Bedknobs and Broomsticks – Mary Norton (1943)

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Browsing through the shelves, both on-line and in real life, I was searching for a quick read for the Century of Books project, and saw that the old kid classic, Bedknobs and Broomsticks by Mary Norton would fit rather nicely for 1943. So – happily snatched it up and had a pleasant little read. (The U.S. title is singular, though, for reasons unknown, but probably linked with copyright or similar.)

Any time you read a book from long ago, there are going to be differences in how you remember things, and there were a few things about this read that I had (mis-)remembered, but perhaps it’s because I only saw the movie back then….

There’s a big difference, for example, on content and what used to be thought suitable for children (and for the times) can be somewhat jarring. This narrative includes some rather questionable descriptions of cannibalistic “savages” from which one of the characters needs rescuing – it’s amazing to see what was (British culturally) acceptable at the time sometimes. These characters had “kinky hair” and “thick full lips” – the starring characters, naturellement, were white – and so I’m curious if these sort of books are still given to children to read any more in great numbers.

little-black-sambo

(For example, my brother had a little book called “Little Black Sambo” by Helen Bannerman (1899) given to him for a b-day present at some point, and we children all adored the book. But looking back at it, regardless of the narrative itself, the illustrations are iffy at best. But them were the times.)

So, back to Bedknobs and Broomsticks….

The edition that I had combined two books, The Magic Bedknob and Bonfires and Broomsticks, both concerning three kids who move from their home to stay with an old aunt who lives in a small village in Bedfordshire. (Well, blow me over. That’s my home county!! Who would know?) The kids go outside to play and happen to see a woman flying by them on a broomstick who then crashes and they run over to make sure she is ok.

Thus begins the story of how these three city kids become enmeshed in the life of a novice witch who has sworn them to secrecy in exchange for a magic bedknob (corner decoration on the old brass beds) that can time travel. I was prepared for loads and loads of inappropriate cultural references, but the only patch (apart from the previously mentioned one) was when someone gets rather singed when he’s being burned at the stake…

But it seems to have aged rather well. I have no idea if kids today are still exposed to the film or the book, but it’s pretty good and I think the questionable references could be “teachable” moments overall. I am glad to have read this one, and was surprised to learn that actually it’s two stories inside: The Magic Bedknob (where the kids are first given the bedknob) and also Bonfires and Broomsticks (where the kids use the bedknob to time-travel back to the time of King Charles).

So not bad, not good. Just so-so. Norton was also the author of The Borrowers series of books that I adored. Perhaps I should track those down as well…

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3 thoughts on “Bedknobs and Broomsticks – Mary Norton (1943)

  1. Sounds like a fun read – I can only remember the film, too, and maybe a DIsney re-novelisation of it. I can never work out if children’s books were more violent or unsuitable then or now – now there’s so much violence and harm in kids’ books but they’re not left alone so much, maybe!

    I “did” 1943 with D.E. Stevenson – The Two Mrs Abbotts. I’ll have to mine your list for ideas if you’re nearly done! I’ve got 31 years unfilled and 6 on the TBR at the moment, so have done 63 but still have a way to go!

    • Hi Liz – yes, feel free to look at my COB list. (It has its own page on the blog.) I’ve also learned that GoodReads has a list of the most popular books for each year if you end being stuck or not wanting to read an uninspiring title. Plus the list includes plays and popular short stories along with kid lit, so it may help add some variety to your own selection. I’ve heard so much about D. E. Stevenson, but not yet picked one up. On the TBR list though. 🙂

      • I look on Wikipedia, too. We’re not missing many of the same years and I will look at your list again when I start actively seeking them …

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