Archive for The Secret of Monnarce

Witchcraft And Magic

Witchcraft And Magic
A critique of the portrayal of Loveday Minette in the recently released film of The Little White Horse by Nancy Bray

Delighted to say that after seeing a poster for Moonacre Magic, I steered clear. To be fair, it would take a very gifted team to produce a film that anywhere near approaches the magic of the book.

When I try to explain E Goudge’s strength, I like to take the example of Wrolf. Wrolf, throughout my childhood, was both a lion and a dog. I never had to select between the two options. That is perhaps a good definition of magic, in which contradictory elements co-exist. It would take a very clever film maker to recreate this effect, when the visual is so impactful.

Reading reviews of the film on your site, I felt smug at my decision. However, one aspect of an article on your webpage jarred. Doreen Brown takes issue with the representation of Loveday Minette: “In the story it is her quiet motherly qualities which are essential, so why turn her into a new-age witch?” While I am sure that the representation of Loveday is probably deplorable, I think giving her slightly witchy qualities is not unfathomable in terms of the book, and of Elizabeth Goudge’s wider work. Loveday is a fairy creature. She is a moon princess, not a sunny character like her partner Uncle Benjamin. She grew up a deeply unhappy young woman and her pride is a serious flaw that she is unable to overcome by herself. Riding in the park with Maria, she draws herself up and flashes sparks just because she learns that Maria does not like pink. Not just a “quiet motherly” figure, she shows herself capable of alienating Maria, as she did Uncle Benjamin before her, and repeating the mistakes of her moon princess ancestor, whose inability to take a broad view helped establish a family tragedy over many years.

Magic can be both divine and dangerous. Loveday lives closely with the parson, who is of course a hugely important influence for her, but it is not until the end of the book, when her life is imbued with forgiveness, that it is fully confirmed that she will grow old in grace and warmth, instead of ageing into a lonely, bitter (witchy) old woman.

Nancy Bray

Moonacre Madness

Moonacre Madness

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Goudge’s work since childhood, almost 40 years of trying to find the next one in the library or second hand bookshop and almost 40 years of rereading the ones I have over and over. The Little White Horse was the first of hers I ever read and it is still magic to me. I was very excited when I first read a film was being made of it but now I’ve seen the trailers and read the synopsis I am so disappointed – no, that’s not strong enough; I feel Outraged – that I can’t see myself paying money to see the film.  While I was extremely cross the film-makers changed the title I am now pleased and hope there may be some chance that a good version of it might someday be made.

It was good to read the views expressed on your site, to see I have some kindred spirits.

What has been done to Robin, to Miss Heliotrope, to Sir Benjamin and to so many others? How could they take the Christian theme running through the book (as in so many others of hers) and turn it over to what one of your other readers calls “new age witch”-iness? To completely obliterate Old Parson and therefore deny a happy end to Miss Heliotrope (who as an elder person Hollywood apparently considers unworthy of both romance and dignity) and – worse – destroy the threefold symmetry of the original

Now I’ve had that thought, it occurs to me that Hollywood is just incapable of counting beyond 2. They just cannot conceive of a plot that brings three sets of plot threads together, over two. In this they are constitutionally incapable of dealing with a plot wherein Loveday and Robin in their gatehouse form one group, Moonacre Manor another and the Coq de Noir castle another; or, seen differently, Loveday and Sir Benjamin, Robin and Maria, and Miss Heliotrope and Old Parson; or Wrolf, Periwinkle and Serena (I shudder to think of what hell they have played with the animal characterisations) A tripartite structure escapes them entirely but what a mash they have made of a plot. With an eye to the main chance they have witchified a Christian theme and background and frosted over dehumanised characters which had been beautifully warm and human And all that rubbish about “the last ever Moon Princess”…. They didn’t trust either in the story or the audience.

I’d like just one quote from J K Rowling now on what she thinks of what’s been done to the book. Presumably they are paying her to keep quiet.

