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Tales of Court and Castle

by Joan Bodger, Mark Lang. illus.

Mark Lang’s playful cover illustration depicts the late Joan Bodger, walking stick and all, dressed as a medieval entertainer. Mid-story, she’s surrounded by an enraptured audience at a round table. It’s an appropriate cover because, as well as being an accomplished author, Joan Bodger was a pre-eminent storyteller. Tales of Court and Castle is a sophisticated textual rendering of its oral roots. The work is seamless in the way of the best children’s writers; Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Beowulf, George MacDonald’s Curdie stories, and Flaubert’s stunning The Legend of Saint Julian Hospitaller come to mind. Clearly, Bodger’s authorial intention was to remove herself from the text so that the reader becomes the teller, the conduit for the magic of story.
Bodger was a pragmatist with the inclination of a fairy godmother. Earlier works by her – Clever-Lazy and The Forest Family – cast a spell only to rudely disenchant us at the end. Beware, she seemed to say; never let down your guard. In Court and Castle, her last book, she has divested herself of that armour. These seven favourite stories of hers are marvellous. From Tristan to Iron John to Childe Rowland, Bodger never shies from brutality or the hard fact of death, a dignified approach that honours children. Bodger brings the magic and eeriness of fairyland alive, just as she does the foibles of humanity. No moralistic gears are being ground here. Instead, each piece holds a little world to be picked up, marvelled at, and passed on again and again.