly into the world of the slums or the palaces.
To return to "Jane Leaves the Wells", it is quite clear that Mariella left the Wells in the previous book. Her affection for the rural life which for a while is bound up with her infatuation with Nigel is subtly contrasted with Jane's total absorption in the ballet and the appeal of her dancing partner Josef Linsk. That both the heroines are vulnerable to the outward charm of basically selfish people is placed constantly before the reader. There are other ironies as well. Mariella sees clearly what Josef is like and Jane knows only too well what a hateful person Nigel can be. The other contrasts lie in their surroundings, and here we can see clearly this author's ability to both evoke environments and integrate their special quality into the events so that they are more than mere landscapes and become at times of symbolic importance. Though, to a certain extent, Lorna Hill creates a special feeling of place in each of her Wells novels (Who could forget the particular place that the lake in the grounds of Bracken Hall holds in the hearts of Sebastian, Veronica and Caroline ?) the landscapes and the people in "Jane Leaves the Wells" are particularly well-drawn and are worthy of a closer examination and contain in effect the essence of the whole book.
Mariella's love of the countryside is not merely a stated thing. It is explored constantly by reference to her reaction to the beauty that surrounds her. The description of the new schoolteacher's cottage with its square of grass and its rigid lines of lobelia reflecting the unbending attitude of Miss Goodall, is contrasted with Mariella's memory of the cottage as it used to be – a riot of colours and shapes.
"The house certainly hadn't been tidy then. In fact, it had been nearly hidden under masses of rambler roses, virginia creeper and ivy. A clematis, with purple flowers the size of plates, sprawled over the porch, and flowers of all colours shapes and sizes jostled each other in untidy flower-beds, and nodded in at all the windows."
The "perfect lines" so striven after in ballet and achieved by the domineering schoolmarm now made the cottage stand "like a policeman, directing the traffic." Inside the cottage of Mariella's memory there had been the mixture of the beautiful and the tasteless that makes up real life.
"Inside there were flowers everywhere: roses in the front room, spilling out of a hideous china vase with "A Present from Blackpool" on it, lupins in a cracked water-jug in the tiny hall, and jam jars filled with buttercups all over the kitchen."
A laburnum tree which had stood near the gate was ruthlessly cut down by Mrs. Goodall's jobbing gardener but remained in Mariella's mind as "a huge golden umbrella."
This long description is used by the author to re-establish Mariella's sensitivity and is then followed by one of a series of seasonal pictures of Northumberland that place her on harmony with the landscape.
"She rode slowly up the road. It was very quiet. The long rides of the fir-wood to her left were filled with deep blue misty shadows, the cobwebs hung their jewelled nets on every bush, and tall fronds of bracken on the north side of the road, where the sun never shone, sparkled with hoar frost. It was a lovely autumn day, perfect as only autumn days in Northumberland can be. There was a wide grass verge to the road, and her horse's hoofs made no noise on the springy turf. Apart from a slight creaking of leather as she swayed easily in the saddle, there wasn't another sound. Even the cushats in the wood had stopped cooing, now that autumn had come."
It is a picture of Mariella at one with the sights, sounds and textures of the landscape. In the words of the old hymn, "Where every prospect pleases and only man is vile." As if on cue, Nigel arrives and splits the almost perfect silence with his "View Halloo".
On re-reading the book one is struck constantly by the number of pictures we are given of Mariella at home with the landscape and with the people of this large border county : Mariella waiting in vain for Nigel in the country inn, Mariella in the village post-office, Mariella feeding Lady Monkhouse's hens, Mariella setting off to visit the old lady who lives in the old cottage up on the moors, Mariella at the fox-hunt, Mariella at the gymkhana, Mariella sharing with Veronica their delight in their natural environment…
"Oh, look at the lake ! Isn't it beautiful in the winter sunshine, and the frost sparkling on the fir trees ? You're right, Mariella, nowhere could be quite as beautiful as this."
But Mariella's problem is that Nigel too has a superficial beauty that holds her affections in spite of the many imperfections of his character. Moreover Mariella's own beauty of appearance and goodness of character (constantly both explicitly stated and plausibily demonstrated) are either ignored or abused. Lorna Hill will not resolve Mariella's problem in this volume of the series – her heroine is not yet ready to see that beauty lies in the crags of character as well as in the surface smoothness of a man who possesses a figure like "a Greek god."
Lorna Hill's creation of Jane's world at the ballet is done differently. The book begins in the middle of a dialogue between the female members of the corps de ballet and Jane who has become one of the principal dancers. Long term reflections on the life of the dancer are mingled with both kind and cruel comments about their fellow artistes and mundane matters such as eating, drinking and boyfriends. Jane's transformation from the young girl suffering from a cold to the fairytale princess shows her dedication to her art and this is certainly what strikes the reader on first perusal. However, a second look suggests another line of thought and it is the rather surprising one of artificiality and not art. From, "Look out, Daphne ! You know you're not supposed to sit in Carabosse's carriage, even if it is only an old soap-box !" to the description of Josef – "He was a consummate artist at make-up, was Josef, and he had taken good care to accentuate his best features – his glittering dark eyes, and his thinly bridged nose with the sensitively curving nostrils." Lorna Hill is making it clear that it is a world riddled with falsity and pretence.
