Fantasy Flashback: The Farthest-Away Mountain

Tuesday, February 15, 2011



The Farthest-Away Mountain
Lynne Reid Banks, 1976

Fantasy Flashback is a week long event in which I'm re-reading books that were important to me as a young person. I probably read most of these for the first time between the ages of 8 and 12.

I am very glad that this book held up to my memory of it.

Admittedly, my memories of this book by the time I opened it had worn down to “I used to love this, and there's something about the mountain, and magic colored snow, and red flannel petticoats...” Such are the details that stay with me.

If you missed this one, it's a sweet little book with a fairy tale tone, although with more down-to-earth characters than most actual fairy tales. Although she lives on a farm, the heroine Dakin almost fits into the archetype of a fairy tale princess, from before “princess” meant spoiled and simpering. Dakin is beautiful, brave, honest and compassionate, and she's also very pragmatic.
She had a turned-up nose and eyes the color of the blue mountain flowers that grew in spring, and small brown hands and feet. She was fourteen. 
In those days a girl was quite old enough to get married by that age. Dakin was quite the prettiest girl in the village; she could sing like a thrush and dance like a leaf in the wind, and besides, she was a marvelous cook. So that, until you know certain other things about her, it's difficult to understand why her parents were so very anxious about her chances of getting married.
Dakin wants to travel to the farthest-away mountain, and meet a gargoyle, and marry a prince. Of course, the farthest-away mountain is so named because it's cursed: no matter how much you travel towards it, it never seems to get any closer.. She's not an extemely complicated character, but she's kind and determined, and that's enough for a book of this type.

The best part of this book is the imagery. The descriptions of the places Dakin travels through and the creatures she meets there are so evocative that as I got to each part of the story, suddenly I remembered what it looked like, or rather what I thought it looked like when I read this years ago.
But no meadow stretches on forever and, quite abruptly, the grass stopped and she found herself walking on rocks, not the smooth, well-worn kind in the green river at home, but spiky, sticking-up rocks, like sharp teeth or knives. Her feet slipped between them and she had to wrench them free. Sometimes a piece of rock she hadn't noticed would trip her up. She knew if she fell she'd hurt herself badly, and it really did seem, after a while, as if the rocks were alive and doing their utmost to make her stumble and fall in amongst them.
It's not overly deep, but it is a charming, imaginative story. There's some scary creatures and some friendly ones, some destiny and some luck, helped along by quick thinking. It reminds me a little of the movie "Labyrinth" in tone, although the heroine is younger and the bad guys more evil, and so there's very little romantic anything until the very end.

So much of what I like about it is the style: the prose has a simplicity that can be lyrical. It's pretty short, and I think it would be a good book to read aloud.



All the ratings this week come with a caveat: every book discussed this week was a five star book to 11 year-old me. So please keep that in mind, this is not a universal judgement, but a personal one.  

29 year-old me gives The Farthest-Away Mountain: 4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Tomorrow: Swept Away!

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