Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review of The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken

Aiken, Joan. The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories. Big Mouth House, 2009.

Why, oh why didn't I know about these stories when I was a child? The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and its sequels I read several times over, but I had never even heard of these stories until this compilation was published.

My expectations were very, very high, so it's not surprising that the first two stories didn't instantly meet them. But I kept reading, and by the end of the collection, I was a citizen of that strange little English village inhabited by a large family of 6" people, a unicorn, a multitude of witches (er, I mean old fairy ladies), druids, and plenty of ordinary folks who mostly manage to live and let live, so far as their magical neighbors are concerned. Lucky, lucky Mark and Harriet, to be able to face up to amazing magical people and situations with plenty of breezy aplomb - and to have parents tolerant of, if not always thrilled with, the chaos that magic can bring.

These are the kind of stories that make the drab sidewalks and humdrum houses of one's own neigborhood sparkle with the possibility of magic. And although most of it is benign, some of it might be unknowing or careless of the human world and some might be altogether malevolent. As far as that last goes, the worst things that happen in these stories are brought about not by evil magic but by human error, as when Mrs. Armitage horrifyingly destroys the last known garden in which Mr. Johansen's love is trapped (luckily a chance of a happy ending comes in a later story) or when a gnome child is accidentally run over and killed. These tragedies shook me up badly and reminded me that life, even in lighthearted children's fantasy stories, has a way of being unexpected.

These are quirky, unpredictable, and veddy British stories. I'm devastated that now (unless more are found in a trunk somewhere) I've read all the Armitage stories that exist. I'll just have to read them all again someday. Recommended for fans of E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, and any fantasy that features ordinary kids in magical situations.


  1. I am so glad you enjoyed these! I am so very fond of them myself.

  2. I adore the Armitage stories! Serial Garden recently went on sale and I splurged and bought it! I have a fairly large collection of Joan Aiken's works and I have good news for you....yes, you have read all the Armitage stories, but she wrote tons of simply marvelous short fantasy stories which you will also love! There are gazillions of collections, The Far Forests and The Faithless Lollybird are two of my favorites.

  3. Good choice, I'm reading it for a school project