of the Center for Children's Books:
Gone But Not Forgotten
|Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books..
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Elizabeth Marie Pope
I remember when I found Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Sherwood Ring on the shelves of the Westchester Square Branch of the New York Public Library. The cover was white, with a black line drawing of a smiling young woman on horseback, highlighted with streaks of red and blue. Compared to modern covers it was less than flashy, but the liner notes said the book was about an orphan girl and her meetings with the family ghosts. Ghosts and orphans were an irresistible combination, and my pre-adolescent heart happily beat faster. The Sherwood Ring was one of those books that so captured my imagination as a young adult that I read it over and over: it was romantic, funny, exciting, and thoroughly enjoyable. Even today, just thinking of the book I have the overwhelming urge to pick it up and read it again.
I didn't read The Perilous Gard until much later in my reading life; it was required reading in a children's literature class. There it sat on the library shelf, binding-to-binding with The Sherwood Ring (which I checked out and read again immediately). The cover for The Perilous Gard was dark and gloomy, featuring a young girl dressed in Elizabethan finery, gazing out at the reader with a worried expression on her face. It was not an image that held much allure for me, but I found, once again, that book covers are not necessarily indicative of content.
Elizabeth Marie Pope (1917-1992) was primarily a scholar specializing in Elizabethan England and the works of Milton and Shakespeare. She wrote only two young adult novels--The Sherwood Ring, published in 1956, and The Perilous Gard, a Newbery honor book, published in 1974-but these two novels are outstanding examples of the combined genres of fantasy, romance, and historical fiction. (In and out of print since 1980, both titles are soon to be released by Houghton Mifflin in October, 2001.) Although quite different from one another in style and scope, both novels combine Pope's considerable knowledge of history with her flair for absorbing fantasy.
The Sherwood Ring opens with orphan Peggy Graham on a lonely train ride to upper New York state, to live with her great uncle at the historic family manse, Rest-and-Be-Thankful. Her loneliness is compounded by the cool formality of her uncle, who is obsessed with a historic recreation of a ball held during the Revolutionary War. Peggy's own at-first-unwilling forays into family history bring her face-to-face with the ghosts of her Revolutionary War ancestors, who tell her the remarkable story of their wartime adventures and romantic escapades. Pope's first novel combines adventure and humor, and it is written in a casual yet controlled style, narrated from the points of view of Peggy and assorted ghosts.
Pope's second novel is very different from the first, with few stylistic similarities. Based on the traditional Scottish ballad, Tamlin, The Perilous Gard is a straightforward, compelling narrative set in 1558, during the reign of Mary Tudor. Banished from court to isolated Elvenwood Hall, Kate Sutton finds herself unwillingly enmeshed in secrets and mystery, pagan ritual and sacrifice. Kate's stubborn refusal to concede to the powers of darkness and her compulsive desire to rescue a kidnapped child and an imprisoned gentleman make her a believable, solid character whose actions propel the novel. The author's superb evocation of the slowly disintegrating castle and the people that inhabit and surround it is a dark, shadowy image difficult to forget.
In both novels Pope creates vivid characters entangled in reader-riveting situations. The protagonists are young women in isolated locations, far from home and help, who confront and overcome both natural and supernatural difficulties. Minor characters are as neatly drawn, their personalities and motives succinctly distilled. The author's attention to historical detail is evident but not intrusive; the plots are cohesive and the pace is strong.
These are novels that may very well be sitting on your library shelves, possibly bedraggled and worse for wear. Take a look. Better yet, take them home. Romance and adventure await, no matter how the covers look.
--Janice M. Del Negro, editor
Works by Elizabeth Marie Pope
This page was last updated on June 1, 2001.