Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Night Watchmen by Helen Cresswell (1969)

Henry, who has recently been bedridden with an illness, is finally allowed to get out of bed and spend time outdoors while he waits to be cleared to return to school. As he wanders the city on his first day of freedom, he encounters two unusual men - Josh and Caleb. At first glance, they appear to be mere tramps, but after spending time with them, hearing them talk about "There" and "Them" and a mysterious night train that can take them away if necessary, Henry begins to realize there is something unusual, and possibly otherworldly, about them.

This was a strange little book, and I'm not sure whether I enjoyed it. It was certainly intriguing, but it was so short, that by the time I felt invested in what was happening, the story was over. While I usually like compact middle grade novels, this one felt like the beginning of a larger story that never came to fruition. What is here is well-written, and it blurs the lines between reality and fantasy beautifully, but I didn't finish the book with the sense of satisfaction I was expecting.

This book could be a good choice for a reader who is wary of fantasy books, as the magical elements are ambiguous, and the setting is the real world. It might also make a good read-alike for a book like Skellig, which also involves a mysterious otherworldly visitor, or even The Dark is Rising, where fantastical events occur within the context of regular daily life. 

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