So there I was last week, jammed into the book sorting closet at the library, going through the latest round of discards in preparation for our next book sale, when I met a book I had enjoyed nigh on thirty years ago--Can I Get There by Candlelight? by Jean Slaughter Doty (1980, Macmillan, middle grade, 112 pages). JSD wrote scads of pony books, but in this one she added an element of fantasy to the mix. Remembering that this was a time travel book, I took it home with me....
How many miles to Babylon?
Three score and ten.
Can I get there by Candlelight?
Yes, and back again.
JSD uses this old rhyme as the basis for her story. Candlelight is the name of a pony belonging to a rather lonely girl named Gail, whose family are staying for the summer in an old coachman's house that had once been part of a grand 19th-century estate called Babylon. And it's Candlelight, the pony, who takes Gail back into the past, when Babylon was still a home (get it? "Can I get there by Candlelight?")
Gail and Candlelight (aka "Candy") discover an old path through the woods, that leads to the beautiful gardens, and there they meet a lonely girl, Hilary, left for the summer in the care of a governess while her parents are abroad. Gail gradually picks up on the subtle clues (sarcasm alert--they are screamingly obvious) that every time she visits Hilary she travels back in time, but being more interested in horses than history, she's content to spend her summer learning to ride side-saddle, and doesn't want to bother about the strange and magical experience that is happening to her.
But when, at the end of the summer, Hilary takes off with Candy, leaving Gail stranded on foot in the past, Gail is forced to confront the fact that time travel can be a scary thing....(this exciting bit only lasts seven pages, which is too bad).
It's a book that I think would please the pony aficionado more than the true lover of time travel, mainly because that's where the interests of the two main characters lie. Hilary seems either utterly oblivious to fact that Gail is from another time or determined not to question it (she notices that Gail is wearing "cowboy" pants, but that's about it). Gail has the advantage of having found Hilary's riding gear old and moldering in the loft above Candy's stable, and knows that in her real life Babylon crumbled into ruin years ago, but she too is determined not to let any strangeness disturb her friendship with Hilary.
I do think that it would seem lovely and enchanting to the imaginative girl who loves horses...so if you have such a girl reader in your life, you might well do worse than to offer her this book (there are lots of reviews on Goodreads and Amazon corroborating this). But it all ends up a bit disappointing to me as an adult reader--it's a neat premise, and a nice description of two pony loving girls and their beautiful pony being happy together, but it's not one I think I will ever need to re-read again.
Especially since I am really annoyed that JSD never tells us what happens to Hilary. Spoiler Alert--the last we see of her, she's lying, possibly dead, next to the wreckage of the pony cart in which she had galloped off with Candy into the night. How hard would it have been for Gail to have found out the end of her friend's story?