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November 12, 2020 10:29 PM   Subscribe

Penelope Farmer's children's timeslip novel, Charlotte Sometimes (1969), was the inspiration for a song by The Cure. Farmer writes about her experience of this here and here.

Interview with Farmer at Vulpes Libris. Article by Farmer on grief and friendship. Hannah Gerson has written about time in Charlotte Sometimes. Jo Walton's review of Charlotte Sometimes.
posted by paduasoy (32 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
One of my best-loved books from childhood; I was so disappointed when I bought a new edition only to discover that Farmer had made changes to the text, mainly the ending, which I found unsatisfying. Fortunately I found an ex-library copy, even in the same dustjacket as the one I used to borrow obsessively from the local library.

The story of When Robert Met Penelope in the links is very sweet.
posted by andraste at 12:31 AM on November 13, 2020 [3 favorites]


Oh my god, I just read the grief and friendship article. It’s got very dusty in here.
posted by andraste at 12:35 AM on November 13, 2020 [4 favorites]


Yes, I'd be interested to know why Farmer made the changes. I haven't read the revised version but it doesn't sound like a great idea.
posted by paduasoy at 12:47 AM on November 13, 2020


It's curious how many "unstuck in time" books were published for children in England during the fifties and sixties - Tom's Midnight Garden (1958), The Children of Green Knowe (1954), The Ghosts (1969) (a.k.a. The Amazing Mr Blunden), Charlotte Sometimes (1969), maybe The Owl Service and When Marnie Was There (1967). And I'm sure there are others I can't think of off the top of my head - I remember, as a child, reading The Children of Green Knowe, thinking it was going to be The Ghosts (which I'd seen on Jackanory). I also notice that most of those are bunched together at the end of the sixties. I wonder how it relates to something like Children of the Stones. Insert ill-advised and ignorant reference to hauntology here, I suppose.
posted by Grangousier at 3:14 AM on November 13, 2020 [11 favorites]


I was so disappointed when I bought a new edition only to discover that Farmer had made changes to the text

Oh, I hate when that happens. What did she change?
posted by pracowity at 4:44 AM on November 13, 2020


Oh, never mind. Wikipedia describes it:
Two versions of the novel's text exist. A revised edition published by Dell in 1985 has a number of changes made by the author. Almost all the revisions were minor, such as modernisation of vocabulary and punctuation and minor re-wording of sentences. The most significant change is that a few events at the end of the story are dropped. These include a poignant episode where Charlotte, back in her own time, receives a package and a letter from Clare's sister, Emily, as an adult. Also removed is the original ending, in which the end of term comes and the boarders ride away in the school bus, Charlotte among them heading home to Aviary Hall.
posted by pracowity at 4:46 AM on November 13, 2020 [3 favorites]


It's curious how many "unstuck in time" books were published for children in England during the fifties and sixties

Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series has elements of this also.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:42 AM on November 13, 2020 [10 favorites]


It's curious how many "unstuck in time" books were published for children in England during the fifties and sixties

I cannot believe I've never realised this before! I read so many of these books when I was a kid in the late 80s (my local library clearly didn't refresh its catalogue very often) and it had a profound impact on my taste in fiction. I'm still a sucker for an accidental time travel story.

For young girls especially, I think that there's something about the idea that a situation feels strange because you're in the wrong time - not because there's something wrong with you - which is very reassuring. Everything is still out of your control, as it is in real life, but now it's an intriguing mystery rather than the sad truth of being a teen or pre-teen in modern society.

There was a book I read which I have never been able to track down since, and whose plot I only barely remember. It's bothered me for twenty years, and you bet I'll scouring all the links in the post and the comments to see if I can FINALLY track it down.
posted by citands at 7:25 AM on November 13, 2020 [15 favorites]


In the US, Jane Langton published The Swing In The Summerhouse, The Diamond In The Window and others with a bit of the same vibe.

And there are Ruth Nichols's very odd and rather unsatisfactory The Marrow of the World and Walk Out of the World....the plots are standard plot-coupon stuff and quite derivative, but the landscapes and the melancholy tone are absolutely haunting.

And back to the UK, you know what's a really, really strange book? Alan Garner's Elidor. If you're a fan of the sad, haunting and lost, that's your story. I'd say it's odder and sadder than his others, and they're already odd and sad.

~~
My perception is that as YA crystalized as a genre (late 70s onward) kids' books got less likely to be weird and haunting, partly because there was more of a consensus about what "writing for kids" meant. (I mean, if you consider Diana Wynne Jones, her early books are fucked up, just totally fucked up, and her later ones are much more consistent and wholesome - they're all good, but man, compare The Time of the Ghost or even Homeward Bounders to Howl's Moving Castle - enormously less dread, loss, giant indescribable emotions, etc..) I feel like I encounter a lot of really good contemporary YA, and it's the stuff I'd recommend first if someone asked (because more diverse authors, less sexism, less racism, etc) but in general the books seem much more fixed somehow, much more certain. And also less likely to be just suffused by melancholy.

