In its fablelike account of a preadolescent boy’s visit to his relatives, Kneeknock Rise raises important questions about the nature of faith and myth and about the pressure to conform. The imaginary geography of the setting and the unusual cultural practices of the inhabitants of Kneeknock make it clear that Natalie Babbitt’s intention in writing this novel was not to create a realistic world but to invent a mythic place that was different enough from the contemporary world to make young readers think broadly about human behavior but similar enough to allow them to recognize themselves in the characters. The novel is set in the preindustrial past in a country that could be rural America but that, with its chandler, clockmaker, and fair, feels vaguely Western European, vaguely germanic.
The story in this brief, engaging novel is fairly straightforward. Egan, who appears to be about eleven or twelve in Babbitt’s own illustrations, is invited by his Uncle Anson and Aunt Gertrude to visit during the annual fair. The fair is the most popular event of the country because of its proximity to the small mountain that lends its name to the town—Kneeknock Rise. People are both appalled and intrigued by the prospect of being close to the mysterious mountain that for more than a thousand years has terrified nearby inhabitants with the strange moaning noises that rise from it on stormy nights. Egan, too, is thrilled to visit the mountain that is said to be the home of the Megrimum, the monster that the townspeople believe to be the source of the moaning and of certain rumored attacks on sheep and dogs.
Egan’s excitement about his first visit to Kneeknock and to the fair is tempered somewhat by his having to stay with his fussy aunt and his rather hostile female cousin, Ada. He is also bothered by the fact that another uncle, Ott, who normally boards with his Uncle Anson and Aunt Gertrude, has mysteriously disappeared.
Nevertheless, Egan rides to Kneeknock in the wagon of a chandler who is a friend of his father, and he enjoys the...
(The entire section is 847 words.)