Book review

Moondial by Helen Cresswell (1987)

A time travel book. Or is it a haunting? Bit of both really.

Minty Cane believes she is a witch - not that you would notice to look at her - it's just that she is quite used to seeing phantoms floating about the place, and thinks it is perfectly normal. She's a pretty determined sort of person as well, which is just as well because when she goes to stay with her aunt in the village of Belton she soon senses that she has a task to do.

She finds herself drawn by some deep and secret force to the sundial in the grounds of old Belton House which she immediately knows, by instinct, is also a moondial. Now, really, there is no such thing as a moondial for telling the time with because the moon, unlike the sun, does not always follow the same path through the skies. But a sundial cannot work during dark moonlight hours, so the ordinary rules of time don't apply when the sundial is working as a moondial. That's how this time travel story works.

As she approaches the moondial, the effect is dramatic. With a whistling of the winds of time she is transported back a hundred years to meet Tom, a mistreated kitchen boy who dreams of growing up to be a footman. At first, they each believe the other to be a ghost but they have to conclude that they are travellers in time - for Tom is equally capable of using the moondial to pass into the twentieth century to find Minty.

What is the point of this ability to pass through time? Tom and Minty discover that they have both independently travelled further back in time to meet a stricken child who only comes out to play at night because her face is spoilt by a strawberry birth mark. Her life is unbearable because everyone believes her to belong to the devil. Minty and Tom resolve to help her.

If you want to know how they achieve it, you will have to read the book for yourself, but I can tell you it isn't as straightforward a solution as you might think. I'm not even sure if you will think it's a happy ending, but the children seem pleased enough.

As usual with Helen Cresswell there is plenty to work out for yourself after you have read this story. There is one character who mystifies me. Who is Miss Raven? Well, yes, I know she is a ghostbuster lurking round the grounds of Belton House for her own purposes. But is she also a time traveller, the evil Miss Vole?

What can I read next?

Whatever you decide, I think you will enjoy this story. And if you do, there are plenty of others by Helen Cresswell. Have a look at:

Philippa Pearce has written a lovely time travel book:

I think you might enjoy Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising sequence very much:

And this one by Alan Garner is brilliant:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

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