Mollie Hunter -- The Sound of Chariots and Hold On To Love

Mollie Hunter is one of Scotland's most distinguished children's writers. She's perhaps best known for her historical fiction--she won the 1974 Carnegie Medal for The Stronghold, about Iron Age Scotland, and her story about Mary Queen of Scots, You Never Knew Her as I Did, is most excellent. Others of her books are fantasies, based on Scottish legends (A Stranger Came Ashore, The Mermaid Summer, and many others). But my favorite Mollie Hunter books are two that are simply "YA for girls," in that they deal with the difficult growing up of a girl-- The Sound of Chariots (1972) and Hold on to Love (1983).*

Bridie McShane is the fourth daughter of loving but impoverished parents in a village near Edinburgh. Her father is a survivor of WWI, a man of great intellect, wit, and passion for social justice; her mother is a gentle, Christian foil for him, although no less intelligent and passionate. Bridie is her father's favorite, her mind leaping to follow his ideas ("Christ was a Revolutionary!"). She is also a writer, fighting with a teacher who wants to make her words conform--the teacher changes Bridie's "green broken glass" to "broken green glass," and the magic is lost. In the second book, she has left school and gone to work in Edinburgh, living with her rigid and old fashioned grandparents, but still finding space to grow up, and (yes, I like this sort of thing) finding a nice boy to fall in love with, as WW II looms on the horizon.

The Sound of Chariots takes its title from Andrew Marvell's poem "To His Coy Mistress" -- "But at my back I always hear Time's winged chariot hurrying near." Because halfway through this book, Bridie's father dies, and the fact of her own on coming death hits her with an inevitability that colors her perception of life and her development as a writer. The resonance of Bridie's emotions makes this book much stronger and more original than its sequel, which has, after all, a plot that many of us may have seen before.

In the 1970s American libraries bought a lot of really good UK children's book's, which they have been busy discarding these past few years. So The Sound of Chariots might not still be on the shelves of your local library, but there are lots of cheap ex library copies for sale. The 1980s seem to have been a period of retrenchment in library buying--there don't seem to have been nearly as many UK books bought (anyone else think this?). So Hold on To Love is slightly harder to find.

I tried to find an image of the cover of the edition I had, but there aren't any on line. Here are the early hardback and paperback covers, in all their beauty (not--it's a wonder anyone ever read the poor book at all):

*These books are set in The Past --1920s and 1930s, but don't feel like historical fiction. In my mind, Historical Fiction seems to equate with longer skirts--pre WWI. By the 1920s, the long skirts aren't there to get in the way of my identifying strongly with the central character, and so I can suspend my present in favor of the author's past. However, books set in the same WWI to WWII past, about Historical Events etc, and less about a person to whom I can strongly relate, I would be much happier to pigeon hole in the Historical Fiction category.

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