Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies

Rudyard Kipling

These two books tell how Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, met Dan and Una and introduced them to figures from history who had connections with their small village in Sussex. The locations are based on the area around the village of Burwash where Kipling lived in England, and down to the south coast of Sussex and Kent around Pevensey and Romney Marsh. Both books contain a series of chapters linked to each other to a greater or lesser extent and each chapter is bracketed by Kipling's poems, including what is probably his most famous and popular poem "If..."

The children first met Puck on Midsummer's Eve in Puck of Pook's Hill, when they performed "A Midsummer Night's Dream" three times. This is the key to unlock the magic of Old England and Puck is the last of the People of the Hills living in England. In a series of linked episodes, Puck introduces them to myths of the fairy folk and their interaction with humans and the ancient gods. He also brings them a Norman knight to talk to the children of the Conquest and his subsequent adventures as the Normans and Saxons started to amalgamate into the English.

Other figures are a Roman centurion who served on Hadrian's wall defending the Roman Empire and a Jewish moneylender who helped bring about Magna Carta. After each episode, Puck magics away their memory "by Oak, Ash and Thorn" to prevent them telling anyone.

We also see some of the contemporary local people, particularly the hedger and poacher Hobden, who is shown to be linked to the land and its history with some of his ancestors appearing in the tales.

The second volume, Rewards and Fairies, is set a year later. The title comes from a 17th century poem about the departure of fairies from England. Again the format is the same, the children meet people from the past, from a neolithic flint knapper, an Anglo-Saxon saint and Queen Elizabeth I to a shipbuilder who helps Francis Drake and a smuggler who travels to Philadelphia in the 1790s.

I enjoyed the books when I was young and still do for the way they bring the history of a small part of England to life and show how it is linked to the whole world. Some of the language may be a bit old-fashioned for modern readers, but it is history after all!. As is often the case in older books, some people may also find that some of the attitudes and words used are offensive to modern sensibilities (the "n-word" is used descriptively in the Philadelphia episode, for example).

Reviewed by Adam Quinan, June, 2009

This article is ©2009 by Adam Quinin, and posted on All Things Ransome with permission.

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