A Grass Rope
by William Mayne
illustrated by Lynton Lamb
Age: (read to) 7+ (independent reading) 9+
Interests: mystery, magic, unicorn, fairies, farm life, England, dogs, history
Oxford University Press: 1957
167 pp. – 18 chapters
Four children in rural Yorkshire set out to find treasure, which according to local legend lies underground in fairyland with a unicorn and some lost hunting hounds. The youngest, Mary, firmly believes in fairies, while the eldest two, Nan and Adam, are convinced there is a scientific explanation for the tale. Peter falls somewhere in between. The children finally solve the mystery of the lost hounds, and find some of the treasure, in the form of the silver that formed their collars. The beauty of the story however, is that the solution still leaves room for those who are more inclined to believe in magic, like Mary.
A slow and rambling tale, this story weaves in great detail about farm life and the beauty of the Yorkshire countryside. The dialogue of the children is naturalistic, elliptical and tangential, and the author presents their inner thoughts convincingly. The slow unravelling of the old legend, and the clues that can be found in the sign of the Unicorn Tavern, require close attention as they are not entirely spelled out for the reader. As well, some of the strong North Yorkshire dialect, particularly that spoken by the hired man Charley, requires some effort to decipher.
While it takes a while to get rolling, the mystery of the lost treasure is enthralling, and the clues that lead the children along are inventive. In the end it is little Mary who puts the pieces together and finds her way to fairyland, the treasure, and even a unicorn who turns out to be a fox.
A lovely, gently told tale about four friends, science, magic, and mystery. Gorgeously written, this story’s dreamy and poetic style sets it apart from other treasure-hunt-tales.
Shockingly, A Grass Rope seems to be out of print, but used and library copies can be found.