Thu
Dec 6 2012 3:00pm

The One With The Magic Teapot and the Seasons: Victoria Walker’s Winter of Enchantment

The One With The Magic Teapot and the Seasons: Victoria Walker’s The Winter of EnchantmentWhen I was a child, my family used to go on holiday for two weeks every summer to the same hotel in Pembrokeshire. This hotel had a big bookshelf in a little sitting room that nobody sat in, and in that bookshelf were two shelves of children’s books, and every summer I would read them. We went every year from the summer I was three and a half until the time I was eleven and a half, and every summer I’d read all the books on the shelves, and any new ones that people had left. By the last summers I’d read some of the books on the grown up shelves above too. I never owned those books—but owning books didn’t seem important compared to having access to them, and I had access to them every summer in Penally.

One of my favourite of those books was Victoria Walker’s Winter of Enchantment, only I couldn’t have told you that because I didn’t pay enough attention to titles and authors in those days. To me it was “the book with the magic teapot and the personified seasons,” and as much as I’d have liked to have read it to my son when he was the right sort of age I never found it again, because that really isn’t enough to go on.

Except that it kind of is. I mentioned it in a comment on my post about The Hobbit, and Another Andrew identified it from those details. I checked at the time if it was in the library (no) and if it was available, and then it seemed to be available only as an expensive hardcover—and I wasn’t sure it really was my Goerge MacDonaldesque book with the teapot that winked. However, yesterday I checked again, and now it’s available as an e-book for $2.99, and that’s an amount I’m prepared to venture. I bought it and can confirm that this is indeed the book I remember. I could tell it was from the very first line, which is strange, because I didn’t consciously remember the beginning at all.

From his perch on the window seat Sebastian watched the November gusts scatter the heaps of leaves, toss each one in the air and then blow them into new piles.

Yes, I thought happily, this is it. The opening was deeply familiar to me even after thirty-seven years of not reading it. This may be one of my longest gaps between re-readings ever. And I curled up with it happily and was immediately absorbed.

Objectively, it’s a simple little collect-the-plot-coupons story in which a girl is imprisoned and rescued by the male protagonist. If I’d read it yesterday for the first time I doubt I’d have thought much of it. What it reminds me of more than anything, now, is a computer game, where you have to do everything in the right order, all the clues show up just when you want them, and the evil bad guy’s motivations don’t bear examining and he’s just that little bit too slow. If you like Skyrim... But it was written in the late sixties and predates not only computer games but most of modern fantasy. It seemed like a cool and unusual book to me because most of what can now be seen as children’s and YA fantasy didn’t yet exist. And I thought it was George MacDonaldesque (for years I thought it was another George MacDonald) because despite being written in the sixties the bit of it that’s in our world is set in late Victorian London.

It’s a charming book. It’s full of little turns of whimsy—the winking teapot, and the cat that has eaten the Silver Fish that is a Power Object, the way Ver is always sniping about fallen leaves. There’s far less of the personified seasons than I remembered—only a chapter. It’s one of those classic Suck Fairy moments—the seed is there, but most of what I remember about them came from my own imagination and not from the book. However, what is there is cool enough, and very evocatively described. It’s not the book’s fault if I spent a lot more time thinking about the forest where Time can’t go and the cave of the seasons than the author did.

And it’s a well written book. The description is great, and the book moves right along, everything connects, the characters are well drawn and if the plot is running in grooves then it’s redeemed by the truly magical moments of transformation—Sebastian turning into a shadow and turning into glass are as atmospheric now as when I first read them. It has a great magic mirror too, one that deeply influenced the way I think about magic mirrors.

I don’t really recommend reading it now for the first time, unless you want to read it to children or give it to children. There’s no reason modern kids wouldn’t still like it. And it has a lovely end. Somebody should make a film out of it instead of trying to make films out of obviously unfilmable books the way they usually do. This is straightforward, nifty, and not very long. There’s a sequel, which I never saw as a child but may well read now.

In the end though, there’s a difference between books that are formative and books that actually stand the test of time. Winter of Enchantment was a formative book for me, and I’m delighted to have found it again.


Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently the Hugo and Nebula winning Among Others. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

9 comments
Andrew Mason
1. AnotherAndrew
Good heavens! I've been quoted in a post! (Not just as part of a crowd, as in the Rothfuss reread, but all by myself.) I'm so glad to have helped.

I, too, did not remember the name of the author, but I almost remembered the title - I thought it was The Enchanted Winter - and googling that was enough to find it. (I often do not remember the names, and authors. of books from my childhood. There was a book about blue rabbits. And a book about Merlin and a treasure hunt. And a book about The Shop in the Ford - where the Ford turns out to be a car, not a river crossing. And....)

It did not seem to me as original as it did to you, I think - I took it to be children's fantasy in the tradition of Nesbit. YA fantasy as we know it may be relatively new, but children's fantasy has a long tradition - wasn't this one of the obstacles to the development of adult fantasy? ('But isn't that for children?')

One thing I remember is that after a catalogue of horrible things that the villain has done, they agree that he must be bad, because 'a good man would not do all these things just for revenge'. That a good man might do some horrible things for revenge seems to be accepted - though I would guess that represents the Victorian setting rather than being the author's own view.
Jo Walton
2. bluejo
Another Andrew: Thank you again!

The things a good person would do for revenge is an interesting question. I suppose it's very culturally dependent.
Pamela Adams
3. Pam Adams
Sigh. My uni library system can't find it either- the closest is Winter of Entrapment about the Donner Party- not the same at all.

Hooray for e-books!
Hilary Hertzoff
4. hhertzof
I came across this when it was mentioned by Neil Gaiman as one of his favorites. At some point thereafter, it and it's sequel (The House Called Hadlows) were republished by Fidra Books, so I ordered them.

I think I would have liked them better if I'd read them at the same time I was reading Joan North, Andre Norton, Elizabeth Goudge, E. Nesbit and Edward Eager, but there were some quite lovely bits in them and I keep meaning to do a reread.
TomT
5. TomT
This makes me think fondly of the books of my youth. I don't know why a public library in the back woods of California back in the 60's and 70's had british editions of books from the 50's and 60's but it did. I keep finding that books I grew up with were only published in the UK back then and only recently might have a US publishing.

For example restumbling on the Greenknowe books by Lucy Boston was a delight. Though I did that by stumbling across the film "From Time to Time" on Netflix and that is a retelling of 'The Children of Greenknowe." Like you I could have described bits and pieces of the novels but had no idea what the title or author was until stumbling across the film last month.

Now I'm wondering what the book was with the diamond ring and the attic window and a magician? was and was it a US book or a UK book.
Rosemary Smith
6. RoseRedFern
This one I missed somehow. Did you ever read Alan Garner's "Wierdstone of Brisingamen"? I recently found my copy and have to do a re-read over the holidays.
TomT
7. HelenS
TomT: The Diamond in the Window, by Jane Langton. It's set in Concord, Massachusetts.
TomT
8. TomT
The Diamond in the Window. That was it. Thank you. And I also have read Alan Garner's books.
TomT
9. ofostlic
I recognised this book from the "magic teapot and personified seasons" description, even though I haven't thought about it for years and don't remember much more about it. I might pick up the ebook just to see how it goes.

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