Flashback Fridays: You swing in your hammock, and watch the ragusa grow . . .

You’re a boy who is out swimming in the ocean.  You’ve gone quite a ways when you encounter a cave in a cliff, and a strange boy with white hair.  This boy tells you he’s not from your world at all, but from an inner world, a more advanced world called Egon, and he wants to take you there.

Do you remember:

Under Plum Lake by Lionel Davidson (Bantam Books, 1980)

Despite the fact that this cover makes it looks like the title should be “Children from the Village of the Damned on Holiday”, this was one of the odd fantasy stories that wound it’s way into my mind and has stuck there.  Barry Gordon is just an ordinary kid who went swimming one day and discovers a cave in the cliffside.  When he goes to explore that cave, he meets a boy with white hair who has been waiting for him and plans to take him on an incredible journey to the world of Egon.  Egon exists within the earth, in “innerspace”.  The advanced people of Egon do not feel pain, have amazing knowledge and live for over eight hundred years. Dido, the boy that Barry encounters, is 99 years old and he has decided to bring someone down from the surface world  for a tour.

Barry’s tour of Egon is wild and weird, with plenty of bizarre activities and technology.  Dido pushes Barry into trying more and more daring things, until Barry nearly loses his life while aboard one of  the giant kites that kids can fly over Plum Lake.  At the end of the boys’ adventure, Barry is taken back to the surface and left, supposedly with all his memories wiped clean.  However, Barry’s memories start creeping back, and thus this recounting of his adventures in Egon.

This is, on the surface, a boys’ adventure tale–sort of a male version of Alice’s trip into Wonderland.  But I got quite a different impression of the story than mere adventure when I read it.  For one, Egon is a sort of flash-forward image of where humankind may one day be.  A Utopia of sorts where many problems have been solved and advanced technology has made pain a thing of the past.  For two, Dido transforms during the course of the story.  He starts off treating Barry well, but as a lesser creature.  By the end, Dido has had some epiphanies that have taught him to treat Barry as a person.  For three, this is one of those books that leaves our protagonist changed at the end.  It’s a bit maddening when a child goes on a journey into a completely new magical world and comes back out after their adventures with nothing to show for it.  Barry is supposed to forget his adventures and get on with living his own life.  But something has gone wrong with the memory wipe that leaves Barry recalling everything–and yearning for another trip to that fabulous world.  It’s actually a slightly chilling sort of ending–but satisfying.

This was Lionel Davidson’s only children’s book published under his real name, though he also published a number of mystery thrillers for adults.  The author also published a few children’s books under the pseudonym David Line, but none of them were fantasy/science fiction stories like this one.  Though the Kirkus review of this book is not exactly glowing, quite a few readers over the years have recalled this book with fondness.  I’m one of them.

Has anyone else read this book?  Thoughts?  Comments Welcome!

About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on January 31, 2014, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Never heard of it! But I don’t think the cover would have appealed to me if I’d seen it in a library back in the day, so I’m not surprised.

  2. Sounds intriguing. I’ll have to look for it.

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