Saturday, May 17, 2014

Bed-Knob & Broomstick: Review

My edition of Bed-Knob and Broomstick is the 1957 version which combines both of Mary Norton's works (The Magic Bed-Knob or How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons AND Broomsticks and Bonfires) in a single volume. The first section of the book (equivalent to The Magic Bed-Knob) reveals how Carey, Charles and  Paul Wilson came to know Miss Eglantine Price and the adventures they had as a result. The children are sent to the country to stay with their Aunt in Bedfordshire.  One morning when they go out early in the morning to hunt mushrooms they find Miss Price in crumpled and torn clothes and with an injured ankle. She is pretty evasive when they try to find out what happened to her, but Paul (the youngest) calmly supposes that she must have fallen from her broomstick.

So, Miss Price confides to the children (I'm guessing she's been longing to share her secret with someone) that she's been studying to be a witch, but she's not so very good at it yet. It takes an enormous amount of concentration and uninterrupted time--especially if one wants to be a proper wicked witch. She no sooner reveals her secret when she immediately regrets her indiscretion and (in good wicked witch form) starts thinking of some way of shutting the children up. Carey suggests an alternative--what if Miss Price gives them something magical and puts a spell on it so if the children reveal her secret then the magic will no longer work?

The bargain is made and Miss Price enchants a bed-knob that Paul has unscrewed from his bed. If he screws it on half-way and makes a wish, the bed will take them anywhere they'd like to go--past or present. The children take it on a test run back to London--because Paul is missing his mother and get into all kinds of trouble with the police in the war-time black-out. They decide that their next adventure may need a little more (magical) insurance and invite Miss Price to join them on a visit to a South Seas Island. Their goal is to investigate the coral, but they wind up back in trouble...this time with cannibals. By the time Miss Price can get them out of harm's way and safely back to Paul's bedroom, they have no time left to clean up the sand and salty water before their aunt discovers the mess.  She naturally doesn't believe their explanation of how it happened and packs them up and ships them back to their mother. End of part one.

The second section (equivalent to Broomsticks and Bonfires) takes place two years later. Carey and Charles have systematically worked to convince Paul (and themselves) that their adventures with Miss Price were just dreams--all in an effort to prevent Paul from blurting out something strange at an inconvenient moment. Just when they've almost done the job, an advertisement from Miss Price appears in the newspaper saying that she would gladly take in children for the summer for a small fee. The children manage to persuade their mother that a summer in the country with their friend Miss Price is just what they need and off they go--ready for more adventures. (They are well-prepared because Paul left his aunt's house with the magic bed-knob in his pocket.) 

But when they arrive at Miss Price's they find that she has given up her studies. No more magic. Ever. She has bought the bed from the children's aunt--but they won't be allowed to travel on it. In fact, she unpacks their things for them and the bed-knob disappears. But then one morning, the bed, Miss Price, and Paul are gone and Carey and Charles are put out that Miss Price and their brother went traveling without them. After they reappear, Carey convinces Miss Price that it isn't fair that she and Charles didn't get one more chance and if Miss Price will let them travel into the past "just once" (because, after all, they didn't get to try that part out yet), then they could all be done with magic forever. So, the children travel back to the 1600s, meet a "real" necromancer, bring him back to the 20th Century, and that's when a new set of problems arise....

Previous to finding this book in a stack of books to be thrown out in the hallway at work (don't even get me started on that particular horrifying moment), my only exposure to the story of Miss Price, the apprentice witch, and the Wilson children (renamed Rawlings by Disney & co.), Carey, Charles, and Paul, was the Disney film starring Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson. I thoroughly enjoyed Disney's animated/live-action treat but it was very interesting to read the original stories and see how much had been changed--as Disney always did. One thing I do like about the Disney film is that it brings the themes of World War II very much to the center of the story. 

The book(s) by Norton touches upon the war--with references to the black-out and the children wondering if it would be fair to use magic in war-time. What if all the soldiers were turned into white mice? But, unlike the movie, Miss Price is not studying magic to aid the war effort--she simply wants to become a witch. And apparently a wicked one at that--though her actions belie any real wickedness in her nature. I enjoyed this venture into the book behind the Disney film more than Mary Poppins (for my take on that please see my review)--there wasn't quite the difference between the book and the movie in the character of Miss Price as there was with Mary. 

This was a fun read. One that I know I would have enjoyed even more had I read it when I was a child. ★★★

Challenges Fulfilled: Mount TBR Challenge, Bookish TBR, Monthly Key Word, Century of Books, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, 100 Plus Challenge, Back to the Classics, Women Challenge, Literary Exploration, A-Z Reading Challenge, Semi-Charmed


J F Norris said...

This was a favorite Disney film of mine when I was a kid. I came across this in a DJ at a book sale, but the book itself was ex-library and the DJ was pretty much destroyed on the rear panel so I didn't buy it. It's one of the handful of children's books I keep looking for. Some day I'll find a VG copy.

Good for you for rescuing this copy from the dumpster! What dilettante worker consigned this book to the scrap pile? Shameful.

Bev Hankins said...

John: Worse thing of all this was abandoned in the hallway of an institution of higher learning. Granted, the edges of the book were somewhat stained (water damage, I think)...but not so much that it deserved to be tossed. I've seen books for sale in used book stores that looked worse.

Karen K. said...

This sounds delightful! I've also been thinking about reading Mary Poppins as I've just recently seen Saving Mr. Banks. I haven't watched Bedknobs & Broomsticks for years, so I may have to read this one as well.

And it's tough for me to hear about books being thrown out as well. I do weed books occasionally at my library job, and I realize some of them are just never going to circulate again. Still, when it's a classic like that, it's a little painful.

fredamans said...

I remember watching the movie for this book when I was a kid. Not so sure I would pick up the book now though. Great review!