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Children’s Literature: Penelope Lively

Before I leave the Rollright Stones behind me for a while, I want to mention Penelope Lively and her book The Whispering Knights. First published in 1971, this story tells of three children who accidenlty awaken the dormant spirit of Morgan le Fay.

The culminating sequence of the story takes place at Hampden Stones, a fictional site based on the Rollrights. Lively draws on the idea of the stones as a returning army. One of the characters (in best Costswold-country-speak) retells the legend for the children:

“You know the old story. They say as how the Stones were Knights in the old days, and they fought a great battle with a bad queen, and they won, and now they sits there there to protect the valley, like.” (Lively, 1971, 77)

Fortunately for the children who have called up Morgan le Fay, the Knights prove willing to do battle once more. they also privide refuge for the children as the fierce battle goes on above and around them.

For an in depth discussion of Penelope Lively’s writing for children, along side other greats of her era, find yourself a copy of Dr C Butler’s book Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper.

There will be future features on Penelope Lively and other children’s writers on Prehistories.

Dr H

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