The Magic Faraway Tree
Review by Prabhu Viswanathan (June 19, 2006)
There is a child in so many of us. In the case of those who have read the Faraway Tree series, that child may never want to grow up. If ever I were to find myself on a desert island, suffering from deep depression, immense insecurity and utter loneliness, and completely abandoned by the world, never to be rescued... forget the food and the shelter, let me live in the Enchanted Wood, amongst the Folk of the Faraway Tree, and let me worship at the roots of the Magic Faraway Tree.
From the moment Dick arrives at his cousin's little cottage deep in the country, life is never the same again. Standing at the bottom of the most enormous tree he has ever seen, he is about to embark on a journey so magical that the mere rage of the Angry Pixie—whose privacy he so casually violates, thus suffering the facial consequences of a well hurled kettle of water—or the cascading flow of the remnants of Dame Washalot's dirty washing isn't nearly enough to overcome the loveliness of Silky the Fairy, or the joys of meeting the delightfully deaf Saucepan Man, and the happily beaming round-faced Moonface. It is the work of a greedy moment to insert a Pop biscuit into his eager mouth, and with his tongue still lapping at the delicious sweet honey from within, he finds himself climbing through a huge white cloud at the top of the Tree into the land of Topsy Turvy.
To the growing surprise of the children, everything in this land—as the name suggests—is naturally topsy turvy. When finally they are chased away by a bad-tempered man after naughtily peeping into his upside-down house and his upside-down old woman, Jo cannot hold back his contempt any longer. When he finally manages to call the local policeman "silly", it is but the work of an angry moment for the Law to tap him into a topsy-turvy boy himself, and he finds himself staying as an upside-down guest of Moonface that night.
But it is landing time for the Land of Spells, and Jo soon finds himself the right way up after a Walking spell Rimminy-Romminy-Reets him back to his feet again. Of course, matters get worse when the clumsy Saucepan Man splashes a few drops of a "make things bigger" spell on all of them, and Silky, Jo, Moonface and the Saucepan Man himself find themselves too big to slip back down the hole. The arrival of Dick's anxious face does little to help... But a green goblin's shrinking spell soon puts them right. (All except Moonface, of course, for he has always fancied himself too short, and he leaves himself just a little bit taller after the spell has done its magic!)
But in all that excitement the children and the tree folk have left it too late, and when they scramble down the hole in the cloud, it is not to their familiar tree but a narrow passage with a "swinging lantern"... And so the story delightfully unfolds. They encounter Mr. Change-About and the Wily Enchanter, but with the potency of the weapons of spell they have at hand, and their own superior wits, they manage to survive kidnap and imprisonment, and what could have been a fate worse than anything they had ever known instead turns into a safe journey back home, vowing never to go into any more magic lands again.
And so they adventure into the Land of Dreams, visit the Land of Do-As-You-Please, rescue the Saucepan Man from the Land of Toys, and joyfully head for the Land of Goodies. But Dick is a greedy and clumsy boy, and his bad habits soon cause bad times for the rest of the Folk. Poor Moonface gets himself slapped a few times for no fault of his own, when Dick knocks—albeit accidentally—a tasty variety of plum pies, cakes and treacle down on top the Folk of the Tree, and none find it amusing in the least. Poor Moonface, blamed in the heat of a rather one-sided battle, soon finds himself and the Saucepan Man taking hasty refuge at the children's cottage for a few days of fun and freedom.
Sadly, in this time of bliss, the children's mother falls ill, and they decide to visit the Land of Magic Medicines to find a cure for her. But Dick's perpetual greed, and the Saucepan Man's self-induced deafness, find themselves at the wrong sip of certain medicines, and while one's body grows tall, the other's nose grows huge! After much headache, heartache and several batches of trial-and-error medicine, all is back to normal and they joyfully bring back magic medicine for their beloved mother, who is soon right as rain.
But dark clouds are gathering ominously over the magic horizon. A week of Quiet has passed by when, one evening, the children hear a rattle at the window. To their astonishment it is Mr. Watzisname who arrives with the sad news that Silky, Moonface and the Saucepan Man have disappeared. And what's more, their homes have been seized by Stamp-a-Lot and Yell-around, two sour villains who have escaped from the Land of Tempers. It is a time of grave crisis. It is also the time of the Land of Tempers. In a desperate search for their friends, the children visit the land, only to find no trace of the folk. But sweet Fanny comes to the rescue, and before they leave she tells the Chief of the Land the whereabouts of the escaped crooks.
In a gripping finale, the bad people are apprehended, the good folk are rescued, and all is right with the world. To the accompaniment of Pop Biscuits, Google Buns and Toffee Shocks, the story sadly winds down, but not before one final visit to yet another land... the Land of Presents.
Folks—please, please read this book. Not because it's about Happy Children and Delightful Tree Folk. Not because it's about Queer Lands and Strange Spells. Not even because it's about White Clouds, Slippery Slips and Jersey Wearing Cushion Carrying Red Squirrels. But because it's time to stop growing up, and grow down just this once; to cast aside the reality of a world that is so material, and even more cynical, and thus enter the Delightful Magic of a Blyton Dimension, one in which Silky the Fairy will haunt you wth her beauty, Saucepan Man will deafen you with his noise, and Moonface will overwhelm you with his beaming smile. And if you have to endure an occasional kettle of water or dirty washing all over you... well, it's worth it.
Boy, it is SO worth it!