Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Adventures of a Brownie by Mrs. Craik (1872)

I read this book on my phone, although I own an old copy that I got for free in third grade (a discarded library book).  That is certainly the last time I read the book too.  A brownie is sort of like a cross between a rat, a borrower, and a gremlin.  This particular brownie lives in the basement of an English home full of nameless children, under a large piece of coal.  Basically, if you don't give him a bowl full of milk every night, he will play tricks on the household.  Essentially, each chapter is about the brownie playing tricks on the poor servants - the grumpy young cook who doesn't believe in the brownie, the grumpy gardener who hates the children of the house hold, and his grumpy wife who steals the coal.  Apparently, it was funny for high Victorian children to read about the comeuppance of surly servants.

This is sort of proto-Nesbit; a book like The Adventures of a Brownie evolves into Five Children and It, which evolves into The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which evolves into Harry Potter...  Brownie isn't as clever or funny as Nesbit, but there are touches of humor, and it's not all treacle and sweetness (the unnamed children have  sainted mother though, and an absent father, similar to Nesbit's Railway Children, I think).

Craik also wrote The Little Lame Prince; I own a copy of this as well from around that same time period.

The Adventures of a BrownieThe Adventures of a Brownie by Dinah Maria Mulock Craik
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Adventures of a Brownie is sort of a proto-Nesbit; a book like this eventually evolved into Nesbit's Five Children and It which evolved into The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobewhich eventually becomes Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (with some stops and diversions along the way).  Brownie isn't as clever or funny as Nesbit, but there is some pointed humor.  Mainly aimed at the poor servants, who are always getting their comeuppance from the brownie.  Victorian upper class children probably had to put up with some abuse by servants (and vice versa, I'm sure), grumpy cooks and gardeners who had to take care of someone else's children, and Brownie surely appeased some of that.  This certainly isn't a great work of children's literature (the illustrations leave much to be desired) but when I was in third grade, I loved it so much when my elementary school library discarded a copy, I was given it.  It stayed in print for many, many years.

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