on 17 October 2007
The only reason, and it is indeed a sad reason, that this long forgotten novel has come back into print is because it has a (slight) connection with Tolkien, one of this century's most popular writers. I say sad because it aptly displays how a fine writer of children stories can write a really good tale but remain obscure. Had Tolkien not read him, although it would have quite possibly change the course of modern literature because he would not think of the hobbits as halfings (well, he might, but he said this was their source) and create them as a viable race in Middle-earth.
As for the book itself? It is a fun, light read appropriate for children about ten or so. There is some violence in the end which may be rather frightening to young children, but nowadays they see worst on the television, and the violence is not real explicity. E. A. Wyke-Smith incorporates the Arthurian myth of the land across the river, which Tolkien did not like. Shame-facedly, my aquaintance with the Arthurian cycle lies much closer to dimly knowing as opposed to being an expert thereon.
One thing that marks this book is Wyke-Smith's assimilation of various children's traditions into a cohesiave whole. The Flying Dutchman, that mythical ghost ship, is here, and witches and an ogre are present as well. One interesting little facet are the children that are kept there (in a sort of schooling organization) are taken because they are superfluous children. I think it is for the regulation of superfluous children. I do not have my book with me, so I cannot say for sure. The most memorable character for was Golithos, an ogre who lived off poorly grown cabbage and was a 'reformed' ogre. His struggle with his reformation proves quite humourous and, for me, is one of the best moments that children's literature has to offer.
As for it's relation to Tolkien, this publication will only be of interested to Tolkien scholars and fans, and probably only they will search this book out because of it's influence on THE HOBBIT. It's principle influence were the Snergs themselves, who were quite like Hobbits in height and social customs, although they do have a king. It's a real shame that the only reason this book will be read is because of Tolkien, for it is a quite good children's book in and of itself.
The question remains, however: how other many worthwhile pieces of literature have escaped the popular canon and sank into the dusty obscurities of time? Who knows how long this will survive. It may interest you to know that Homer wrote a third book which was a comedy and Aristotle wrote a book about comedy and both are now lost. Very tragic. Don't let it happen to this book, because it's a charmer.