I think I'll post an ask.
posted by Frowner at 8:27 AM on November 13, 2020 [13 favorites]


I remember being unsettled by this book at the age of eight or nine; I don't think I ever finished it, because it seemed so sad. I'd like to do that now.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:34 AM on November 13, 2020


"It's curious how many "unstuck in time" books were published for children in England during the fifties and sixties"

Doctor Who began in 1963.
posted by doctornemo at 8:50 AM on November 13, 2020 [3 favorites]


There was a book I read which I have never been able to track down since, and whose plot I only barely remember. It's bothered me for twenty years,

Now, that's an Ask waiting to happen if ever I've seen one!
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 8:52 AM on November 13, 2020 [3 favorites]




It's curious how many "unstuck in time" books were published for children in England during the fifties and sixties

I think we underestimate the psychological effects of the Evacuation: in the first weeks of the war, over 1½ million people — many of them unaccompanied children — were moved from the bombing-vulnerable SE of England to other parts of the UK. The new locations would be unfamiliar, with accents and customs different from home and no family to comfort them. If you'd been moved from a plummy London suburb to somewhere like Fraserburgh far to the north, where the local dialect would be impenetrable, it could feel like being in a different century.
posted by scruss at 9:26 AM on November 13, 2020 [23 favorites]


When I was younger and would learn bits about history I always fantasized about being there, or historical figures time travelling to now.... in addition to fantasy in general. Still do. I remember, for example, Shadows on the Wall about ghosts of Roman soldiers in England. John Bellairs had Trolley to Yesterday? And of course other adventures, mysteries and magical fantasies featuring normal kids (and awkward, nerdy kids like me), like all of the Bellairs books, and the Dark is Rising, etc. Long standing theme in YA fantasy (with Harry Potter being the biggest exemplar. )
posted by thefool at 9:46 AM on November 13, 2020


I am also realizing how many of these time-slip books I read as a kid - I devoured everything on my library's shelves by Ruth M. Arthur, and I've managed to find copies of her books at library book sales, though I had to stalk ebay for a copy of A Candle in Her Room.

Mary Stolz' Cat in the Mirror was another time-slip book, set in 1970s New York and ancient Egypt.
posted by mogget at 9:50 AM on November 13, 2020 [3 favorites]


if you consider Diana Wynne Jones, her early books are fucked up, just totally fucked up

"check out all this magic & multiverse hijinks! also sales of mermaid meat are booming"
"I'm sorry did you say mermaid meat?"
"yeah they pack it in cubes for easy transport, OH HEY more magic & hijinks! this guy's a fussy wizard, do you love him or what"
posted by taquito sunrise at 10:45 AM on November 13, 2020 [6 favorites]


I remember Cat in the Mirror! I think that's one of the first times I remember feeling an odd fondness for a rather cranky and unsympathetic narrator.

The time-slip book I remembered this morning was Halfway Down Paddy Lane, set in the Irish immigrant section of a fictional mill town in Connecticut, slipping between early 1980s and 1850. (What I didn't know until today was that I lived in the real-life analogue of that town for six years in the early 2000s; the author grew up there. Small worlds.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:57 AM on November 13, 2020


Musing on it through the day, something I realised about Alan Garner's books (Elidor, The Owl Service, The Weirdstone of Bresingamen at least) is that they involve very modern middle-class children (cut off from history and tradition both by their modernity and by their middle-classness, firstly to a place that's contemporary, but alien (the demolished streets, rural Wales and rural Cheshire) and from there to somewhere fantastical, but rooted in British mythology.

There's a sense in all of these books that what seems separate - the mythological, or the pre-modern - is, in fact, right there, on the other side of the door (literally, for Roland in Elidor). Perhaps that's it - a need for closeness to the pre-modern in a time of conscious hyper-modernity (when the past was being demolished about us - a lot of places I thought were victims of the Luftwaffe in the war in fact fell to developers in the 1960s). The historical novels of Rosemary Sutcliffe and Henry Treece and Cynthia Harnett came out during roughly the same period - I was reading The Wool-Pack, set in the 15th century in the area I was growing up in in the early 1970s.

Of course, in the post-modern world, it all looks somewhat different.
posted by Grangousier at 11:29 AM on November 13, 2020 [6 favorites]


(There was also a sense that all of these writers were trying to reach for "what it was actually like", which they no doubt failed at, but there was often a feeling of the social alienness of the past. The post-modern way of representing it seems to be to assume that people in the past were just like the people today, but in vintage drag.)

