Shadow Castle by Marian Cockrell
|Book Name:||Shadow Castle|
|Publisher(s):||Whittlesey House (1945) BackinPrint.com (2000)|
|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.