I recognise of course that bringing a book such as The Little White Horse to the screen today poses problems There’s a lot of detail and a lot of character motives that would be incomprehensible to the young today. The conflicts which propel the novel are some of them quite subtle, much more so that the obvious antagonism between Moonacre Manor and Coq de Noir. All the characters have to overcome flaws in themselves and to be more accepting of those in others But surely there was enough magic inherent in the book to make more of an effort worthwhile. Generations of readers are disappointed here.

Michele Morgan

Poor Robin


I do so agree with your comments on the new film supposedly of The Little White Horse – it is truly dreadful as a representation of the book. Like you I got no further than the trailer and excerpts on the film’s website, but this was enough to get me really angry.

Apart from using the names of a few characters it has little else to do with the book. If they had given the characters different names I do not think I would ever have realised that it was supposed to be TLWH!

TLWH has been my favourite comfort read since I first read it at the age of 8; I pick it up every few years and am still entranced by it. I am not normally someone who bears grudges – life is too short – but I could very easily do so over this. Why spoil the gentle magic of the book; why turn the characters into caricatures? And never, never will I forgive them for what they have done to Robin.

I am so pleased that the book is now better known (when I was younger I hardly ever met anyone else who knew it) and I can only hope that seeing the film may bring other readers to it – at least that will go a little way towards redeeming the tragedy.

I shall now reread it as reassurance that at least the book itself is still there!

Best wishes, Doreen.

Dear Doreen,

A kindred spirit! I’d begun to think I had been a little harsh. In fact my husband says that I really ought to go and see it if only to be able to talk about it first hand. I had in fact almost made up my mind to do so when a fellow worker told me she had read an interview given by Dakota Blue (Maria) and she had said that Maria was “such a good strong character” that she could see the possibility of a sequel!

I suppose it is a generational problem, and the younger one is the more likely you would be to emphasise with the updated story. But you are right, the only real similarity are in the names, and I think even here they have changed Black Heart to Night/dark/black. J.K. Rowlings bless her hasn’t helped matters with that remark about her favourite book

I agree about Robin, but also deeply regret the fun poked at Miss Heliotrope, noble woman of gentle strength, who wins back her lover and her health before the book ends

Did you go on to read any of Elizabeth’s other books? The book that speaks deeply to me is Scent Of Water. There is the rightness of a great painting about it, and it will be one of the next of her works that I’ll review. I just keep putting it off because I want to get it right

Thank you so much for contacting the site, I would like to use your email in next month’s Goudge Talk to hopefully spark a debate

Deborah – many thanks for the reply Whether of not it would be a good thing to see the whole film – I am not so sure; it could scar you for life

I have read only a few of EG’s books. My sister was given a copy if The Little White Horse in 1948 and she also loves it and rereads it. I read it myself shortly afterwards – it was the first book I read for myself and at the time it seemed very long, but it enchanted me and still does. Although I am usually a very practical and down-to-earth person I can always lose myself in its magic. Maybe we all need to have something to retreat into on occasions.

My comment about Robin came from my early and continuing love of the character – what more could you want from a man? I think I have spent my life looking for Robin – and never found him! The image of him in a face mask and with a strange array of feathers round his neck is rather disturbing.

The other book by EG that I love is The Dean’s Watch Again the gentle magic works, and I love the references to the Fen country – my father’s family come from that part of England.

I shall, on your recommendation, try Scent of Water. But only after I have reread The Little White Horse, just to reassure myself that it is still there!

Best wishes, Doreen.


The Secret Of Moonacre


The long awaited British Premiere of the film based on the Elizabeth Goudge book The Little White Horse.

Taken from The London Film Festival Website

Maria Merryweather (Dakota Blue Richards) has recently been orphaned and, despite great expectations, her sole inheritance is an illustrated book entitled The Secret Chronicles of Moonacre Valley. She is sent to live with her cold, reserved Uncle (Ioan Gruffudd) along with her companion Miss Heliotrope (Juliet Stevenson). Maria discovers that the book provides a key to a past world and a secret that must be revealed before the rising of the 5,000th moon, when Moonacre will disappear into the ocean forever. A number of questions must be answered if she is to save them all. What is the curse on Moonacre Manor, her new home, which despite its beautiful exterior is dilapidated and cold, and who are the sinister, dark-clothed men who live in the forest and seem intent on capturing Maria?

