On Tuesdays, I try to write about timeslip stories. If anyone else would like to join me, I would love the company and will add links. Coincidentally, I do have another time travel post to link to today--over at The Spectacle there's an interesting post about time travel from a sci fi perspective.
My own Timeslip Tuesday book for today is Harding's Luck, by E. Nesbit (1909) a companion/sequel to The House of Arden.
Harding's Luck is a rather unusual Nesbit, in that it tells of an only child--Dickie Harding, living on sufferance with an uncaring woman who injured him so badly as a child that he needs a crutch to walk. With no bantering siblings to lighten things up, and real poverty, as opposed to the struggling intelligentsia found in many of her books, Nesbit has set her sights on a more serious book than her others.
"...there were no green things growing in the garden at the back of the house where Dickie lived with his aunt. There were stones and bones, and bits of brick, and dirty old dish-cloths matted together with grease and mud, worn-out broom-heads and broken shovels, a bottomless pail, and the mouldy remains of a hutch where once rabbits had lived. But that was a very long time ago, and Dickie had never seen the rabbits. A boy had brought a brown rabbit to school once, buttoned up inside his jacket, and he had let Dickie hold it in his hands for several minutes before the teacher detected its presence and shut it up in a locker till school should be over. So Dickie knew what rabbits were like. And he was fond of the hutch for the sake of what had once lived there."
But Dickie sows some seeds in the back bit of earth...and finds that one has grown into a moonflower:
The seeds of the flower, combined with the silver rattle that is his one personnel possession, will take Dickie far from London.
But before the magic begins, a friendly seeming tramp takes him off to beg for a living outside the city. Sleeping outside in the "bed with green curtains" seems wonderful to Dickie, and he finds in the man someone close to a father. True, this is a father that wants him to be an accomplice in a robbery, but one who has grown fond of him as well.
Then time-travelling magic takes Dickie back three hundred years in time, to a life where he is loved, privileged, and no longer lame. There he meets two other children from modern times--Elfrida and Edred Arden (as also told in The House of Arden), whom he will later meet in the present as well.
Yet back in London his "father" is waiting for him, along with all the poverty and physical pain of Dickie's real life. Dickie strikes a balance between past and present, always forcing himself home to see that the man he has adopted is making progress on the path to the settled, uncriminal life that Dickie wants for him. But this balance is disrupted when Dickie learns that he himself has a place in the present time that can give him as much happiness as the past does--he just has to push aside new friends to claim it.
This is, quite frankly, not Nesbit's best book. It's pretty forced, and pretty improbable. Dickie is recognized everywhere as being better than your typical poor boy--you know, the nobleness of spirit shining out from eyes too big for the frail body type, who has taught himself excellent diction and vocabulary through judicious reading surreptitiously carried out in a London slum. The tramp, too, turns out to be better than your average tramp--he is Good at Heart, and just needs the steadying influence that a small boy with nobility of spirit can provide. It ends up a bit preachy. The magic here is also not Nesbit's best. It feels a bit like she herself was loosing interest, so she added on to the magic in awkward ways (for instance, we now have three incarnations of Magic Mole, as opposed to the one featured in the first book). Here is the grandest of the three, the Mouldiwarpest:
The time travelling here is a secondary feature--it's a device to provide Dickie with a Paradisal Alternative to his present, both refuge and temptation. It's the easiest time travel experience I've ever read about, with ever possible problem glossed over by a helpful magical nurse.
Despite all this, it is still a Nesbit. And so, worth reading. I did not mind at all re-reading it in preparation for writing this, although it did prove a tricky book to summarize (which is why there was a three week gap).
You can read Harding's Luck on line here, complete with the original illustrations.
As far as time travelling goes, Nesbit creates a serious and unresolved problem. What the heck happens to the 17th-century boy when the 20th-century one takes his place forever at the end?