Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr

Catherine Storr’s 1958 novel Marianne Dreams is one of those classic children’s stories that passed me by, but luckily I spotted a Puffin copy from the 1970s, I picked it up, I thought it looked lovely, and so I brought it home.

It was lovely, it was spooky, and it was the kind of book that brought out the child who loved books inside me.

Marianne is confined to bed with an illness that will keep her their for several months. Bored, she starts to draw to pass the time, using an old pencil she found in her grandmother’s workbox.  She draws a house, with a garden, set in rough moorland.

When she falls asleep she dreams that she is standing outside the house she drew. She goes to the door but she finds that she can’t get in, because she didn’t draw a door knob. She adds that the next day, and after the next night’s dream she adds a staircase, so that she can go upstairs to meet the boy she drew looking out of a window.

The next day she goes back to her drawing, and she adds a door handle, and a boy looking out of an upstairs window. That night’s dream makes her realise that she needs to add stairs, and when she has added those she meets Mark. he tells her that he has trapped, because he has been ill and he can’t use his legs properly.

Marianne had been having lessons with Miss Chesterfield, a tutor who gave lessons to sick children in their own homes; and she realised that Mark was another pupil Miss Chesterfield had told her about, who had polio. That intrigued Marianne, but it also upset her when her tutor was a little late on her birthday, explaining that it was because Mark had arranged for his mother to buy her flowers; many more flowers than Marianne had own mother buy.

Later that day, still upset, Marianne drew bars across Mark’s window, and sinister eyes on the boulders that she had drawn to fill the spacce on the page outside the house and garden. Later she regretted what she had done, but the marks that the pencil made couldn’t be arased, and all Marianne could do was add more to her drawing.

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(The black and white illustrations in my copy are really effective.)

I saw that the pencil captured Marianne’s intent as she drew as well as the marks she made on paper. She didn’t notice that, because she was too caught up in the adventure and the practicalities that presented themselves. I would have been the same if I read the book as her age; and I would have been as disturbed as she and Mark were by the watchers.

The eyes that Marianne drew onto the boulders when she was angry with Mark had turned them into sinister, sentient beings that she knew would harm the two children if they tried to leave the house. But she knew that they had to leave the house, because their health and happiness in the waking world reflected their health and happiness in Marianne’s dreams.

What could she draw to give Mark the strength to escape, and to allow them to escape the watchers ….. ?

The idea behind this book was inspired, and the execution was perfect. The internal logic held, and Catherine Storr had the wisdom to not explain so much. She focused her story on her characters; I liked Marianne and Mark, I felt for them and I believed in them; they behaved exactly as children their age would. I do wish I’d met them when I was their age, but I’m glad that at least I’ve met them now.

What I wouldn’t have noticed when I was that young is that the writing is elegant, the story-telling is lovely, and that the book has hardly dated at all.

Marianne’s story was adapted for television in the 1970s, it was modernised for the cinema in the 1980s (Bernard Rose’s ‘Paperhouse’); and a few years ago it was adapted for the stage.

It would sit very nicely among the children’s classics on anyone’s bookshelves; and I understand that it is still in print …..

31 responses

  1. Oh, I adore Catherine Storr! I was a ‘Clever Polly & The Stupid Wolf’ obsessive as a child, I wore out two casette tapes of it (and till listen to it occassionally *g*) but this is new to me. I shall now be looking out for it everywhere as it looks simply wonderful!

    • You were a step ahead of me, because I hadn’t heard of Catherine Storr and I only found this book because an Elizabeth Goudge title nearby. My library has several of her books in reserve stock that I will order sometime, and I hope that a copy of this book will turn up for you.

      • Clever Polly & The Stupid Wolf is wonderful, I can heartily recommend it. Catherine Storr was a Psychiatrist and she loved to write subversive stories for children. Polly is a little girl who constantly otusmarts a wolf with logic, and a dash of imagination. She was my first inspiration when I was little. If you were interested, I’d be happy to uploaded my ripped tape for you!

  2. I remember watching the TV adaptation as a child and the stones with eyes really scared me. A wonderful book!

  3. I didn’t remember this book at all, until you started describing it, and I now realise that I read it as a child. It’s a wonderfully imaginative premise, isn’t it? Thanks for the reminder!

  4. An absolutely terrifying book! I think there is a sequel, Marianne and Mark (1979), but haven’t read it.

    • I looked up the sequel, but I see that it’s set quite a few years later and only the characters are the same, so I’m not rushing to find a copy. Though if I should come across one of course I’ll pick it up,

  5. I read this as a child and never forgot it, then found my own battered Puffin as the back of a cupboard at exactly the right time to pass it on to my daughters. They all say it’s one of the most memorable books of their childhood.

  6. This sounds fascinating though maybe too creepy for me as a child. I think I would appreciate it more now!

  7. Cathy, I was going to post what you said – I loved the Clever Polly stories and I keep buying copies of them in charity shops, because there are supposedly 4 volumes of stories with slightly similar titles, and I keep worrying that it might be one of the ones I don’t have (it usually isn’t!). I have Marianne Dreams too, and I think there’s a sequel called Marianne and Mark.

    • I’ve just realised you’re right, the tape I had loomed so large in my childhood I forgot that I have two of the books (and there maybe more) – Wolf Again and More Tales. I think I’ll have to keep an eye out for the other titles now! If you would like an upload of the tape, it’s here ( I realise I did it for someone else on Twitter a while back): https://app.box.com/s/25r93g11kxjvwkhn425j7onovwcze8lh ….Derek Grifiths is the voice of the wolf for me!

  8. I don’t know how I never had a whiff of this as a child. Okay, now it’s on reserve for me at the library. Thanks.

  9. I haven’t read this one, but I love The Chinese Egg, also written by Catherine Storr. It was a book I read several times as a teenager, and I was thrilled to find a second-hand copy of it a few years ago. Now I own it! You might like this one too. I may have to look up Marianne Dreams.

  10. Pingback: A Box of Books for 2015 | Beyond Eden Rock

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