Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson

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Return to the Mysterious Greatwood

The postman dropped off my copy of Michael Clark's children's ecological fantasy The Mysterious Greatwood (Reindeer Books, 1972) yesterday. It's been a long wait, after many years of searching for what was once my favourite book.

Opening the book, I quickly found my enduring memory, an illustration that showed two pages from a character's wildlife notebook. Clark is one of the wardens at a wildlife sanctuary in Hertfordshire, and there's obviously a touch of his day job in the Old Man's sketches of the every day life of wild Dice.

It's illustrations like this that probably explain my later enjoyment of Dougal Dixon's and Wayne Barlowe's illustrated evolutionary fantasies.

So what of the story? The book, like many of its ilk, is a short read of only twenty minutes or so. The story takes many of its cues from the cosy catastrophe school of English SF, refracted through the tropes of a children's talking animal fantasy.

Sometime in the future England is built up and polluted. Once over-populated, a virulent disease has recently killed most of the population, leaving the remainder huddled in their concrete cities, and afraid of anything wild. The last animals are hiding in woods that are soon to be replaced by concrete sheds and force-grown produce. Fleeing the destruction of their set, a pair of badgers search for a mythical wood, the Greatwood of the title, where the last animals are meant to survive. One manages to find the wood - but it's not the green place of his hopes.

New animals have evolved to survive in the polluted, concrete world, and they're ready to make sure that the vestiges of the old disappear as quickly as possible. Shaped like rubbish, Dice and Screws scurry through the plastic daffodils around the bases of the wild Pinelons, while Scowls, Kites and Boxes hunt and kill. Befriended by a naturalist, the Old Man, our badger hero learns about the new animals, and the new ecosystem that has developed in the wake of mankind's rapid expansion.

While out watching Boxes with the Old Man, our badger hero stumbles upon the last refuge of the old animals. It's the eve of the final battle between the old and the new, and reunited with his missing friend, he still has a role to play in the conflict.

An entertaining (and educational) ecological fantasy, rereading The Mysterious Greatwood after so many years was a pleasant journey to a back to a place I once knew so well.

It's nice to know that the books we remember so well from childhood visits to the library still exist - and are still the books we remember them being...

[fjm - want to borrow it?]
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