Catweazle, by Richard Carpenter, for Timeslip Tuesday

Today's Timeslip story is one that I last read when I was ten years old or so...I hung on to my battered Puffin paperback all these years, and now have finally revisited it.

Catweazle, by Richard Carpenter (Puffin, 1970, middle grade, 190 pages) tells of an Anglo-Celtic magician, who, while being pursued by Normans, works a magic spell that lands him (and his toad, Touchwood) on a turkey farm in 20th century England. There he is much impressed by the "magical" powers of the farmer's son Edward, commonly known as "Carrot."

"Master!" he whispered.
"Eh?" said Carrot.
"Let me serve thee!"
"Teach me thy elec-trickery- that I may do it."
"Do what?" said Carrot.
"Put the sun in a bottle," said Catweazle, pointing up at the light-bulb." (page 25)

For Carrot, the next few weeks become a blur as he tries to keep Catweazle out of mischief. Yet still Catweazle, determined to get home, causes confusion after confusion, whether it's pinching the crystal ball from the local fortune-tellers shop, trying to fly off the steeple of the church and causing the vicar much distress, or serving as a very reluctant interviewee on the subject of local folklore. Catweazle has some touch of true magic, a very independent spirit, and a firm belief that Carrot is a fellow traveler on the path of dark arts. Very trying for Carrot, who tries to be helpful, but is instead the constant recipient of medieval abuse.

Here's Catweazle after Carrot has offered him a restorative shot of brandy:

"Yeeeeeaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!" he cried, skipping round the room, clutching his stomach and then his throat. "I burn! I burn!"
"Thought that would do the trick," murmured Carrot.
Catweazle stopped jumping about and advanced on Carrot, coughing and spluttering. Tears ran down his face leaving little pale paths on his dirty face.
"Thou bow-legged beetle!" he snarled.
"That's better," said Carrot.
"Thou white-legged worm!"
"Anything else?" asked Carrot calmly.
Catweazle took a deep breath. "Thou wry-necked, trash-mongering, swaggering, double-tongued, huff-snuff!" (pages 122-123)

It's the type of book where everything is constantly teetering on the edge of minor disaster--poor Carrot is constantly rushing around after Catweazle, tiding the edges of reality after they have been disrupted, and always afraid this father is going to find out about it all, and send Catweazle off...so it's not a restful read, even though it's often quite funny.

Catweazle, although often maddening, has his moments of dignity--and indeed, he is in a difficult position, seeing the modern world through the eyes of early medieval magic. Carrot sees someone worth helping in him (even though he doesn't believe that Catweazle came from the past), and Catweazle has certainly brought color and excitement to the world of the turkey farm. But in the end, Catweazle finds his way home back to the past...and finally convinces Carrot that all the things he said about himself were true.

It's an excellent read for a ten or eleven year old, and didn't seem dated to me at all.

Catweazle's story continues in Catweazle and the Magic Zodiac, which I sadly no longer seem to have a copy of, and which I remember liking even better....Next time I'm in England (where my husband's family lives), I'll have to remember to look for it. Or maybe I'll just buy it used from Amazon, where both books are available...

Catweazle began as a television series--the 40th anniversy DVD has just been released.

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