Juliet Stevenson as Miss Heliotrope

Our Family Gala this year is directed by Gabor Csupo who last visited the LFF in 2002 with The Wild Thornberry’s Movie and has since gone on to make the hugely successful Bridge to Terabithia. Based on The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, The Secret of Moonacre is a hugely enjoyable family adventure which, despite having a fairytale sensibility where unicorns, black lions and moon princesses play their part, never loses touch with the strong story and performances that ensure its universal appeal.
Justin Johnson

Directed by:Gabor CsupoWritten by:Graham Alborough, Lucy Shuttleworth Cast:Ioan Gruffudd, Dakota Blue Richards, Juliet Stevenson, Tim Curry, Natasha McElhone Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures International UK Country: UK-Hungary Year: 2008 Running time: 103min

Editors Reply

Could someone tell me where the “great expectations” have come from? Mine were certainly gone, my heart sank just reading the film synopsis and plummeted after viewing the trailer.

Maria and Miss Heliotrope are grateful to be taken in and befriended in a hostile world. Maria has no inheritance, and they are over whelmed and pleasantly surprised by the warm, welcoming, sunny, open handed Sir Benjamin, not repelled by some morose Heathcliff imitation who glowers at them. Marmaduke Scarlet has had his dignity and talent stripped from him and been replaced by some “magical” elf. Poor Miss Heliotrope is no longer Maria’s Governess but a “companion”. Why? Surely it is not so anachronistic a concept that today’s audience wouldn’t understand it? On her way to her new home with her companion, Maria’s carriage is attacked by Robin, the Coq De Noir family’s teenage son.

Robin from Secret of Moonarce

Poor Robin transformed into a “hoodie” with the nightmare of Coq du Noir as Father, presumably in an attempt to up date him. Both he and Maria are denied the comfort and security of Loveday as a Mother, she becomes instead a strange priestess like figure, the tragic Moon Princess. Finally Wrolf, the noble Wrolf a symbol of the strength, courage and faithfulness of the best of the Sun Merryweathers morphs into a black panther with a ruff.
The black men do not want to capture Maria until Robin and herself invade their castle and throw down a challenge. Points and plot seem to have been changed for no intrinsic reason except they can be. It neither enhances the tale or moves the plot on quickly over those inconvenient explanations and character analysis that authors will insist in including in their work!

Maria has to unravel the key to the mystery herself, there is no book to help her, she must grow into her inheritance, and why O why does the 5000th moon and the lost Land of Lyonesse make an appearance?
” The brave soul and the pure spirit shall with a merry and a loving heart inherit the kingdom together.” The Lion and the Unicorn of the heraldic device, which represents a fusion of the best of both worlds have tumbled off the mantelpiece. I feel as if a hammer has been taken to one of Elizabeth’s “little things” smashing it into unrecognisable pieces. All the delicacy and depth of the book has been removed.

It seems to me that this type of film sets a dangerous precedent. Elizabeth’s works are full of the kind of magic that surrounds us every day. We don’t have to travel to another realm to encounter it. There are no instant cures for the ills of this earth. In all her work she tries to show us how we can make our time here count by caring for it and for all the people who we come into contact with. We can make our own magic and can see the wonder of the natural world performing little daily miracles all around us.

The Company have taken a wonderful story that blends the Spiritual with the Mundane world seamlessly and turned it into a film of the, forgive me, Harry Potter mode. Elizabeth’s work presumably being thought of as too subtle for a modern audience, who are used to special effects to make points for them. Lets face it, we all knew that the film would not resemble the book that so many of us know and love as our first introduction to Elizabeth Goudge’s work. Perhaps it would be best to see it as The Secret Of Moonacre, and forget that it was ever anything to do with Elizabeth Goudge in the first place. But this then begs the question of what pulls it above other films of its genre. After viewing the trailer I did not feel inclined to make the long and complicated journey to London’s West End to find out.

Deborah Gaudin