The windy path, scary-looking trees and slightly-terrified little boy, gingerly clutching a sword, let you know at the front cover that there is more to this story than happily ever after. Getting to the castle at the end of the windy path is going to be a challenge. That is if there even is a castle … There May Be A Castle, the title tantalisingly teases us.
And what about the bemused-looking sheep on the front cover? What has that got to do with anything at all?
On a frozen Christmas Eve, Mouse Mallory and his family set off across a snow-white valley to visit his grandparents.
They never arrive.
As the wheels skid off the icy road, Mouse is thrown from the car. When he wakes, he finds himself in a magical landscape, with only a talkative sheep and a very bossy horse for company.
And they tell him: this is your story now.
Mouse’s story is a roller-coaster of emotions, exploring love, loss and the power of the imagination to cocoon us in safer worlds when we need it the most. As the talkative sheep and very bossy horse tell Mouse: this is your story now. But it is a story greatly enhanced by the presence of Mouse’s companions.
Take, for example, Nonky – the very bossy horse. He is quite the character.
‘Wait a second,’ said Nonky casually, as if toy horses grew gigantic and talked every day of the week. ‘Do I know you? Do you follow me on Instagram?
Nonky is a pragmatic horse, unafraid to accept the inevitable. But his matter-of-fact approach to life hides a tender side that is gradually revealed as the story progresses. Sometimes, it turns out, having a bossy horse around can be quite reassuring.
Mouse’s family are introduced too and I particularly enjoyed reading the story of Mouse’s younger sister, Esme.
This is a book written for children but you shouldn’t be fooled by this fact. Torday doesn’t shy away from the inevitable moments of terror and despair that we all encounter through life’s journeys. There is a gentle reassurance in the inclusion of these moments within Mouse’s story. An acknowledgement that they are part of life, that it is okay to talk about scary things and, perhaps, in doing so, they become a little less frightening.
Torday has an ability to write with a lightness of touch that is impressive and this, combined with moments of humour, counterbalances the less cheerful parts of this tale. In fact, this is a book that feels very much like life – you are laughing one moment and crying the next.
I have found myself thinking about this book a lot since I finished it. I think it is because I felt so invested in Mouse’s journey: I cheered him on as he cautiously undertook his mission to find the castle and smiled as he overcame challenges, growing in confidence and maturity. I miss him, I suppose. But the lovely thing about stories is that they don’t always end at the final page. Sometimes they live on in blogs posts, where we shine a little spotlight that asks “Did you ever hear the story of Mouse?”
This is your story now.
It is not the same, of course, on retelling. There is something very special about hearing the adventure through Mouse’s words. But these memories and retellings keep the story alive. And, for a book that touches on loss, there is something quite comforting about looking back on a cast of characters you loved and knowing that they can be held in your mind, perhaps even setting out into adventures new. This is, as Torday so eloquently explores in There May Be A Castle, the power of the imagination and it is a very wonderful thing.