Thursday 29 November 2007

Tom's Midnight Garden

I'm very bad - despite a teetering pile of books to be reviewed, a nostalgic conversation with a friend led me to take a break and read Tom's Midnight Garden. What is more astounding is that this is the first time I've read the book. Astounding because I know every word, more or less, already...

I have very vague recollections of watching Tom's Midnight Garden the first time it was shown on the BBC, but since I was 3 or 4, I'm not sure how genuine those memories are - but Our Vicar and Our Vicar's Wife wisely taped the programmes, six in all, and they joined a small filmography of videos to be Watched When Ill. Alongside the Chronicles of Narnia and Pride and Prejudice, this dra
ma was akin to medication, and no day of lying convalescent was complete without one of them. Because I've seen it so often, it came as quite a shock the other day when I realised that I haven't seen Tom's Midnight Garden for about a decade - but it didn't take long before every detail came swarming back. My friend Clare and I had a conversation littered with squeals and 'oh yes's while each bit of the drama slotted back into place. They just don't make kids' shows like that anymore...

Anyway, before this becomes a 1990s nostalgia (or 1989, to be precise) I should probably fill people in.
Some of you may not have heard of Tom and his Midnight Garden, and be wondering what on earth I'm talking about. Philippa Pearce's 1958 children's book, now a classic, is about a boy called Tom who must spend the summer with his Uncle Alan and Aunt Gwen to avoid his brother's measles. They live in a flat within a large, old house, one which, to Tom's disappointment, has no garden. He is bored, and cannot sleep - but his strict uncle ensures he's in bed for ten hours a night. The house has an old grandfather clock in the hall, which strikes loudly and inaccurately throughout the building. At night, Tom hears the clock strike thirteen (like the beginning of 1984, isn't that?) and reasons that he has been granted an extra hour to the day - and thus can spend ten hours in bed and get up now. When downstairs, he can't read the clock face, and so opens the door to get the moonlight... and reveals an enormous and beautiful garden.

The book takes us through Tom's adventures in the garden over the course of several months, and his friendship with Hatty, a little girl in the garden who
can see him although the others can't. Some wonderful twists and events, and gradual comprehension, but I shan't spoil any of that for people yet to encounter Tom.

Having now read the delightful book, I am amazed at how accurate the BBC version was - my memory of it is not sharp enough to know whether or not they added things, but there was scarcely a line in the book which didn't make it onto screen. Impressive. If anyone's not read the book, do so now. If anyone's not seen the BBC version, I'm afraid you'll have to have deep pockets - the video goes for about £50, secondhand...


  1. I've never read this either but it just happens to be on the shelf behind me on my tbr pile. Part of a small pile of children's books I plan to read as and when. The one book by Philippa Pearce I have read and love to pieces is Minnow on the Say. Treated myself to a first edition a while back in fact. So I would encourage you to read that one too. :-)

  2. I love this book too! I read it for the first time about 4 (maybe 5) years ago and was surprised that I hadn't read it before. I'd love to read something else of hers.

  3. This is the most wonderful novel and though I didn't see the BBC version, for any Stuck in a book readers up North, the Library theatre, from tomorrow, is showing David Wood's splendid version of the book. The way they do the time-slip is brilliant. Philippa Pearce is a fine writer and all her books are terrific. Try also the short stories.

  4. I still find it difficult to put anything down on top of a bible. OVW

  5. To clarify the observation from OVW - the gardener is a Christian with a very high view of scripture, and won't allow anyone to place a book on top of his Bible. He plays a significant role in 'unpacking' the story.

    I think I've worked out how not to be anonymous


  6. I used to have the original OUP edition of this with wonderful illustrations but in a move somewhere along the line, it has vanished. I think this is one of the finest children's books ever written and I have lost count of the number of times I have read it. Those of you who have yet to discover it have a treat ahead.

  7. I have never read this book, but saw a movie version while I was in my teens and loved it. Will have to keep an eye out for the book, thanks for the post!


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