Is Himself the Elf on some sort of quest? Has something been hidden somewhere, in our house or any other venue we visit, something so precious that every drawer, box, cupboard and bag must be emptied in the pursuit? He is like Gollum in search of the ring, and nothing on earth will deter him from the search.
“He’s rooting in my kitchen again!” is the cry from Dulcie, and also from the grown-ups. More upsetting than him tipping out a carefully arranged shopping basket of wooden fruit from the tiny play oven, is the ice-effect he has created on the kitchen floor by opening a drawer that seemed to be elf-proof, and flinging a glass bowl onto the tiles in order to get a better look at a stray strand of uncooked spaghetti underneath. His rage as I removed him from the area gave the whole scene an apoplectic, apocalypse feel as everything disappeared under a cloud of glass, anger and icing sugar.
Dulcie is constantly searching for things, or rather instructing me to search for them. “Where is my magic mirror that tells me the future?” she urgently asks. I don’t know the answer, because we don’t actually have this object. Something else will have been designated a magic mirror but I won’t know what and Dulcie won’t be able to tell me because her imagination is so good that it will only be a magic mirror now, and not a magnifying glass or a tea strainer or whatever it started life as. It isn’t helped by the tide of belongings that wash up every day in the wrong room, which I seem powerless to stop. “Please take this to your room/put it back in the kitchen/don’t take that upstairs”, I plead endlessly and pointlessly. It is as futile as shouting at the sea. As I redistribute things at the end of the day, there are bath toys in the living room, a remote control in Himself the Elf’s cot, a doll sitting at a rakish angle on the toilet seat and spoons, plastic bloody spoons, in nearly every room. As I empty clothes into the laundry basket, I find little treasures stashed in the pockets of Himself the Elf as he joins the quest to stir the house up until there is no order at all. How can we ever find anything? It is as impossible – no, more impossible – than searching for fairies.
No Fairies by Peter Stevenson
Heledd is a girl after Dulcie’s own heart. Not only does she prefer to go barefoot like my daughter but “her head was full of stories and dreams and adventures”. However, unlike Dulcie, Heledd never sees any fairies on the windswept island off the coast of Wales which she calls home, because she doesn’t believe in them. She wants to believe in them, and decides one day to go looking for them with her jackdaw Crinllys, wandering through busily illustrated pages which show fairies in all their activities, playing accordions, living in caravans, dancing and marvelling at flying rabbits.
The line between fantasy and reality is blurred and shifting in this book. Heledd can’t see any fairies, but she can talk to her “friend, a small green frog” or the “ladies of the island who sat and combed their hair and admired their reflections”, who seem to be giant mermaids who lounge in the freezing shallow waters of the island. She is eventually told to follow the fairy fleet across the sea, which she has trouble with, as she can’t see them. However, quite unlike my children who immediately squall and gurn and moan if they can’t see something, Heledd takes this advice and find herself on the mainland.
The mainland is clearly very different to the island, with high buildings and litter but also with fairies who are a little bit more ghetto (immediately I found myself wondering exactly why there seems to be part of Brooklyn dumped on the coast of western Wales and started thinking about this video about Newport, but I digress) with hoodies, sunglasses and MP3 players. I can sympathise with Heledd here, as a small town girl myself, and she gets lost. But what is this? A row of white pebbles to show her the way home! This is enough proof for the doubting Heledd (if only Mr Hale in North and South could have dealt with his doubts so swiftly and simply) that fairies must exist and are helping her home. As she whizzes back over the water, Heledd looked “and there were… there were… fairies everywhere!” At this, Dulcie usually gives some sign of jubilation, and the adventure finishes with the Heledd telling her story to a whimsical audience around a cosy kitchen fire.
By no means perfect, this at least isn’t a story where fairies are preparing for a ball or a wedding, so Dulcie gets a fairy fix without me wanting to scream at the banality and predictability. The illustrations are fabulously detailed and crazy, which we both adore. The story is utterly predictable but what does that matter? My only tiny niggle is that Peter Stevenson occasionally seems to be using a slightly limited vocabulary, so I hear the same word twice in a sentence and it jars for me: “Crinyllis lead Heledd to an old pond where she liked to splash with her old friend, a small green frog” (my emphasis). Does Mr Stevenson not have a thesaurus? Couldn’t he call out to another person in his study “Another word for old?” so they could reply “Does ancient sound okay? Aged? Mature? Past it? What’s the rest of the sentence?” and solve this tiny problem? But anyway, a cracking read for your preschoolers and a great improvement on bloody Nina.