I loved Helen Cresswell’s writing when I was younger. She writes in a non-patronising, matter-of-fact way and understands what children want. Her thrilling stories are so full of suspense and her characters are so refreshingly realistic. The protagonist in the Moondial is no exception.
Minty is staying with her aunt Mary for the summer. While she is there, her mother is in an accident, leaving her in intensive care. Minty struggles to come to terms with her mother’s condition and buries herself in the mysteries of the haunted Belton House opposite her aunt’s cottage.
The setting is based on the real Belton House in Lincolnshire. Minty, who has always had a sixth sense for ghosts, immediately begins to feel the prickle of something mysterious in the air surrounding the house. This feeling is especially apparent in the gardens, where she finds a sundial.
‘Minty stopped in front of the statue, with icy tides washing her from head to foot. There were an old man and a young boy, both winged like angels, though she was certain that they were not. They seemed to be wrestling, struggling for possession of a bowl above their heads and, catching a glimpse of a metal beak, Minty suddenly realised what it was.
“A sundial!” she exclaimed softly, and then, almost immediately and without knowing why – “Moondial!”‘
Who else feels those icy tides washing over them when they read that?
We later find out that these two figures depict Chronos and Eros, the Greek Gods of time and love. Although this is only briefly touched upon, and it certainly didn’t have any significance to me when I was a child, it means more to me now. Time and love are heavy topics in the book. Minty slips through time to visit past moments at Belton House. She befriends Tom, a Victorian kitchen boy and further back in time they meet the unloved Sarah, a lonely child who needs their kindness.
Of course, a children’s book would not be complete without an enemy, who comes in the form of forbidding ghost buster Miss Raven. However it’s not Miss Raven that sends shivers down my spine, but the ordinary children that Minty sees creeping up on Sarah wearing hideous masks, and shouting that she is the devil’s child. It’s nightmare inducing stuff, but I also found it shocking when I was younger to think that children could be so malicious.
Moondial was published in the late 80s and I read it at some point in the 90s. The mention of cassette tapes brings back memories of making my very own mix tapes and listening to them through foamy headphones. Children today would find this very dated, but I think that the haunting story and the suspense would still appeal.
Find out more about the real Belton House from a lover of the book here.
To buy your own copy, click on the picture below!