8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2011
PUCK OF POOK'S HILL is a grand, happy book for boys and girls. It shows that good things can happen to youngsters who read widely. "All people can be wise by reading of books" (it says in "The Knights of the Joyous Venture"). That is especially true for bright, imaginative young siblings like Una and Dan Reynolds of Sussex, England. From the Downs near their home they can behold the Isle of Wight. in PUCK OF POOK'S HILL Dan and Una learn that in Roman days that island was called Vectis. Thanks to their guide Puck, England's last remaining fairy or Old Thing or faun or Hill Person, the brother and sister meet Parnesius, a Roman centurion whose family had lived on nearby Vectis for four centuries.
Parnesius tells the children what it was like growing up in an affectionate Pagan Roman family (remarkably like that of Una and Dan). He also tells them of his father's old comrade in arms, Magnus Maximus, who became Emperor of a large part of the Western Empire before his reach exceeded his grasp and he was defeated by the Eastern Emperor Theodosius. Parnesius remembers how Maximus sent him with 30 men on a 20-days march north to the Wall of Hadrian, to guard Britain against the Picts and the Norsemen. There Parnesius became best friend of another young centurion Pertinax of Gaul. Together they hunted north of the wall, mentored and protected by a Pictish prince, who worked reluctantly with Maximus to hold back the sea-faring Norsemen.
Lucky for Una and Dan that they study Latin, rehearse fairy scenes from Shakespeare's MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, read Macaulay's "Lays of Ancient Rome" and are thereby able to look around their neighborhood with eyes open to history and lore! They can walk to what is left of a 4th century Roman fortress, stroll about the grounds of a Norman castle, make friends with an old man whose ancestors have lived for 30 generations in their valley. They learn that not just Sussex but all of England has been put together by successive civilizations, and have not seen the last of what the future will bring.
Over and over again Puck introduces them to long-gone knights, an explorer like Sebastian Cabot and to examples of how England was created when Normans married Saxons and learned the stubborn staying power of customs and law among those Saxons. And before the Saxons and Norman there had been Britons, Romans and others. And later came Smugglers.
PUCK OF POOK'S HILL is mostly a collection of prose narratives. But a surprisingly large number of poems act as a Greek chorus to show the historical and cultural materials in a new light. Dan and Una see Old Sussex come to life again. Its marshes, its proximity to France, once offered great possibilitiies for profitable trade. "A Smugglers' Song" puts it this way:
"If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse's feet,'
Don't go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street.'
Them that ask no questions isn't told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
'Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark --
'Brandy for the Parson,'
'Baccy for the Clerk;'
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
'And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!'
* * *'
If you meet King George's men, dressed in blue and red,'
You be careful what you say, and mindful what is said.
'If they call you "pretty maid," and chuck you 'neath the chin,'
Don't you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one's been!"
* * *
There are depths to PUCK OF POOK'S HILL that require more than one reading to plumb. But even a quick initial romp through its pages will leave you singing for joy. What if you look outside your own window? Might you not stumble, as did Una and Dan, on ways to make Shakespeare's Puck appear and help you unpeel the layers of lore that made your place your place?
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 2012
I regret that no teacher in middle school, high school, or college directed me toward the works of Rudyard Kipling. I knew little of him beyond the Just So stories, the Jungle Book, and Rikki Tikki Tavi. He has written an entire British mythology/fantasy/fairie book that is a terrific British history teaching tool with fascinating glimpses into Britian at the time of the Normandy Invasion and even earlier to Britain in the Roman era. Beyond all that it is terrifically well written. Mr. Kipling was truly a master of his craft. I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone with any interest in British history, mythology, folklore, etc.