Take also Jane's mistake about which reporter was Mrs. Coggan's son and we can see the whole idea of the superficial and the true being pursued indirectly. When Jane insists upon "ordinary" potatoes and a straightforward peach and Lorna Hill talks of her "shedding her own personality and becoming a fairy-tale princess" there are signs being planted that the world of ballet is not her ultimate destiny. The fad for fashion which the author explores in the next chapter leads to the comment, "Yes, ballet dancers are simple, naïve people" and to the conclusion that is not meant as a compliment. It is a shame that the cleverly constructed chapter is spoiled by the clumsy and "corny" device of having George, the stage-door keeper, remark in god-like rhetorical tones about the awful Josef,
"Dance with him, miss, by all means," he muttered to the empty air. "But don't you go a-marrying him, that's all ! Don't you go a-doing it ! He's not the right young man for a sweet missie like you !"
Unfortunately this sort of stage-whisper from the author to nudge (nay kick) her readers into the right way of thinking is the sort of thing that starts to dominate the next few stories in the series.
Much better handled is the scene of reunion with her parents and Mariella as she returns to the north. Jane's sensitive perceptiveness is revealed in her thoughts about Newcastle Central Station.
"Imagine all the meetings and parting that have taken place on this very platform."
However, there is a new core of self-belief that allows her to tell her mother just what she thought about the pony that she was landed with when she was a child. She is also defiant about the cruelty that is involved in providing young ladies with fur coats and she stands by her principles. More than that she is prepared to be outspoken about her feelings about Nigel when she talks to Mariella about the projected journey to Scotland. This is a new Jane who has already embarked upon the path of character formation and is about to face the more important journey of actually growing up. Marriage looms.
However, the chosen young man is Guy Charlton . Readers of Lorna Hill's other books will already know that there are at least three problems with Guy that complicate the issue of a straightforward romance. Firstly Guy is almost perfect – he is kind, considerate, honest, patient (most of the time) and possesses both immense physical and moral courage. Should I add that he is rich and talented, at home with animals both as a consummate rider and as a caring vet ? Thus he is either too good to be true or, perhaps, too good for Jane. Secondly there is a legacy from the "Marjorie" stories that conflicts with the facts in the "Wells" series. At one time Guy was clearly destined to partner Esme, and Lorna Hill's portrayal of their romance is considered to be one the best parts of those "younger" tales. It is impossible to dislike Esme and yet now there is Jane. Finally, inflicting corporal punishment on young girls who misbehave i.e. a good spanking on the bottom as in "Castle in Northumbria", must always cause the reader to stop and think twice about the author's obvious love for her favourite man.
Even before this unusual romance unfolds, Guy and Jane are united by their separate memory of a past episode from Jane's childhood (recorded in "No Castanets at the Wells") when Guy rescued her from the pig-headed cruelty that comes to be the hallmark of Nigel's behaviour. The reader also knows (though Jane doesn't) from Caroline's account how Guy intervened to stop Fiona stealing the role of Titania from Jane with her lies to Lady Blantosh. Guy is fair and honest in all of his dealings but the author, in spite of the disappearance of Esme, is showing us that quite early on he had a special consideration for Jane. In order for the romance to blossom, Guy has to become a little less sure of himself and Jane has to gain more in confidence. Above all, they have got to be ready to obey the underlying principle of all the Wells books which is that the people who give generously of themselves are rewarded – even when the giving consists of allowing the prospective partner the freedom to escape. By the opening of "Jane Leaves the Wells" both are ready for a new relationship and Lorna Hill is very careful in the way that she handles the details of their gradual union. And the landscape plays a big part in the way that she does it. Her first tactic is to move away from the two familiar territories of the ballet and the Northumbrian countryside and place the crucial parts of the action in Scotland.
The precision with which the journey to Scotland is described makes is possible for any so-inclined reader to trace the route on the map. Everything in this part of the book is going to be just right. Unlike the first person narratives which often remain coy or discrete about the emergence of feelings and the declaration of love, this third-person account lays bare every telling detail. Gradually, on the epic journey in the car through the snow and the rain, it emerges that both Guy and Jane are caring and generous people. At every stage of the trip Guy considers the comfort and good spirits of Mariella and Jane. In the latter stages Jane spontaneously offers the fractious Fiona her dance dress. Other people, including Fiona, Nigel and Josef, behave churlishly and the affinity of Jane and Guy is thus made even more clear.
However, the real story belongs to the mountains. The climbing of Ben Cruachan by Guy and one of the subsidiary peaks in the range by Jane is not just the physical means of bringing the two young people together. It is redolent of hints about the nature of their developing relationship and of what is to happen to their lives. Guy's thorough preparations for his day's climbing are contrasted with Jane's impatient ignorance and impetuousness. It would be "fun" to meet him at the top. She sets off ridiculously ill-equipped for the expedition and inevitably places herself in real peril. There is a moment before the dangers become apparent when she feels she has made it to the top.
