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Shadow Castle by Marian Cockrell

Shadow Castle by Marian Cockrell
5
Book Name: Shadow Castle
Author: Marian Cockrell
Publisher(s): Whittlesey House (1945) BackinPrint.com (2000)
Formatt: Paperback
Genre(s): Children’s Fantasy / Classic Fantasy
Release Date: 1945 / 2000

Shadow Castle may be one of the best books of classic children’s fantasy that you’ve never heard of, but here’s a tip: If your mother reads fantasy, and has loved it since she was a child? Ask her about it. Go on, ask her if she’s heard of it. I’ll wait…

Yes? No? I’m placing high bets on a “yes”, though at this point she may not remember the title of the book. About ten years ago, the internet was rife with questions on AskJeeves.com and Yahoo Answers about “that book where the girl finds an empty castle with shadows on the walls, and someone tells her stories about fairy kingdom.” These inquiring souls couldn’t remember the title and their copies of the book were long gone.

There are hundreds of stories—thousands, perhaps—online from readers who were children during the 40s, 50s, 60s, and even early 70s, who adored this book, and one thing nearly every person shares in common? The book disappeared at some point during their lives, despite how beloved it was. And while it’s debatable whether the story and plot stands the test of time for an adult reader, there’s something about this fantasy tale that resonated with young readers for several decades, leaving them with joy and wonder in their hearts, and a yearning to find it again once the book disappeared.

The plot is simple enough for young readers to grasp, and magical enough to capture their imaginations. Shadow Castle tells the story of Lucy, a little girl who plays in the woods by her home one day, only to stumble upon a little white dog who leads her through the trees and into a scary, mysterious tunnel. When she emerges, Lucy finds herself in a lush, shadowy valley, with a castle in the center.

And near the castle? A young man, sitting by himself. This young man, Michael, brings Lucy into the castle and leads her through until they reach a room where shadows flicker across the walls. These people, he says, live elsewhere…and would she like to hear a story about them? It involves a Fairy Princess. Naturally, Lucy wants to hear the story—what little girl wouldn’t?—and so the book continues with Michael relating the story of the castle-dwellers in another dimension called Fairyland. There’s a small twist at the end, of course, but I won’t give it away for those of you who haven’t read it.

Today on Amazon.com, you’ll find one hundred and twelve five-star reviews, and no one or two-star reviews. On Goodreads.com, 61% of readers gave the book five stars, and 98% of people liked it. You’ll find a similar rating on Librarything.com. So why haven’t you ever heard of it?

Shadow Castle was published in 1945 by Whittlesey House, with a second printing in 1964 by Scholastic (and several additional reprints in the early 70s, also by Scholastic). Written by author Marian Cockrell, the original book runs just under 150 pages and includes illustrations by Olive Bailey. These early versions were also printed in dark green ink.

The author herself is difficult to find information on, as her bibliography is small and her books slightly obscure. While she was never able to get another children’s book published, she did write six novels for adults (not fantasy), as well as short stories for publications like The Saturday Evening Post and Redbook. As a screenwriter, she worked on films and TV programs including Batman and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, along with her screenwriter/director husband Frank Cockrell. Undoubtedly, the revenue from film and television was greater than what she earned through writing novels (some things never change), which may be why we don’t have more work from her.

She died in 1999 at 90 years old, leaving behind a daughter who’d also entered the publishing business, penning novels of her own. Amanda Cockrell is the Program Director for the Children’s Literature Program at Hollins University, carrying on her family’s tradition of memorable works by winning awards for a number of her own novels.

In 2000, the Authors Guild, in conjunction with Amanda Cockrell, reprinted Shadow Castle through a program called backinprint.com, and included 6 additional chapters that were cut from the original version when the publisher thought the book was too long (and some of the content in those chapters too scary).

Reading this book from an adult perspective—and in 2012—it’s not difficult to see where nostalgia paints a better picture than what’s actually there. What kid didn’t want to stumble into a magical world, let alone one found inside an abandoned castle? Plus, playing alone in the woods is something previous generations can relate to and part of that excitement was never knowing exactly what you’d find each day. Something scary? Wondrous? Who knew! And similar to other classic tales—William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin, or even C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—nothing for a child can compare to the excitement of an undiscovered world, even if that world comes from the lips of a storyteller who can make it seem just as real as if you were there.

Today, Shadow Castle would likely be best received by the chapter-book crowd, or as a read-aloud book at night to children aged six to eight, particularly if it’s not a book you recall from your childhood and are reading through the filter of nostalgia.

But for your mother or father, aunt or uncle, or even your grandparents? It just might be the book that started their love of fantasy literature in the first place, and for that? Forget everything else, because that it is priceless.

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Rating: 9.2/10 (12 votes cast)
Shadow Castle by Marian Cockrell, 9.2 out of 10 based on 12 ratings
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8 Comments

  1. Autumn2May Autumn2May says:

    I love this story! I need a new copy though, as my is falling apart at the seams. 🙂

  2. Ruth says:

    Excellent review! What great memories that book brings to mind!

  3. I read with interest your review about Shadow Castle. Indeed, while I always remembered the title, but not the author, my treasured childhood copy too disappeared mysteriously. Many years later I found a copy with no cover at a garage sale for 10 cents. I snatched it up. I re-read it avidly and still felt that magical pull. A few years ago I found the newly reprinted copy with added chapters and bought that. I still loved it. I began reading it to jaded sixth graders of both genders. They hang on every word. A treasure I thought I’d lost and am happy to have rediscovered and own again. (Now if I could only find a copy like my original with the green ink!)

  4. Shannon Whalen says:

    I found this book at a yard sale when I was around 10, I think…and like everyone else, fell in love with it. I held onto it into my twenties, re-reading it whenever I was feeling low. Then…it was ruined wheb the hot water heater in my rental burst. A lot of my books were ruined. But that one was the only one that made me cry. I knew I’d have a hell of a time finding anothet copy. I’m ecstatic that it’s been re-released! I just wish it had the green ink. It just won’t be quite the same without it.

  5. Crystil Cleveland says:

    I found this book when I was in school in one of the give away boxes. I have loved this book since I was a kid. My copy has the illustrations in it. This story is so vivid you can picture the details of everything. Granted this is a fantasy book and not very long, but I would love to see it become a movie someday. ?

  6. Vix says:

    I remember reading this book in second or third grade. My mom worked nights, and when my dad worked nights, too, I stayed with my aunt for the week. During one of those weeks, I found Shadow Castle in my cousins’ bookcase. I thought the way it was printed in green ink was magical. I owned this book as soon as it was offered by the Scholastic Book Club. I believe it must have been one of the first Scholastic Books I ordered. It got lost sometime in the 1970s, during one of my moves as a young woman. As I remember, the beginning of the book (the prosaic part) was printed in black, but the magical part was printed in dark green ink. Some of my friends didn’t even notice the difference, until I pointed it out to them. I always thought of this book as the one printed in green ink.

  7. Robin says:

    I still have my original copy and 1 for each of my children
    My favorite book….ever….and I’m going to be 58, too soon. I also have a copy of the book Marian’s daughter added to. At one time I had communicated with her daughter, which is how I got the book. I still scour yard sales, used book stores, etc…looking for copies for my grands.

  8. Mared says:

    I was very intrigued by the review, having never heard of this book, which I am sure I would have loved as a child. I was delighted to find that a scanned copy of the book (the original, not the expanded version) can be borrowed from the Open Library. So if you would like to read or reread it, there it is!

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