Smokey House

If this had been the book that I first picked up and read by Elizabeth Goudge, I doubt I would have looked for another. Which would have been a pity, as it would have deprived me of a lifelong friend and the pleasure of all the other books she wrote.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pleasant enough read. It has plenty of vivid descriptions of the west country she so loved, evocative in the way that only Elizabeth manages to accomplish.

“A network of lovely lanes wound about the village and in and out of the round green hills. They were very beautiful. Their steep banks were cool with shining ferns and bright and fragrant with flowers; primroses and white violets, periwinkles and pink campion, foxgloves, roses and honeysuckle, with in autumn the scarlet berries of parson-in-the-pulpit and the silver froth of traveller’s joy. Nut trees arched overhead, giving grateful shade in summer weather and down the side of each lane ran a twinkling silver stream…” (Smokey House p 15)

It is a book dedicated to “Nannie” that stalwart of the Edwardian era.

“The door which shut off the nursery wing from the rest of the house made a very real dividing line between the life of the child and the adult.” (page 22 from the introduction of A Child’s Garden of Verses)

However, if you part the fronds of her words you will find hidden as the flowers in the hedgerows, glimpses of her thoughts and life.
“Because music never forgets anything. It is the voice of eternity speaking in time and it gathers the past and the present and the future all together, making past happiness eternal and pulling future happiness into the here and now.” (Smokey House p 231)

Music played an important part in Elizabeth’s life, from concerts she attended with her father to church services and carols. I would have loved to have known her Desert Island Discs.

The book is full of songs and verses, written by Elizabeth, though she never considered herself a poet, but did publish a slim volume of Songs and Verses, some of which appear in this book.

But the biggest revelation for me comes when Spot the dog goes underground to escape from the red coats.

Don’t know if Elizabeth read the Apocrypha, with her love of myth and legend, I would be surprised if she hadn’t, but

“Gentlemen, said the Squire, “The Unknown!”

if she had she would have remembered that dogs are our guardians and guides on our journey to heaven. Not scratting outside the door of paradise like the loyal little dog of Sir Murgatroyd in City of Bells, but as a helpmate, and protector.

Spots journey, (p 255 – 256) gives Elizabeth the chance to explain to us how she interpreted the worlds. It is a rare insight into the fundamentals of her belief, the creed she lived her life by. Perhaps she felt safer exposing these to non-judgemental children, more comfortable with their questions than the scepticism of her contemporaries.

It lifts a pleasant, often predictable children’s story into the realms of the esoteric, effortlessly.

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