Friday, September 25, 2015

Mistress Masham's Repose and The Glassblower's Children (New York Review Books)

T.H. White wrote one of my favorite books ever in The Once and Future King. When I discovered that some of his other writings were back in print, like Mistress Masham's Repose, I knew I had to give it a chance. The story begins by telling us about a ten-year old girl, who is described a girl with musical talent and a loving nature. Sadly for her, she was an orphan, who lived on a massive estate called Malplaquet. Her life in Malplaquet was a sheltered one, as her vicar, Mr. Hater, has a governess, Miss Brown, to watch after her. Those two conspire to keep the girl free from friends, and fun, as well as keeping her poor. Her only two real friends are the cook and a old professor who lived on the grounds. One day, when Miss Brown was ill, Maria decided to explore Malplaquet, in particular the lakes. What she discovers will change her world completely.

In the middle of the lake is an island, which is where the book gets its title from. Maria decides to explore this island, and on it she finds a race of little people. These aren't just any little people though. These are the Lilliputians from Gulliver's Travels. At first, Maria is a domineering big person, who sees everything in Malplaquet, including the Lilliputians as her property. Because of this viewpoint, and the way she was raised by Mr. Hater and Miss Brown, she also has a sense of tyranny running through her. (Who can really blame her? If you have been ruled over unfairly your whole life, you won't really know how to treat those smaller than you either.) It is for that reason that she captures a Lilliputian woman and her baby early on. Over time and through numerous interactions, Maria learns how to be a better person towards them.These encounters are what makes up the heart of the book, and there are some funny encounters. It is through these encounters that Maria eventually gains her freedom and the Lilliputians are able to remain free from the clutches of people who would exploit them for profit.

I found myself very impressed reading this book, and I was pleased that my expectations for a T.H. White book were not only met but exceeded. In fact, I wanted to immediately read it again after finishing it, but I didn't have that luxury at the moment. In addition to a great story, New York Review Books preserved the original illustrations of Fritz Eichenberg, which are the icing on the cake. T.H. White knows what makes a good children's book, and he manages to put it in there without dumbing down the content. My only regret is that I did not know about this book as a child. This is fate that my children will not experience, as I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

The Glassblower's Children tells the tale of Albert the Glassblower, Sofia his wife, and their children Klas and Klara. Albert is a very talented man in the art of glassblowing and makes the most beautiful creations that eye has ever seen. However, what he has in talent, he lacks in salesmanship. For that reason, he and his family are very poor. His wife has to work in the fields to help make ends meet. Klara seems oblivious to being poor, and Klas seems like a very sensitive boy who gets sad whenever one of his father's glass creations breaks. Albert is unfortunately a negligent husband, because his mind seems to think of glass only, which Sofia resents.

One day the family goes to the fair so that Albert can try and sell his wares. Sofia has her fortune told first, and the lady, named Flutter Mildweather, told her that if Sofia ever needed her help, all Sofia had to do was give Flutter her ring. Albert was skeptical of Flutter and thought she was merely after the ring, so he has his fortune told next. We are not told what his fortune was, but it was enough to scare him and cause a complete change in his attitude and behavior. He spent more time with  his family, and he also spent less time in his shop. The family went to another fair, and Albert's luck seemed to have turned around. He was finally selling his glass and things seemed to be changing for the family.Albert and Sofia were so busy selling glass that they lost track of the kids, and as a result the children were kidnapped. This was what Albert had been dreading the entire time.

Part Two of the book deals with what the children endure while being kidnapped and their eventual return home. Yes, I know I spoiled the ending for you, but I'm afraid some might not want to read it if they thought it would be too traumatic. The book is beautifully written, if not haunting in its words sometimes. This quote about their reflections is a perfect example. "Klas and Klara realized that the only children they would ever meet in the house were the Mirrorchildren. At first thet felt less forlorn and abandoned every time they met, as if they shared their fate with these children who said nothing, whom they could never reach and touch. But then one day surprise and joy had gone from the Mirrorchildren's faces; they saw only sorrow and anxiety, and then Klas and Klara were very much afraid." Chilling! This book is recommended for children ages 8 to 12, but I would err on the side of caution and go for older children in the tween to teen range.

These books were provided to me for free by New York Review Books in exchange for honest reviews. If you found these reviews helpful, click here and/or here and hit Yes!