"Peak after peak appeared for one brief moment, and then vanished like ghostly giants from another world, and between them and Jane lay a deep and dangerous gulf that even she, in her inexperience, knew she could never cross from this point."
The parallels with her own career in ballet are irresistible. The gala performance is but the false top – the minor peak that lies below the achievements of the likes of Veronica. Oscar Devereux, the wily old critic, knows that Jane's chance has come too soon and later the author comments,
"You see, he knew Jane intimately, and he knew that her character was soft and affectionate, that it lacked the steel thread that must run through a ballerina's nature if stardom is to be reached and sustained."
Guy's rescue of Jane has all the ingredients that are required for the selflessness that is required from a partner. He surrenders his coat, his gloves, his food and, perhaps more importantly, a little bit of his old self some time later as they sit in the safety of his car. He settles in to deliver one of his usual tellings-off but is defeated by the affection that he feels for her. Even his threat of a spanking comes across as an empty one and, despite her apparently meek response, his attention has focused on the spirit with which she extracts a promise from him that they will climb the mountain together.
Jane has always hated horses and vowed never to ride one when she gained adult years. When Guy drives to Edinburgh and reveals that he has booked two mounts for them to ride her heart sinks in depression and apprehension. Yet, for the sake of Guy, she forces herself to go through with the ride. Once again she is prepared to give and, to her surprise, she suddenly finds that she is the beneficiary. Guy understands. Guy makes sure that it will be alright. He believes that he is introducing her into her natural heritage,
"It's such a lovely pastime, and, being a Northumbrian, you ought to love it !"
The world of ballet falls suddenly away.
"It was when she was changing back into her ordinary clothes that she realized with a shock of surprise that for a whole afternoon she had never once thought of the Wells."
Yet it is too soon to allow her to leave. To turn to Guy when she is injured and defeated would be to leave the reader with a poor opinion of her courage and determination. She is still growing up, still discovering things about herself and the world of ballet. Her opinion of Josef Linsk is now clear.
"I only loved his dancing, and was flattered by the pretty things he said. I know now that he's not nice, really, and doesn't mean the things he says. He says them to every girl he meets !"
Earlier in the chapter she had discovered the unintentional cruelty of the profession she has chosen when she sees how the audience reacts to Vivien Chator dancing the part that should have been hers.
"Oh, the flattering, worshipping, fickle audience ! How quick it is to acclaim, and how quick to forget !"
Even then her essential honesty makes her admit of her rival, "I believe Vivien Chator is quite a nice girl."
Guy's warmth in his conversations on the telephone, his friendliness in coming all the way to Edinburgh just to see her, and his commitment in actually being prepared to admit that this was the sole reason for his journey cannot help but begin to have an affect upon her. This is special treatment and it is offered not because she is Jane Foster, the ballerina. Eventually it is clear to Jane that he really loves her and that his love is worth having. Even the manner of Guy's proposal shows the care with which Lorna Hill has constructed this part of the book. He chose Princes Street because he thought the noise and confusion would ease the tension for Jane. His preferred scenario was entirely different but let us leave that for the moment and deal with his refusal.
"I'm in love with the stage, and with the ballet !" she declares.
Guy doesn't try to reason with her or persuade her. It would be like trying to imprison a butterfly. He offers to wait if she ever changes her mind and declares that he understands. His behaviour is both kind and dignified. His feelings for her are clear and complete; Jane's feelings for him are still in turmoil. The confusion is only exacerbated by her worries about her chances for a complete recovery from her foot injury and then the opportunity to take the leading role. Lorna Hill expresses these feelings through the medium of a dream in which Jane fears that Guy will not arrive in time to rescue her from a precipice on Ben Cruachan. She wakes from the dream and confesses to her Aunt Irma that she loves Guy dearly.
"But of course it's no use – no use at all – my loving him. I'm a dancer."
Aunt Irma, the last person to understand Jane's true nature, merely confirms this view of the priorities of life.
"When ballet comes in at one's door, love must perforce fly out at one's window…."
When we consider Irma's earlier treatment of Mariella, which amounted almost to emotional neglect, the consequences of which we are reminded again in the very next chapter, you realise that she is the last person Jane should choose as a confidante. Her views should carry little weight in the eyes of the readers. However, from the point of view of dramatic tension, they help to illustrate the conflicting forces now pulling at Jane. Even Veronica's indisposition so that Jane gets her unexpected chance for stardom is not due to ill health or injury but to another interesting conquest of life over art that is cleverly used to echo the main story. The dedicated, divine and unmatchable Veronica is having a baby and Jane comments that her performance in rehearsal was more than usually inspired. In the end, however, Veronica's place must be taken by Jane so that her destiny can be fulfilled in more ways than one. The glitter of Sadler's Wells is about to be at its brightest.
