sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

November 8, 2009

into the stacks: bedknobs and broomsticks
posted by soe 2:26 am

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (©, Walt Disney Productions)

From the fly leaf: “From Screen to Book

“Two modern classics for children are The Magic Bedknob and Bonfires and Broomsticks by Mary Norton. Recently Walt Disney Productions purchased these two books and set about making them into a single motion picture.

“Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi wrote the screenplay for Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman composed the music and wrote the lyrics. (These are the same four men who wrote the screenplay and songs for Mary Poppins.) The screen story is built around that fabulous apprentice witch Eglantine Price (played in the film by Angela Lansbury), but all the adventures are new. This book is based entirely on the screenplay.”

My take: When I last visited Karen, she took me to a local used bookstore that was going out of business and selling off their wares for $5 a bag. Clearly when you have that kind of incentive, you pick up some odd choices. (I once, for instance, picked up during Middletown’s buck a bag sale a book based on The Partridge Family.) This wasn’t particularly odd, but I didn’t peruse it as carefully as I might have otherwise and merely added it to the pile.

So I didn’t notice the above caveat, which now means I will have to seek out Norton’s source material and to see how certain details were Disnified. I have some things that I’ll be keeping my eyes open for, but it could be that Norton (who also wrote The Borrowers series) included them in the original novels.

That said, this was a cute enough story about three orphans evacuated to the countryside from London during World War II. Carrie, Charlie, and Paul are foisted upon a local single woman living alone in a large house when she comes into town to collect her mail.

Unable to refuse what she is informed is her patriotic duty, Eglantine Price takes the children home and feeds them all sorts of healthy and natural foods that would probably make a modern vegetarian proud. (I assume cabbage buds are Brussels sprouts. She also feeds them rose hips, glyssop seed, elm bark, whortle yeast, stewed nettles, squill tea, and mangel-wurzel jam (a type of beet which the children assure this modern American reader is generally considered cattle food).

Unexcited to discover they’ve been placed with someone so ill-fitting as a surrogate parent, the children plan to escape back to London. That is until they witness Eglantine crash landing her broom in the back yard. Realizing she might not want this episode broadcast to the neighbors, Charlie decides they are going to stick around to blackmail her instead.

Hoping to get cash, the children instead end up with a magic bedknob that will take them anywhere they like. Accompanied by Eglantine, their journey takes them to London to find her witchcraft correspondence course teacher. When he turns out to be a second-rate con man, where will she turn to find the elusive spell that will finally enable her to contribute substantively to the war effort? Will the children stay in London or will the lure of magical travel lure them back to the countryside? And will Eglantine turn Hitler into a white rabbit or something worse?

The story isn’t particularly well written and, as I noted above, there were some aspects that felt a little too Disney-like to ignore. But it was a quick read, provided you with a definite feel for a specific time in history, and fueled my curiosity to seek out the original Norton novels. I can think of a worse way to spend an evening.

Pages: 212

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