Down in the CellarColumbine: Nicholas Stuart Gray has written some great fairytale novels like How Many Miles to Fabylon and The Stone Cage, which have magic and witches and so forth, though not fairy folk. This is a very different sort of story. It is set in the country about fifty years ago (when the book was written). A family of rackety children are staying in a big old house with a Rector uncle and a busy housekeeper, playing imaginative games and getting into scrapes. Then they meet a wounded stranger who is scared of mysterious pursuers and does not want to be helped. So, naturally, they decide to hide him “down in the cellar”. They have no idea what they are letting themselves in for.

The children are Bruce, the narrator, and his twin sister Julia, the down-to-earth sensible ones, their young brother Andrew, who is brilliant in a scientific sort of way, and their five-year-old sister Deirdre. Deirdre, it seems, has the fairy sight: on the hillside she sees the little green lantern-men she calls Spoilers. These are nasty types who go looking for anything hurt or suffering so they can point and laugh. They are also in league with some horribly creepy witches including the sinister Mr. Atkinson. There are some quite frightening scenes where the children are pursued and surrounded.

However, the cellar wall abuts what was once a fairy hill, before some silly humans took the top off and found it full of useful sand. But the portal to the Fair Land is still there. Deirdre sees it as a golden door surrounded by roses, and she also sees the Lady of the Hill. In the end all the children see something, though poor old Bruce sees the least of all, and is left with the dubious advantage of remembering everything while the others forget.

I’ll leave him with the last word: “Whatever it was all about, it was a rum do, and rather fun in a creepy sort of way”.

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