Nevertheless, suddenly the author switches the story back to Northumberland and Mariella's continuing problems with Nigel. Amidst the details of his selfishness and her yearning for some return of the love she feels, Mariella muses on what has happened to Jane. In view of her own unhappiness, her conclusions on Jane's success are worth recording,
"All the same," thought Mariella, cantering smoothly along the grass verge of the country road, "I'd rather be up here in Northumberland where it's quiet, and yes, sane – where there are real things to do, like riding, and planting out the wall-flowers, and learning how to cure sick animals. Less glamorous, perhaps, but more satisfying !"
The description of Jane's gala performance is carefully constructed so that all the underlying themes of the book are brought into focus for one last time. The description of the audience in its glamour and beauty and the reminder that the occasion is enhanced by the presence of royalty apparently begins to encourage us in to the belief that this is Jane's destiny. Her performance as Odette and the way she conquers the people in the theatre continues this feeling. Then Oscar Devereux's deflating comments on her Odile demonstrate that her success is partly illusion.
"To be brutal it was insipid. She did not fill the stage."
Jane herself has begun to find the whole occasion unreal. There was a "dream-like quality" about it all and she couldn't believe that it really Jane Foster who has performed. What comes to her mind is Guy's face and what comes to her heart is "a little ache in her heart that surely ought not to be there."
Lorna Hill takes care to let us know that the audience are no longer beautiful – they are "lavishly dressed". They may be enthusiastic and charmed but they are not "knowledgeable". Jane's mind dwells not on her triumph but the distressing words that she had heard after rehearsal that very afternoon. In the opinion of her peers, her fellow dancers, she was "adequate, but just not top grade, and never will be." Her vision of the future if she stays within the world of ballet is revealed to be both tawdry and slightly preposterous and culminates in an image of the once handsome Josef covering his baldness with a wig.
As Jane puts it to herself, "She was on the top of the highest peak.." but just like her adventure on the lower hills of the range by Loch Awe she realises there were still other mountains that she could not climb. The understanding is that, in contrast, Veronica touched the stars. It is better to have a world where you can keep on climbing and not one where you are "over the hill".
This takes us back to Guy's proposal in Princes Street and what he would have said if they had been ready to dedicate themselves to each other. What he wanted was that their declaration and commitment to each other should take place on the top of Ben Cruachan so that their "promise would be solemn and binding, made, as it was, in the very heart of the hills." When she sends her telegram it means that Guy and Jane will climb Ben Cruachan together and it will be a symbol of how they will approach their future life together. The country that lies ahead is challenging but also real and permanent. His love as yet may be stronger than hers but the book has shown us that she has courage and determination as well as a "soft and affectionate" character.
It is this reader's opinion that Lorna Hill was never herself to reach such heights again. There are many virtues in the remaining stories and there are many "old friends" amongst the characters and some charming new ones yet to meet but never again does she catch so well her characters at the point of ripening into adulthood and self-realisation, nor does she present as successfully the conflicting demands of art and human love. From now on some of the backgrounds jar – the Ruritanian world of Leopold and his pursuit of Ella is demonstrably false and the unrelieved awfulness of the lower classes as depicted in her vision of the mining village of Blackheath smacks of snobbery. They were attempts at innovation but her realisation of the details lacks the conviction that she brings to the milieu with which she was most at home – the doings of the rural gentry and the middle class. And occasionally the plots falter so that the readers are given the sudden telescoping of years of life so that summary takes the place of effective scene depiction. Also, depressingly, there is the outrageous padding of "Return to the Wells" when overwhelming details of the Swiss countryside add little or nothing to the emotional validity of the action. How unlike the careful integration of characters, action and setting that we have seen in "Jane Leaves the Wells" ! Worst of all, perhaps, is the feeling that Lorna Hill, in spite of her forays into the world of kings and princesses, is now playing safe. Again and again you are met by reassurances that one day the heroine will be in the midst of success. You long for an editor that would have told her to let the readers find out for themselves and one that would have been bold enough to ensure that the titles in the middle of the series did not give away the eventual conclusion - such as happens with "Rosanna Joins the Wells."
The quality of the first five books sustains the whole series. The reader is hooked and, in spite of my reservations, there are still some gems to be uncovered in the later books – Vicki's journey with Nona, the awful attack on Sylvia, the discomfort of nasty Nigel and many others. And, if you enjoyed the Wells series, there are still two further directions you can travel with this author. The "Dancing Peel" series will take back to the world of ballet and the "Marjorie" and "Patience" series will return you to the world of children. I have no hesitation in saying that I prefer the latter alternative. #

