Last week I wasn’t very well – just a seasonal cold but having the sniffles made me long for comfort. I wanted comfort food (fish pie), comfort television (Sense and Sensibility with Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson) and comfort reading. I had my fish pie and watched Sense and Sensibility but I couldn’t find suitable reading material until my Mummy rescued me.
Mum gave me a ‘red cross’ parcel full of goodies and at the bottom I found a copy of The Little White Horse
by Elizabeth Goudge and I snuggled into my sofa, under a blanket and started to read.
First published in 1946, The Little White Horse is a wonderful children’s novel that tells the story of Maria Merryweather and her adventures when she goes to live at Moonacre Manor. The book opens with Maria Merryweather in a carriage with her governess, Miss Heliotrope and her King Charles Spaniel, Wiggins. Recently orphaned, Maria is on her way to live with her cousin Sir Benjamin Merryweather at Moonacre Manor in the village of Silverydew somewhere in the West Country.
Maria arrives at Moonacre and thinks that it is ‘so beautiful that it seemed hardly to be of this world’. She arrives when the grounds are covered in moonlight,
“And for a fleeting instant, at the far end of a glade, she thought she saw a little white horse with flowing mane and tail, head raised, poised, halted in mid-flight, as though it had seen her and was glad.”
Miss Heliotrope could not see the little white horse and from this moment on Maria is determined to see the horse again to prove that it is real. Maria settles in to Moonacre Manor, Sir Benjamin is welcoming and loving and she and Miss Heliotrope find that they enjoy living there. Before long, Maria starts to unravel some of the mysteries and she finds out that the sadness that hangs over Silverydew is caused by the Men from the Dark Woods who steal their livestock and terrorize Merryweather Bay.
Every generation a Moon Princess comes to live at Moonacre Manor and it falls to her to defeat the Men from the Dark Woods – whose evil behaviour is the result of a long, long feud between the Merryweathers and the Cocq de Noir family. So far, none of the previous Moon Princesses have succeeded as their own pride got in the way. Maria discovers that to defeat the Men from the Dark Woods she must enlist the help of a pauper whom she loves. Handily, she loves Robin the local shepherd boy and together with help from Wrolf the dog/lion, Periwinkle the pony, Zachariah the cat, Wiggins the spaniel and Old Parson the old parson, they set out to lift the gloom from Silverydew for good.
This is a completely romantic fantasy novel for little girls and is a book I would have adored as a child. As an adult I utterly loved it as reading it is true escapism and you have to suspend all belief in anything remotely plausible to go along with the adventure. It is heavily descriptive and the detailed writing brings Silverydew to life so it is a feast for the imagination. It is a little dated but this adds to the charm of the book – the material is nostalgic and reading this over sixty years after publication the nostalgia is even more prominent. Silverydew is an idyll and Maria learns what none of the other Moon Princesses could learn, to be good and selfless.
The Little White Horse truly is comfort reading at its best; escapsism, fairytales, adventures, romance and good triumphing over bad.