(Ann) Philippa Pearce Margery Fisher - Essay

Margery Fisher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Elm Street in North London, bounded by the stump of a tree at the Park end and by Woodside School (and gimlet-eyed George Crackenthorpe) at the other, to the outward eye a row of terrace houses like any other, is a territory to the children who live there, their cohesion proved by the fact that at school they are known to their peers from other streets as "the Elm Street lot". The six stories that chronicle their adventures [in The Elm Street Lot] were written ten years ago … but at least the passage of time has showed the dateless character of Philippa Pearce's writing. Progress has not yet put an end to the self-contained, village atmosphere of many London streets which is reflected in this book….

Elm Street's individuality is supported by the device of "populousness", the method by which an author, defining only a handful of characters, creates the illusion of a far larger cast…. The illusion of populousness is simply and elegantly sustained…. (p. 3538)

The quiet humour that illuminates all Philippa Pearce's books rises naturally out of situations in these tales. A bath too big to go through the door, a lost kite, a broken window, a leaking roof, a hamster escaped, a cat run over—each circumstance engages the attention of the neighbourhood in varying ways, and while the energetic improvisations of nine-year-olds sets the tone, there are plenty of hints of more mature confrontations and relationships going on. The simplicity of the book is a matter of selection, not of omission. The style is concrete and precisely phrased; the stories run easily like reminiscences to be listened to but they are complex enough in content for the slower scrutiny of private reading…. The artistry of the Elm Street stories, different in scale but not in kind from that of Philippa Pearce's longer books, confirms me in my conviction that there is nobody to equal her in her chosen sphere. (p. 3539)

Margery Fisher, "An Old Favourite: 'The Elm Street Lot'," in her Growing Point, Vol. 18, No. 2, July, 1979, pp. 3538-39.