Castle in Northumbria
Reviewed by Jim Mackenzie [ jmackenzie48@yahoo.com ]

Just what is the essence of a writer's appeal, the magic that draws the readers into the world of fiction, holds them there for a while, and then releases them back into the real world entertained, diverted and sometimes uplifted ? Which is it – plot? characters ? setting ? theme ? What makes a good children's book ? When it comes to a children's series what are the ingredients that sustain you through the different stories, through the good plots and the bad, that make you want to find out what happens next ? How can a writer use the assets of familiarity, inevitable in a series, and offset them against the drawbacks of repetition and the improbability of further adventures ? Most of us eventually realise that we are all entitled to one great adventure in our life: growing up, leaving home, falling in love, marriage, having children, but how can we, even as young readers, tolerate so many incidents happening to the same select group ? Is it because we want them to happen ?

It is thus in a spirit of honest enquiry that I look more closely at "Castle in Northumbria" by Lorna Hill, an author whose popularity appears to be again on the increase. At the time of writing this article it is the only book by this author that I have read and so all my deductions and evidence are drawn from this text. Doubtless there will be Lorna Hill experts who can tell me more. I look forward to hearing from them.

Let's start with first principles: I enjoyed this book. As I am neither young nor female then I am going to presume that there are factors in the book that depend neither on the naivety nor the gender of the reader. "Castle in Northumbria" is clearly one in a series as references are freely made to other adventures in other places. I hope to read them some day and I certainly could consult a bibliography, but that is not the point of this particular exercise. Let it stand on its own merits.

