I built up the Pile rapidly and recently with amazon and the Newberry’s book sale. Now I’m working on getting it back down simply because the books are there to read and experience for the first time. Which brings me to today’s read, A Walk in Wolf Wood by Mary Stewart.
This is a tiny little book, only 188 pages long, and some of those are full-page illustrations. Not many, but just enough to, along with the protagonists and the writing style, make it clear that this is a children’s book. Actually, it reminds me of Last Chance for Magic, that old Scholastic book I reread last November. A Walk in Wolf Wood can never be as inherently disappointing because, having never read it before, I had no expectations.
A brother and sister are on vacation with their family in Germany. Having toured a ruined castle, the group pulls off the road into the Wolf Wood for a picnic lunch and some relaxation. When their parents fall asleep, the two see a strange man, tears streaming down his face, walk by. He is dressed for days long gone, and curious, the two follow him. They end up in the fourteenth century, and it is now their mission to help this man recover his life so that they can return home.
Well, maybe their return doesn’t hinge on completing the mission. It does read to me as if, should they choose not to aid the man, they would be allowed to return to their own time with no harm done. Except, of course, then we wouldn’t have a story.
What is an interesting difference between A Walk in Wolf Wood and Last Chance for Magic is the fact that the former magically helps the two adapt. There isn’t some magical ability for everyone to speak the same language, just that the siblings are magically granted the knowledge necessary to fit in to the world in which they find themselves. John (the brother) knows how to use an eating knife, Margaret (the sister) knows how to curtsy and properly address elegant ladies, etc.
An interesting twist is that the longer the two spend in the medieval era, the more they forget about the modern day (circa 1980). They know they aren’t from this place or time, but they begin to lose their knowledge and vocabulary of the present. In the context of the story it’s not necessarily a bad thing as this serves to protect the two from being killed as witches or enchanters, but it does pose some questions for what might have happened if they stayed longer.
Now, because this is a tale of correcting a wrong, it would be a stronger story if the castle tour that happened just before the book opened had conveyed a tragic legend of some kind, then the magic offered the children a chance to right this wrong. That would make it a slightly more satisfying conclusion, like in a certain episode of Power Rangers: Time Force. In that one, the yellow ranger is told a ghost story about the clock tower the group has made their home. That night, she falls asleep and is somehow transported back in time. She helps the spirit find his happiness and, in the morning, discovers she has changed the past. No longer is the clock tower haunted, and everyone lived happily ever after.
It feels kind of awkward to be saying that a cheesy TV show from the early 2000s did a better version of this kind of story in 20 minutes than this book did in 200 pages.
Like I said, this isn’t a bad book. Nor is it a great one. It’s…acceptable. I’ll keep it for the time being, but the next time I need to prune my collection it’ll probably go.