Oh, and another great time slip book/TV series, but in reverse - Catweazle, a strange old man dumped from Norman England into late 1960s. Electrickery, indeed.
posted by Grangousier at 11:33 AM on November 13, 2020


I remember Time at the Top as my middle grade time slip story. I actually never read Charlotte Sometimes, perhaps I should.
posted by jeather at 12:17 PM on November 13, 2020


There's a sense in all of these books that what seems separate - the mythological, or the pre-modern - is, in fact, right there, on the other side of the door (literally, for Roland in Elidor)

Close but impossible in Elidor, which is what makes that one stand out to me. They never have a "satisfactory" encounter with Elidor, it's always muddy and half-way and wretched. Fairyland and the past utterly balk any conventional expectations of the fantastical. Whereas I think there's a lot more "satisfactory" interaction with the fantastic in Weirdstone of Brisingamen and the others - the wonders really are basically wonderful, there really is unambiguous purpose to the quest, the idea of the marvelous just there on the other side of the door is enlivening rather than a source of horror and alienation.

I'd sort of put it together with M John Harrison's Viriconium books - something of the same deconstruction of marvel.

Peter Dickinson's Changes trilogy fits in with these books too, even though it's not slipstream. There too the past becomes impossible.
posted by Frowner at 12:37 PM on November 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


E. Nesbit's edwardian 5 children time travel in The Story of the Amulet
posted by brujita at 2:01 PM on November 13, 2020 [2 favorites]


I think we underestimate the psychological effects of the Evacuation: in the first weeks of the war, over 1½ million people — many of them unaccompanied children — were moved from the bombing-vulnerable SE of England to other parts of the UK.

The Narnia books were all published in the 1950s, featuring a set of children who had been sent to the countryside during the war.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:22 PM on November 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


The trailer for The Changes looks like Brexit: The Movie now, although I seem to remember that they chickened out on the ending from the books - they just had a boring magical rock instead of morphine addicted Merlin. Junky wizards are an underused kid's fantasy trope.
Other entries in time-slip kids tv fiction from the seventies include Time-Slip (1970), Sky (1975) and Raven (1977).
To add to Frowner's Alan Garner recommendation there's also Garner's Red Shift - a genuinely difficult read that somehow ended up in every school library. Link goes to Jo Walton's appreciation which is pretty much exactly right in every way.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 2:55 PM on November 13, 2020


One of my favorite songs of The Cure. It sucks that Farmer didn't benefit from it as she should have. But the concert story is quite charming.
posted by kjh at 3:15 PM on November 13, 2020


Puck of Pook's Hill (Kipling, 1906) has two children meeting incidental characters from British history, often in a liminal space that could be either time period or somewhere in between.
posted by Hogshead at 3:27 PM on November 13, 2020 [2 favorites]


This was lovely and though I didn’t know about Farmer before, this makes me love Robert Smith even more.
posted by sjswitzer at 8:43 PM on November 13, 2020


Alison Uttley's 'A Traveller In Time' is one of the earliest and best, published in 1939.

On my first trip to the UK, we stayed with a friend's parents in Derbyshire. I was incredibly awed and delighted to discover that the parents had actually been married in the church represented in 'A Traveller in Time', right next door to the original manor that is 'Thackers' in the novel. We got to visit the church and peer into the manor yard. It was unexpected and lovely.
posted by andraste at 9:11 PM on November 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


Stig of the Dump was published in 1963.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:24 AM on November 14, 2020


Neither of the 'here' links work for me, so I shall continue my worship of Saint Bob as appropriate.
posted by pompomtom at 4:59 AM on November 15, 2020


The posts up thread on how time slip novels may have been inspired by the Evacuation make me wonder about the literature of the 2030s and 40s, as all of our landscapes become permanently alien under climate disruption. I don't quite know what global hireath will do to the literature of childhood, but I suspect a deepset yearning -- or, more hopefully, a willful embrace of change and dynamism and reconstruction. Hard not to think there will be at least some children growing up missing landscapes they never knew though.

Indeed, as a child of the 1980s Midwest, reading Diana Wynne Jones and Susan Cooper, I grew up missing a hilly, misty, England I had never visited -- I always felt landscapes needed more standing stones and little villages, rather than cornfields and malls. I vacuumed up Usborne Puzzle Adventures, with their distinctive maps of better countrysides, and then went for another walk around my flat suburbs.... yearning does start young.
posted by SandCounty at 8:04 AM on November 15, 2020 [5 favorites]


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