It is definitely a lost world, an age of innocence that can never come back. The boys in this story range from a twelve year old, Toby, to Guy, who is nearly sixteen. The girls in the story are nearly all fourteen and the friendships and relationships between the sexes depicted here just could not happen any more. I seriously doubt if they could have done at the time (early 1950's). However, as we shall discover, that is really a part of the fascination of the book. There is also a strong class perspective with most of the participants belonging to public schools and being pretty well off. (They each own their own pony and a chauffeur drives them to their camp at the castle.) There is a clear line of demarcation between these children and the people of the village, though, to be fair to the author, her central characters nearly always behave impeccably and are rarely patronising. Any one who is "stuck-up" is usually given very short shrift by the others.

Anyway, to start with the plot - nothing much happens but, in some ways, everything happens. There are no hidden passages, no dastardly villains, no natural disasters, no sudden revelations, no arduous journeys, no real moments of self-discovery, and, in this book at least, no falling in or out of love. It reminds me of the comment of the Scottish lady who went to see a Chekov play, "There wasn't much action but I do feel I know everyone so much better."

Judith, wearing Marjorie's dress. She is about to be the May Queen. Pansy, the narrator of the story.

Basically, to sum it all up, five children go away camping during the Easter holidays under the walls of an old castle in Northumberland and they meet two other girls of differing personalities with whom they interact in both a positive and negative fashion. The children quarrel with each other, forgive each other, ride their ponies, get soaked in a night-time storm and witness a May Queen procession. It sounds a pretty tame string of events, doesn't it ? However, I have missed two vital ingredients: firstly the almost entire absence of important grown-up characters and, secondly, the ebb and flow of feelings that surround Marjorie and her uneasy relationship with Guy. In fact it would be possible to identify a line of development that tracks Marjorie's misbehaviour and how Guy attempts to deal with it. And herein lies one of the strengths of the book – the plot does not strain the reader's credulity with the usual time-worn devices of children's adventures. Lorna Hill concentrates on the interplay between the characters of the children and does not look outward for artificial excitements.

Yes, it's the characters that matter. Surely the only worthwhile test of the personalities of the children is whether we want to meet them again as old friends in the next book in the series. And it is Marjorie who matters the most for she is the problem child. She is vain; she is foolish; she can be cruel and she is certainly selfish. Yet the other children still seem to like her and remain friends with her to the end. Even Guy, her greatest adversary, doesn't want her to go back to school still carrying a grudge for the way in which he has treated her. Marjorie is the fly in the ointment, the spanner in the works, the creator of tension and unpleasantness, the one who sets the reader's teeth on edge. She is the tempted one in the Garden of Eden. In contrast Guy is almost infuriatingly God-like. His well of common-sense is never plumbed, his patience is almost of Job proportions, his determination is rock-solid, his courage undoubted and his punishments swift, brutal and fair. His forgiveness and kindness are also clearly to be seen. He is almost a model young man. On a second reading of the book I was pleased to find a few faults with him. In particular his persecution of the tender-hearted Esme over her use of American and slang terms is revealed to be arbitrary, for he finds it acceptable for boys to use them. He also comes across as a bit of a bully – in the nicest possible way.

