We are reading Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge, an absorbing fantasy set in England in 1912. It is one of those books in which something astonishing happens on every page, and the setting--an old stone vicarage with a rambly garden--is just exactly the place my imagination longs to be. The Linnets are brothers and sisters--four children with virtues and faults, noble impulses and questionable judgement--in other words, real children.
I love to watch my four youngest children together--fighting all the time, laughing all the time, deeply loyal to each other, deeply intertwined. It occurs to me how often authors give us families of four children. I can think of so many right off the top of my head--the Linnets, for one, but more famously the Pevensies and the Penderwicks, the Melendys and Swallows (the stay-at-home baby sister doesn't count) and even the Marches. Authors love the five to twelve-year-old age range, which is exactly what we have in our younger set right now. There is an adventurous one, a responsible one, a lovable scamp, and a playful, adorable younger one in every book. Life truly mirrors art.
Ten years ago, we spent the whole summer in San Francisco living in a hundred year old, restored Queen Anne full of antiques and precious artifacts. The circumstances of our trip and setting were like something out of a novel, and every inch of the place was a surprise. Fearful that we would break or damage something, I laid down ground rules almost the moment we arrived, restricting them from the more ornate rooms, bolting the back door out to the balcony, and gathering dozens of breakable items in a spare closet to safely store while we were there. It occurred to me at the time that this is why authors kill off (or otherwise detain) the mothers in books--we tend to thwart adventures!
Yet in my heart of hearts, I wish I could let them spend a summer sailing and camping and crime busting like the Swallows or climbing a mountain to unlock a mystery with the Linnets. I even wish I could turn them out to play in an old construction site or hike in the woods and streams on their own as I did as a child. Children were made for roving.
Tonight, we move on to the next chapter of Linnets and Valerians. It's called "The Cave in the Rock," and the Linnet children are allowed to go anywhere they like, as long as they are home in time for a 6 p.m. lesson and supper. There is no telling what might happen.