Margery Fisher

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 435

Personal experience, transmuted by imagination and fine writing—these are found … in Philippa Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden. In this story, time loses its limits. (p. 122)

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Although time stands still in Tom's world while he is in the past, it does not stand still for Hatty [Tom's playmate in the garden]. She is growing up even as Tom plays with her, and the magic, the wonder of the garden, the transcending of time must come to an end with the ending of her childhood. This familiar ending to time fantasies is beautifully handled, with great sympathy for the boy who suddenly sees his companion as a young woman. And there is a bold twist to the ending which sends the whole book back on itself, sends the reader rethinking the whole. For Tom, on the very day he is due to go home, meets the owner of the house, old Mrs Bartholomew, who lives in seclusion upstairs. He climbs to her flat, opens the door—and finds that she is Hatty. So, did he go back in the past, or did she create the past with her dreams as she lay in bed, an old woman?

The subtlety of this circumstance is something children may pay more attention to if they reread the book in their late teens. As a child's story it is magnificent. It is at once philosophical, swift and gay. The conversations of Hatty and Tom are natural, the incidents probable and presented with beautiful clarity. The style is impeccable—loose-jointed and flexible, colloquial when the occasion demands, at other times rhythmical and poetic. The fantasy will be real to children because it is real to the author; she has carried out C. S. Lewis's advice that 'the matter of our story should be part of the habitual furniture of our minds.' (pp. 122-23)

[Minnow on the Say is] one of the best children's books of recent years…. This exquisite story has innumerable threads in its rich canvas—the pervasive presence of the river, every ripple exactly described; the treasure hunt, with its intricate and unexpected ending; the sure handling of a child's joy in living…. But one of the most interesting threads is the sensible, subtle treatment of class difference; the contrasting, by implication, of the Moss household, with its safe, small prosperity, and the old house where Miss Codling fights to preserve her standards. (pp. 287-88)

Margery Fisher, in her Intent Upon Reading: A Critical Appraisal of Modern Fiction for Children (copyright © 1961 by Margery Fisher), Hodder & Stoughton Children's Books (formerly Brockhampton Press), 1961 (and reprinted by Franklin Watts, Inc., 1962), 331 p.

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