Now we had better deal with the part of the book that would be the strangest and most unacceptable to a modern audience. When Marjorie is revealed as a liar who had no real permission to be on the holiday, when she shows her cruel streak by swishing poor Thomas' pony with a hazel switch, when she stays out all night, leaving the others what amounts to a suicide note, when she wants to disappear on a date to the cinema in Hexham to see an unsuitable film with an unsuitable young man, it seems reasonably fair that she should be punished. What is unexpected is that Guy's punishment is to put her over his knee and give her bottom a good spanking with his rubber-soled sand-shoes ! Remember she is fourteen and he is only nearly sixteen. However,
"The spanking really did seem to have improved Marjorie, or at any rate to have subdued her, and she managed to behave quite decently."
In the context of the book Marjorie can eventually forgive the humiliation of her treatment because of her greater need to belong to the Clan, as the children have styled themselves. Already the theme of the book is intruding into this account without my meaning it to. It's best illustrated through the character of Pan. Pan (or Pansy Pierce) is the narrator of the story and a pretty self-effacing one at that. It is another part of the fascination of the book that you don't notice this important personality who shapes our view of events until you take a second look. However, the childish game of Fugs and Tecs at the Thankless house suddenly sharpens our perspective on both the character herself and the morality by which the children are endeavouring to live. Lorna Hill allows us to see how Pan is affected by both compassionate justice and the workings of her conscience.

Pan's crime is two-fold. She strays into a part of the house that has been put out of bounds and then she lies about why she did so. The incident soon passes off amongst other events, but not for Pan:
"The lie I had told weighed heavily on my conscience, so much so that it cast a cloud on everything – even the tea."
She confesses her sin. She tries to explain her feelings about being hunted and how it amounts to almost a phobia. The splendid Esme is soon ready to forgive Pan but by now the reader knows that it is Guy's opinion that matters.
"Well, you realise, I suppose, that you've let the Clan down," Guy said slowly, but his voice didn't sound nearly so cold. "Broken two of its most important rules – told a lie and disobeyed orders. You'll have to atone for that, you know."
Pan longs for punishment, for after punishment it will be over. The others decide that she must wash all the supper things and remain silent all during the meal. It doesn't sound particularly hard but Lorna Hill suddenly illustrates the deep friendship of the community of friends by the behaviour of the others.
"When I had cleared away the supper things and had taken them over to the trough where we usually washed up, I found that there weren't so very many after all. Esme had made one plate do instead of the usual two, and so had Guy, whilst Tony stirred his tea with his penknife so that I hadn't his spoon to wash, and his saucer was clean. My heart swelled in gratitude to them all."
Later the children visit the village church and look at the Beatitudes that were written on the walls. Guy picks out "Blessed are the peacemakers" and makes Pan blush furiously by saying that he thought of her when he read that for he had noticed the way she butted in between him and Marjorie when they looked like fighting. The sayings are then turned into a joke by Marjorie for she realises that neither she nor Guy could ever be blessed as meek. The point about worthwhile behaviour is made but not laboured.

Esme too breaks the rules, putting her life into danger by climbing on the walls of the castle. Again Guy attempts to sit in judgement but is confounded when he hears Esme's reasons for her dangerous venture and he finds himself apologising to her.
"I'm awfully sorry I was cross, Esme. As Pan says, I was scared to death. Please forgive me and dry up."
So, inevitably, the theme of the book is friendship and the values and feelings that underpin it. In spite of the quoted episodes Pan and Esme are already kind and basically selfless individuals. Their lapses from the high standards of the Clan (in each case for very understandable reasons) make them likeable and credible characters but less effective as examples than Marjorie. Her transgressions are vivid and memorable. Lorna Hill creates some magic moments. Take the time when Marjorie plucks the new party dress she has been sent by her Aunt Ursula out of the box and throws it onto the grass. Guy confronts her.
"You pick it up or –"
"All right !" Marjorie exclaimed. "I will pick it up." She seized the bread knife – the one really sharp knife we possessed, barring the boys' scout knives – swooped down upon the frock, tossed it into the air, and caught it upon the blade as it came down. There was a rending hiss as the knife slit through the silk stuff."
"Yippee !" she yelled, waving the frock wildly round her head. "What price the White Ensign !"

