9/16/10

The Valley of Song, by Elizabeth Goudge

When I was little, we lived in Portugal and the Bahamas. Every summer we would go to Arlington, VA to stay with my grandparents, and a trip to Arlington's Central Library happened soon after we arrived. And every summer the first book I would check out was The Valley of Song (1951), by Elizbeth Goudge. I still remember the first time I though to look--I was eight, and had read The Little White Horse and Linnets and Valerians, and the thrill of finding another book by this beloved author was pretty darn thrilling....

I have my own copy now, and Central Library has been remodeled, and no longer has it. But I don't need to re-read it anyway--I have absorbed it so deeply that it is as clear to me as if I read it yesterday. It is a book that combines fairies, and the living signs of the Zodiac, a bit of Greek mythology, angels, and heaven itself, in one gloriously described feast for the reader (no one can describe beautiful things for me as well as Elizabeth Goudge). And it seemed to me a perfect book to share on this day of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, a day devoted to "forgotten treasures."

The Valley of Song takes place in a little shipbuilding village in England, maybe 200 years ago. In this village lives Tabitha, daughter of the blacksmith, who would much rather explore the beautiful meadows and woods than stay confined in the village school. One day her wanderings take her down a new path, and at its end, she finds the gateway into a magical place, the Valley of Song. For Tabitha, the Valley is a place of trees and flowers--a perfect place where a child can play and be at peace. And one day, Tabitha takes with her her dear friend, old Job, the carpenter--and to the wonder of both of them, when he passes through the door, he too becomes a child, delighting along with her in the beauty and wonder that they have found. There they meet Silkin, a fairy person, small and furry, one of those charged with the making of trees.

When Job sees the trees being made, with those that are to grow in our world disappearing in a flash of light, and those that do not being cast aside, to be used again, he knows he wants some of that ungrowing wood to take back with him. For in Job and Tabitha's village, a new ship is being built--the most ambitious that they were to attempt. But is dying almost before it is begun--the owner cannot pay for it. So Job, despite Silkin's reservations, ascends the stairway in the great tree that leads to Heaven itself, to ask for wood for the ship. And being a humble man, his prayers are answered, and the next morning, the wood has appeared in the village.

But a ship needs more than wood--metal, paint, ropes, and sails are also necessary. And each of these comes from the Valley of Song too, as Tabitha brings others into this paradise--Anthony, the master builder, Julie, his French wife, Andrew, the bitter and lonely man who was to be the ship's captain, and even her own father. Each of these has their own aspect of the Valley, waiting for them on the other side of the door when the past through and become young again--formal garden, pastoral meadow, Mediterranean coast, and high mountains--and each finds new and wondrous fairy folk, and living signs of the Zodiac, and each of these will also send their own prayers to Heaven, for the ship they love....

It is Andrew's journey that most impressed me--his path to the door of Heaven leads down into the dark waters. Capricorn is there to guide him, but Andrew is afraid. "No child of mine, born to the hardness of the cold nights and the lashings of the winter winds, was ever a coward." says Capricorn (page 140), and Andrew goes down into the dark, to free himself of the ropes with which his spirit is bound...I'm a Capricorn too, and I say this to myself when I have to go to the dentist....And then, after saying good-bye to Andrew, Tabitha has a lovely little journey with a merchild fairy.

At last, after many such magical adventures, the ship is built, but one thing is missing. The village priest takes Tabitha to the church, and there she finds that the church itself is another way into the Valley of Song...and God's own blessing flies like a flag from the beautiful ship as Tabitha christens it and sends it on its way.

I'm a little shy about recommending this one, because I'm not sure how a grown-up (or even "the modern child") might react to the dizzying pastiche of mythology, folklore, and Christianity. But it is a book I will always love. Such beautiful pictures in my mind, so many hours daydreaming about what my own Valley of Song would be...so much wonder and delight. And there's humor, too, in the dialogue, to keep it from being cloying. But you'll probably have to take my word for it. It is out of print, and very expensive now, unless you visit one of the few libraries that still has a copy...

16 comments:

  1. What a treat to read this post--Elizabeth Goudge is a favorite of mine. Amazingly, I have only read a few of her novels for adults (and none of those for children), but they're so memorable that I've never forgotten them and I turn to them every few years: "The Dean's Watch," and "Green Dolphin Street." She brings a magical/spiritual element to her stories that always touches me anew. I just went on Amazon and I see that those exorbitant prices apply to all of her books, alas!

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  2. I love that you can go back and write about an old loved favorite book. This one sounds especially worthy of the honor of being on a day for "forgotten treasures." Some of my favorite books would fall under that catagory.
    Bravo!

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  3. Wow. This one sounds so... wonderful.

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  4. You can find Goudge a bit more reasonably on ebay, but the best place is really library book sales. Although this one in particular doesn't seem to turn up all that often...

    Some other favorites of mine are City of Bells and The Scent of Water. And The Dean's Watch, mentioned above--a favorite Christmas read that makes me sob like a baby!

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  5. I hadn't heard of this book - thanks for the review!

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  6. I love Henrietta's House best of all.

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  7. This sounds wonderful, and even though I haven't been crazy about the few Goudge books I've read in the past, I still want to try this one. Plus I think Tabitha is the cutest little name. :)

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  8. I thought I had read all of Goudge's books that had children had main characters. I was wrong! Thank you for highlighting this book. If my mom doesn't have it, I'll have to wait for a reasonably priced copy. At one point, the Elizabeth Goudge Society had reprinted a number of her books in paperback form, and I have a hardbound copy of The Blue Hills that was part of a limited printing of 80 copies.

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  9. Update: My mom just ordered a copy of The Valley of Song. She really wanted it.

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  10. Never heard of Valley of The Song,must read.

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  11. It's the most beautiful book - when I was about 9, one of the girls I knew had the book (the very edition you show on your blog!!), and used to hire it out to the other girls - there was always a waiting list for this one! You'd think it would be a very good idea for publishers to see what out-of-print books are going for silly prices, and re-publish them - I'd love to get this book (preferably the same edition - those illustrations haunt me even now), but don't want to pay the sort of prices I've seen up to now.

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  12. I'm longing for a copy of this book too...I read it as a child and it sank really deep...Thank you for this lovely reminder, though it makes me hunger for the book even more...

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  13. L loved this book so much as a child. It should definitely be reprinted!

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  14. This was my favorite book, ever. For years I looked for it in used book stores. I loved all of Elizabeth Goudge's books, but this one was simply the best.

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  15. This book shaped the way I thought about spiritual things. I got it as a birthday present at age 11 from a minister's wife, and its mixture of all things unseen opened my mind in a way I did not fully appreciate until many years later. When I trace the beginnings of my path, I come back to the "all true paths lead to the same place" that I learned here. At age 11, it was, of course, a magical experience. As an adult, my husband had a book dealer find me a copy at some cost, but it was one of the best presents I ever had-twice.

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  16. I'm so glad to know I'm not alone in loving this!

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