The Silver Moth by Carol Lefevre
When ‘The End’ is a Beginning:
writing a sequel to Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse
As a child, when you truly bond with a book, some part of you never quite accepts that its final page is the end of the story. This was my experience with Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse, and perhaps because much of my childhood was passed in remote Australian outback towns where books were scarce, where the houses we lived in were utilitarian at best and the food we ate was plain, for a time it was a book I partly lived in.
The Little White horse begins like a traditional fairy tale, with its thirteen-year-old heroine, the newly orphaned Maria, being banished from her home in London to live in the West Country with a cousin she has never met. After leaving Exmoor, the carriage she travels in with her dog and her governess passes through a tunnel: it is a portal to a place that does not quite exist in the real world, a place where magical events are accepted as a marvellous part of everyday life. And yet the peace of idyllic Moonacre Valley is threatened by the unsociable actions of the de Noir clan who inhabit the woods and dominate the shoreline.
First published in 1946, when it won that year’s prestigious Carnegie Medal, writing The Little White Horse had provided a temporary respite for Elizabeth Goudge from the darkness and shortages of World War II. This must be why it is filled with lovingly described food and clothing, and with enviable interiors – from Moonacre Manor’s well-scrubbed kitchen to the romance of Maria Merryweather’s tower bedroom. I don’t know how many times I read the chapter in which Maria is introduced to her room with its child-sized door, its vaulted ceiling that culminates in a sickle moon and stars, but it worked its magic on me then, and it still has power over me today. (As evidence I offer my recently published adult novel The Tower, Spinifex Press). [Note from Joy in Books: I was so impressed with The Tower, I reviewed it for Books + Publishing and The Australian]
The book revels, too, in a British rural way of life that was passing into history even as The Little White Horse was being sent off to the printer. By the time the idea of writing a sequel occurred to me, the rural life in which I had bonded with the book was also little more than a memory. It had been a slow-paced, pre-technology world, a place where in summer, families quit their hot little houses after dinner to sit out on the front lawn and chat to passers-by, to study the stars, and tell stories.
Writing The Silver Moth was a labour of love. When I began, I was so carried away with my plan that I hadn’t even realised I would need permission. However, I quickly learned that I couldn’t just return to Moonacre many years after the original book was set (by which time Maria Merryweather had grown up and become a grandmother) to begin my own telling of what took place there during the First World War. With this realisation began the process of approaching the Trustees of Elizabeth Goudge’s Estate for their blessing, which in time I received.
I began by re-reading the original book closely, and although I felt bound to remain true to Goudge’s style, I soon realised a sequel would necessitate some compromises. Young readers in the 1940s and 1950s had far fewer distractions than now; as radio listeners they were accustomed to visualising, and were more accepting of the descriptive passages that characterised Elizabeth Goudge’s writing. It became a bit of a juggling act – to create something a modern reader would find entertaining, yet remain true to a beloved author’s style.
As we know, daily life in our own time is often quite alarming, and the best children’s books offer solace and respite, as well as being places of magic and adventure. A good sequel should ideally take the story forward as well as shed a little new light on events in the original work. The Silver Moth is set during the First World War, and while it does not ignore that war’s immense darkness, I hope that I have been able to bring some of the original book’s magic to my own pages.
Maria’s granddaughter, Rose, is not orphaned, but a shocking event of the war has left her traumatised, and it has been decided that some country air will be just the thing to repair the damage. Rose’s carriage passes through the same portal into the special world of Moonacre, but the manor house she arrives at has been empty for many years, and its gardens are overgrown and weedy; its villagers – mainly women now, because of the war – are anxious and exhausted, and suffering from the renewed unpleasantness of the de Noir clan; people displaced by the war live in a cluster of gypsy caravans, with the poorest of them camping rough on the village’s marshy perimeter.
Rose’s adventures soon begin, and she is joined in them by a new cast of human and animal companions as she seeks to solve the mystery of a little aeroplane hidden in a farmer’s field, and to repair the relationship with her family’s old foes, the de Noirs.
The Silver Moth concludes with a Christmas scene, which was pure joy to write. With luck, my sequel will bring new readers to the original book, and I hope that in time The Silver Moth will become well-loved for its own sake.
The Silver Moth, a sequel to The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge, by Carol Lefevre can be ordered from book shops worldwide, and is available online from Booktopia, Amazon, and all the usual online sources, including https://www.koorong.com
Both books are published by Lion Hudson.
[Note from Joy in Books: The Silver Moth is an exceptional work of children’s literature. It is a perfect Christmas gift for an avid reader or for the family to read together.]