Marjorie's has to atone for her fury by agreeing to lend her dress to Judith so that she can be May Queen in a glorious fashion. Guy also later forces her to do the Latin preparation that she had hoped to avoid by running away on holiday with them. Justice is done and seen to be done and in an apposite and interesting manner.

There are also comic interludes brought out most strongly through the character of young Toby, who manages to deflate Marjorie with well-chosen insults and wry comments. At one point she complains about the midges,
"Gosh ! One's bitten me right on the end of my nose !"
"Rotten luck !" Toby said. "For the midge, I mean !"

The writer is also very adroit and amusing in her use of small details to identify the differing characters of the three girls. At one point Esme is discovered stirring her tea with a hoof pick which was used only that morning to clean Guy's pony's hoofs.
"I don't care," retorted Esme calmly, continuing with her stirring. "I don't mind one bit. After all, horses are terribly clean animals, aren't they ? They even smell lovely."
"But their hoofs !" I said with a shudder. "You don't know what they walk on, Esme."
"I do !" Marjorie exclaimed, "They walk on –"
"Shut up, Marge !" ordered Guy. "We all know what you're going to say, you disgusting girl!"
There is a sureness about the long stretches of dialogue, particularly near the beginning of the book, so that when the children argue, discuss and reflect, you begin to know instinctively who is speaking which line without having to look.

And as for the setting ? Lorna Hill makes it seem both romantic and down-to-earth at the same time. Pan's imagination can visualise the Border warriors of long ago gathering in the castle courtyard with their hooves clattering on the cobblestones. Reality of life by the castle walls is illustrated by the usually all-knowing Guy having chosen to camp just where the waterspouts of the roofs and walls dump their outflow whenever a storm breaks. The excitement of rescuing a tiny lamb from an area of bog-land is followed by the practical details of how to get rid of the mud that has stuck to them in the process of saving it. In the same way the author gives chapter and verse about the food they buy and the meals that they cook. The balance between what you want to know and what you need to know is kept very well. In short, the descriptions of landscape are brief but effective.

So, fifty years after it was first written and published, "Castle in Northumbria" still has, for me at least, qualities which make it stand the test of time. More than anything else it is rewarding to find that the characters are so fresh, lively and engaging. Now let me subject them to that "worthwhile test" I mentioned earlier. Would I want to read about them again ? The answer is "yes", for there are things which have been left unresolved. For instance, Guy clearly likes all three girls but will the relationships with any of them ever go any further ? They don't need to, for a series may stop where it wants to, but I believe that the reader does need to be kept wondering. The possibilities need to be kept open.

And, of course, what will Marjorie do next ? Has she yet exhausted all the different ways in which she can be so charmingly obnoxious ? Will she grow up ? Being caught in the tension of hoping she will and hoping she won't is definitely one of the most effective hooks that Lorna Hill puts into us. At a lower level Enid Blyton achieves it with her abrasive George/Georgina figure in the first four "Famous Five Stories"; at the highest level L.M. Montgomery makes us yearn for the mischievous Anne of the "Anne of Green Gables" story even while we celebrate her maturity in her proposed union with Gilbert at the end of "Anne of the Island". The sense of Pan, the sensibility of Esme, the loneliness of Judith, the snobbery of Sylvia Wade and especially the sheer effrontery of Marjorie and the domineering "rightness" of Guy are all definitely worthy of another outing. #

Having read a review on the book I'm currently reading - Castle in Northumbria - I realised it's going to be very similar to the only other Lorna Hill I've read - It Was Through Patience. Both books are about children camping, both written in the first person, both have each child owning or having access to, a pony, all families have a chauffeur, and though I haven't reached the bits yet, both have children camping who have been expressly told by parents not to, and both have a girl going to the cinema to see a film she has been told not to. I thought Enid Blyton had a reputation for repetition, but I think these 2 Lorna Hills really take the biscuit. 

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