This charming story of the solving of an ancient mystery by four schoolchildren is set in one of the more remote areas of England. The continuity of life in the two valleys, Vendale and Thoradale, is shown by the fact that forebears of the two families depicted in the novel are part of a legend from medieval times. The families live in exactly the same places in the present as in the legend and bear the same names, even down to the dog, Hewlin.
Into this quiet, hill-farming community rides Adam Forrest on his bicycle, ostensibly to earn some money by repainting The Unicorn Inn, which is run by the Dysons, one of the families of the legend. He has another mission, however, set him by the headmaster of the local high school, where he is head boy: to “solve” or explain the ancient legend that involves a Dyson ancestor eloping with an Owland heiress. He was drowned and the Owland treasure was lost, along with a pack of hunting dogs and a mythical unicorn.
In the course of eighteen short chapters, the mystery unfolds gradually to its conclusion. Mary Owland believes the legend quite literally and is prepared to discover for herself the fairyland where the unicorn supposedly dwells. Her sister, Nan, both wants to protect her and is embarrassed by her naïveté in front of Adam. In fact, although Adam is considerably older than the other children, including Peter Dyson, he treats them with great ease as equals.
The ancient sign on the...
(The entire section is 454 words.)