How could I resist the back cover blurb?
“Under Platform 13 in one of London’s busiest train stations is an old doorway covered with peeling posters. Behind it is the entrance to a magical kingdom – an island where humans live happily with mermaid, ogres, and mysterious creatures called mistmaker.” (The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson, Puffin Books, copyright 1994)
The whole first two sentences alone were enough to beckon me to read, and – being a very grown-up grown up – I don’t exactly fall into the 8-12 middle school reader category.
London? A busy train station – that turns out to be King’s Cross – where, behind the commotion of everyday life, a doorway to magic lies guarded by ghosts? A magical island with pretty mermaids and ugly ogres? Not to mention there was a cute wizard on the cover sprouting green hair, like he was growing the chia hair from the old Saturday Night Live skit. It was too much whimsy for me to resist.
So, I read Eva Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform 13 which was published in 1994, quite a while ago. The anglophile in me always squeals happily when finding a good story set somewhere in Britain, and fantasy worlds give writers all sorts of license to entertain. This one promised to bring an extra dose of fun, and it delightfully delivered as I zipped through the lovely, touching read.
There were the so-silly-they-must-learn-a-lesson characters of three sisters, nannies who lose their little charge, a baby boy who’s a prince.There is a nice boy who’s wise beyond his years and a spoiled greedy boy who makes trouble. There’s a kind wizard and a goofy monster and a lonely girl witch who isn’t up-to-snuff as far as little hags in the making go. And they all have wonderfully made up names like when you fake a word in Scrabble.
You know the basic story: the lost boy is kidnapped by selfish baddies whom you desperately want to smack they are so ridiculously selfish. Then, a squad of magicals wander into the real world on a search and rescue mission. Mayhem follows, relationships are formed and inner strengths are revealed. And you laugh, too. Throw in the sweet little fantasy creature called a mistmaker, who sighs mist while exhaling a little ‘ahhh’ sound and, well, there’s your cuteness factor (and, it’s a plot device, too.)
If all of this, the plot and word-wizardry, sounds to you a lot like the Harry Potter books, then know that you are not the first to have noticed. But, it should be noted, that Ibboton’s book was published in 1994; Potter in 1997.) Just do a little Google search if the topic interests you, and you’ll find a few opinions and a nice Ibbotson quote about how she felt about Harry Potter. (Totally, okay with it.) If the story in Platform 13 itself doesn’t lure you, a desire to do a little literary comparison might. If nothing else, it shows how two writers can actually have similar – very similar – ideas, and they can each make that idea sing its own tune.
This was truly a fun read for me, and I hope you check it out. Meanwhile, Ibbotson wrote a lot more fantasy lit that I’d like to enjoy. Do you think it would be okay for a very grown-up grown up to embark on a middle-reader magical book binge?