Earthfasts, by William Mayne (1966) three times, and that is the charm....the first time I didn't much care for it, the second I was very interested, and this third time I appreciated it lots. Possibly because having read it before, I finally felt like I knew what was going on, and that is a help to me as a reader.
There is a lots that doesn't make logical sense going on in this story. It starts with a drummer boy emerging from a mound in a high field in the north of England...200 years ago, he went into a tunnel below a castle to look for treasure, and now has emerged, bringing with him a strange cold candle he found down there below. Two boys were there to see him come out, David and Keith. And they take the boy from the past under their wings, as best they can, watching him realize he is out of his own time, and watching him go back underground, looking for a way home, leaving the candle behind.
And stranger things still begin to happen. The standing stones walk, giants raid the local piggeries, a wild boar charges through the market, and King Arthur himself arises. And then David disappears, and it is up to Keith, the loyal follower of smart, curious David, who must figure out how to put things right.
Which involves going underground himself...and bringing David, and the drummer boy, back home with him.
It is a story full of the old stuff of England, and so it should have delighted me from the get go. But it is a fantasy where instead of numinous delight, there is a sense of dread and chill and wrongness, keenly felt by David and Keith, and spilling over to the reader (ie me) as well. It is all very real and impossible, and Mayne never lets it become less so, and so it not satisfyingly escapist, because there isn't escape. Though by the third time, like I said, I understood everything, got over my pique about the Drummer Boy disappearing so early in the book (I was expecting a time travel book about his experiences in the present, and although that's how things start, he does go off stage rather emphatically, and then there are confusing giants and wild boars etc), and I could relax and appreciate all the lovely details of the setting and the odd little touches of humor and the characters of the boys and their friendship. That being said, even this time around, I found his style a little coldly distant...
There are two more books that continue the story, Cradlefasts and Candlefasts, and I once started the former, but never finished it, and now feel like I should try again.
But I do have some reluctance to do so, not related to the books themselves. I have put off writing about Earthfasts for Timeslip Tuesday, even though Mayne was one of the preeminent children's book writers in the second half of the 20th century in England, and this is one his best know books. He was an abuser of young girls, and he ended up being imprisoned for several years for his crimes, and the utter repugnance I feel toward him makes it hard to like this books. I can't reread the books with central girl protagonists, because I read somewhere that he used his books as bait for young girls to molest, telling them they could be characters in them....which makes his books with girls too grotesquely horrible to contemplate.. However, I really do love his Hob stories for young kids, with their lovely Patrick Bensen illustrations, and still have his series of books set in the Canturbury Cathedral choristers' school, that begins with A Swarm in May, a book I can't help but feel fond of, though I am deeply conflicted....