Knock Three Times

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(Illus­tra­tion by Margaret Tarrant– from the origin­al 1917 public­a­tion, and included in the ebooks)

Knock Three Times is not a well-known book, which is a pity. As you can see from the illus­tra­tion, it involves chil­dren being menaced by an evil grey pump­kin. Molly and Jack write to their aunt asking for birth­day presents- Jack would like some art supplies, and Molly some jewellery. The parcel they receive does include a box of paints, but Molly receives an ugly grey pincush­ion shaped like a pump­kin because it’s more “sens­ible” than a brace­let. Annoyed, she sticks some pins in it, and puts it on a shelf. In the night the pump­kin grows huge and rolls away into the woods. The chil­dren follow, and end up going through a secret door into anoth­er world.

There they discov­er that the pump­kin is public enemy number one, known for the sadist­ic curses he puts on anyone he touches, and for basic­ally head­ing up his own cult. The chil­dren sign up to help hunt for the magic leaf which will disable him. It’s basic­ally a strange cross between the Wizard of Oz and North by North­w­est. Two chil­dren making their way across a remote land­scape of heaths, forests and lakes, trying to work out who they can trust of the people they meet in isol­ated cottages, and always look­ing over their shoulder for the slow rumble of a pump­kin behind them. It’s a children’s book, but a very eerie one (although a quick read). The back of my copy says “This eerie tale of high adven­ture has an endur­ing appeal to all who love to have their blood deli­ciously curdled

It’s also surpris­ing how undated it is. Despite being writ­ten in 1917 there is no nonsense about the broth­er being the boss or assum­ing the sister is unable to do things. The chil­dren are treated equally.

Also, as it was writ­ten in 1917, it is now in the public domain, and avail­able as a free ebook from the Guten­berg Project.

This is my edition, which I acci­dent­ally have two copies of. One in good condi­tion I bought in a char­ity shop a few years ago, and then my origin­al battered one from when I was young­er, which I found when help­ing my mum to move. A shop near my mum’s work sold these Wordsworth Clas­sics paper­backs for £1 in the early 90s. They are flimsy, cheaply prin­ted books of out of copy­right texts, but the regu­lar supply of new books she brought home was always welcome. It also meant I ended up read­ing a lot of clas­sic books from the 1800s. And some almost forgot­ten ones like this, that just happened to be public domain.

Books were more expens­ive then, and new full-price books were a treat, not some­thing you threw into the shop­ping basket at the super­mar­ket. The Net Book Agree­ment was still in place until the late 90s- basic­ally all books had to be sold at the cover price. This was good in that it enabled small book­shops to thrive against the compet­i­tion of huge chains, but also meant that there were not many cheap new books to be had. The local and school library had a good selec­tion, as did the char­ity shops, but I was one of those kids who devoured books, so the more differ­ent ones I could read the happi­er I was.

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