Flashback Fridays: You swing in your hammock, and watch the ragusa grow . . .
Posted by Stephanie Whelan
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. It’s not exactly legal to do so, but Dido has decided to break the rules this time before he has to go off to study.
Barry’s tour of Egon is wild and weird, with plenty of bizarre activities and technology. Wanting to show off of for someone not used to what his world offers, Dido eagerly pulls Barry along into all sorts of new experiences. 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. Intervention by some of the adults in Egon bring Barry back to life and health, but it’s a near thing. 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. It’s full of the kind of marvels and values that many futurists may idealize for humankind.
For two, Dido transforms during the course of the story. He starts off treating Barry well, but as a lesser creature. He displays the kind of condescending attitude someone might show a pet they’re fond of but don’t believe it really understands everything. By the end, Dido has had some epiphanies that have taught him to treat Barry as a person. The most powerful of these is how fragile Barry’s life is. In order to pull Barry back from death, Dido experiences a taste of pain–and it’s a sobering realization. He realizes he’s guilty of mistreating Barry in many ways.
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 such as Alice in Wonderland. Now Barry is supposed to forget his adventures and get on with living his own life–that’s what is intended by the elders of Egon. But something has gone wrong with the memory wipe and that leaves Barry slowly recalling everything–and yearning for another trip to that fabulous world. It’s actually a slightly chilling sort of ending. It shows a character who is dissatisfied with life now that he’s seen the wonders of another world. I found it 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 WhelanI'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.
Posted on April 2, 2016, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged Authors, Books, Children's Books, Children's Literature, fantasy, kidlit, Lists, literature, MG Books, Middle-Grade Fiction, Reading, reviews, Science Fiction, SF. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.