Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Secret of Platform 13 - Eva Ibbotson

Eva Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform 13 has been mentioned as an influence on J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series, so it was with that thought in mind that I picked it up in the library this week. I will talk more about this aspect of the book once I’ve reviewed it.

There is an Island, which some call Avalon, and others call St Martin’s Land, and others know it by other names; once the Island was a part of our mainland, but it broke off and gradually floated away, and now it can only be accessed via a special portal, called a Gump, which in England is located on platform 13 of King’s Cross station (there are portals in other countries as well). The Gump only opens once every nine years, but it remains open for nine days. The King and Queen of the Island have a son and he is looked after by his three nurses, triplets who are human and used to live in our world before they went to the Island. When the Prince is three months old, the Gump opens and the nurses, who have been feeling homesick, beg permission to visit the Secret Cove, where arrivals and departures for the Gump take place. The Queen gives permission reluctantly for the nurses to go and for them to take the Prince too. Unfortunately when the nurses are in the Cove, they smell fish and chips, so they decide to ascend to the station (via the usual “wind basket”) taking the Prince with them, and whilst they are there, the Prince is kidnapped by one Mrs Trottle, a rich and pampered woman who has everything money can buy, but no child of her own.

Thanks to one of the ghosts who inhabit King’s Cross station, the kidnapping is observed and he is able to find out who holds the Prince and by what name the Prince is known. The ghost passes through the Gump which, although it has closed for another nine years, can be traversed by a ghost. In due course a rescue plan is devised for the next opening of the Gump, and the chosen rescuers, the wizard Cornelius, a one-eyed ogre named Hans, a fey named Gurkintrude and the young hag named Odge, enter King’s Cross station. They are guided to “Trottle Towers” as the Trottle’s home is known (although it is nothing like a castle or a tower), and they see a boy who cleans shoes, mops the floor and takes a cup of tea to someone whom they assume to be Mrs Trottle. When he carries out the rubbish, the boy sees the rescuers and goes over to talk to them. They tell him they’ve come for Raymond Trottle, and the boy reveals that his name is Ben, not Raymond, as they had supposed. Raymond, they discover is a fat, spoilt brat, whose mother dotes on him and indulges his every whim. Ben is disappointed to find that the rescuers haven’t come for him, but he agrees to help them make contact with Raymond so that they can take him back to the Island.

Initially Raymond is completely uninterested in leaving his home to go to a mysterious Island, so the rescuers organise a special show of magic, which all the ghosts and other magical beings attend to display their “tricks”. Raymond is distinctly unimpressed until he persuades Cornelius to create gold for him, then he agrees to go with the rescuers. The following morning he tells his mother that he won’t be going to see Mrs Frankenheimer because he’s really a prince and will be going to an Island. Mrs Trottle immediately assumes that Raymond has been drugged by a gang who want to kidnap him, and she disappears with Raymond. The rescuers mount a desperate search for Raymond because the Gump will not be open for much longer; they finally locate him and his mother who are staying at the Astor hotel. They devise a plan to get Raymond away, in spite of the two body guards his mother has employed (one of whom is known as Soft Parts Doreen, from her habit of stabbing people in their most vulnerable spots with her steel knitting needles). Unfortunately, things do not go entirely according to plan as the mistmaker (a cuddly creature which creates mist in response to hearing beautiful music) which Odge has brought as a gift for the Prince, escapes from its suitcase and gets into the hotel and finds the dining room where an orchestra is playing. It starts creating lots of mist in response to the music, and this in turns creates havoc. Doreen attempts to kill it, but Ben arrives and although he survives his encounter, he is knocked unconscious. Raymond, who had already been successfully kidnapped before the mistmaker arrived, goes back to his mother. However, the fearsome harpies of the northern part of the Island have arrived to rescue the Prince, since it’s clear that the chosen rescuers have failed to complete their task; they capture Raymond as he’s waiting for a private helicopter to arrive to take him and his mother to their home in Scotland, and take him through the Gump.

I won’t give away the ending of this story, but I have to confess that I had figured it out long beforehand !

As for the comparison between Ibbotson's book and Rowling's, it's true that there are some similarities, most notably in the descriptions of Raymond and Ben, where Ben sleeps in a cupboard and serves the Trottle family, and Raymond is a spoilt fat brat, but I don't feel the resemblance between the two books goes much further than that (except perhaps insofar as the Gump is located at King's Cross station, as is the "portal" for the Hogwarts train, but Rowling has admitted to having been mistaken about King's Cross being the station she was actually thinking about (in terms of its physical characteristics) when she came up with the idea of the Hogwarts train leaving from a London station). It's clear that Ibbotson's book has influenced the Harry Potter books, like many other children's books have done; the influence of The Lord of the Rings is particularly strong in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, for example.

* * * * * *

There's a review of Peter Dickinson's The Gift Boat over on the Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone. I didn't post any part of the review here, because I felt that any detail would be spoilerish, so the whole review is over there.

1 comment:

Janvi said...

very interesting.