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.
(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 …..