Reading my notes on Philippa Pearce's much-loved children's book Tom's Midnight Garden, I'm struck by how straightforward it seems but how complex is the thinking behind it.
It was first published in 1958, and the contemporary part of the story is indeed of its time - urgent communication was by telegram! This has a certain nostalgic charm. But beyond the simple device of a lonely boy's finding his way into a garden which no longer exists, of making a friend there, and of his growing attachment to both place and person coming to dominate his thoughts and actions - strong and appealing in itself - is the concept of time, and the intricacy of the author's use and examination of it.
A clock striking thirteen, and seeming thus to mark an extra hour in the day; the clock that is always there, even when its surroundings change, "time in, time out"; the time past that is not a fixed or linear time for Tom in that he can visit the garden at all seasons and hours of the day, and can go and back and forward within the garden's time, unlike in his own, where "Time was marching steadily onwards in the way it is supposed to go: from minute to minute, from hour to hour, from day to day". The ticking of the clock sounds to Tom like a human heart, "alive and beating", and by extension his life in the garden and his friendship with Hatty is so much more real and vivid and absorbing for him than the contained, mundane hours spent in his aunt and uncle's flat. But time itself is both friend and enemy, each second taking him closer to his next longed-for visit to the garden, but also to his eventual return to his own home, the loss of his nocturnal adventures and the companionship of Hatty.
"Tom thought again: Time no longer - the angel on the grandfather clock had sworn it. But if Time is ever to end, that means that, here and now, Time itself is only a temporary thing. It can be dispensed with, perhaps; or, rather, it can be dodged. Tom himself might be able to dodge behind Time's back and have the Past - that is, Hatty's Present and the garden - here, now and for ever. To manage that, of course, he must understand the workings of Time."
In the end, Tom comes to understand that as Hatty - now Mrs. Bartholomew - tells him, "... nothing stands still, except in our memory." He cannot live in the past, but has a secret he can hug to him, memories to sustain him, and will return home content.
I found it a very touching book, a satisfying one, clever and thought-provoking. I can see why it has become a children's classic and has earned a place on many people's 'favourites' shelves, and also how it could be re-read and enjoyed - and perhaps appreciated differently - at any age or stage in life.
What did you think of it?
While you're gathering your thoughts, do go and have a virtual slice of cake.