Today's Timeslip Tuesday book is The House of Arden, by E. Nesbit (1908).
"Imprisoned in the Tower of London, accused of high treason, and having confessed to a too intimate knowledge of the Gunpowder Plot, Elfrida could not help feeling that it would be nice to be back in her own time..."
Time travel, as 12 year-old Elfrida and her 10 year-old brother Edred have found, is not always a walk in the park. Even if you have as a guide a magical, ancient mole who is the heraldic crest of your House. But as the heirs to a half ruined castle, that comes complete with a story of hidden treasure, lost long ago, how could they not take the magical chance the mole offers to travel back in the pasts of their Arden ancestors to search for it? Meeting highwaymen, smugglers, witches, kings, and queens is thrilling, but the true treasure is not exactly what they were searching for...
Re-reading this today, I was struck anew by Nesbit's uncanny ability, or so it seems to me, to capture the mindset of children, and to see things from a child's point of view. She wrote about Elfrida and Edred over 100 years ago, but they come vividly alive to a modern reader. I kept telling myself to pay attention to the language, to see if if sounded dated and archaic, and I kept forgetting to as I fell back into the story. My excuse is that it is a thrilling story, with almost non-stop action and adventure. Once or twice, Nesbit gets a bit preachy about Social Justice and the Inequities of her own time period, and she's not subtle about it, but these bits are easily skimmed by the fast reader who does not feel the need to have her own consciousness raised.
As is the case with many of Nesbit's books, it is the sister who is the central character, the sympathetic, thoughtful one, whose point of view is most often given. So although I'd hesitate to say that boys wouldn't enjoy it, I'd be most eager to put this book into the hands of a middle grade, fantasy loving girl. Fans of The Time Garden, by Edward Eager, who was a great admirer of Nesbit, will recognize that book as a homage to this.
The thought of a magical mole guiding children back to various time periods might seem a bit off-putting. Do not let it be. This isn't The Story of Amulet (my favorite Nesbit), but it's a very good read.
The House of Arden was recently (2006) republished in the New York Review Children's Collection- this is their cover. I had never before come across these reprints, and I am rather dismayed to find that there is much, lots of much, to want therein. For what it's worth, they got J.K. Rowling to write a blurb for House of Arden. Here is what she says: "I love E. Nesbit—I think she is great and I identify with the way that she writes. Her children are very real children and she was quite a ground breaker in her day."
As opposed to all those post facto ground breakers among us.