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The Golden Calendar
SYNOPSIS
SPOILER WARNING
Casual readers should be aware that most of the synopses reveal the outcome of the story.
You read them at your own risk of spoiling the story.

The novel is aimed at junior readers.

Jennifer is thirteen and Michael is eleven. The novel describes their adventures in a mythological otherworld. It is an exciting, sometimes frightening, story of conflict between good and evil, involving, amongst others, ancient gods, trolls, elves, hobgoblins, unicorns and a witch.

The children persuade their aunt that they are going a walk to look for wild flowers whereas, in reality, they are going to look for fossils in a quarry that their aunt thinks is dangerous. Whilst on the walk, the children are trapped in a tunnel, the entrance to an otherworld peopled by characters from Greek mythology and traditional folklore. They first meet a kobold who guards the tunnel in order to prevent goblins entering the world of humans. The kobold promises to guide them to safety but they are intercepted by Hermes, the messenger of the gods, who takes them (flying on a gryphon) to Olympus where they meet Zeus and other gods and goddesses. Zeus asks them to undertake a journey to recover the Calendar that controls Time, which has been stolen by Ker, a servant of Aleph, a hobgoblin prince. Zeus says that they will have to journey over the sea and through the desert, the ice mountains and the forest and that they will encounter many dangers.

Before their journey starts, there is an idyllic interlude where they stay in the woods with Tara, a naiad, enjoying the serenity of her life and, thus, lulling the reader into a false sense of peacefulness. The next day they journey on the back of a winged horse to the edge of the sea. During a dream, Michael learns to talk with dolphins which, the following morning, carry them across the sea where they become involved in a fight between some killer whales and the dolphins (who are aided by swordfish). Arriving in what the dolphins call the ‘hot-dry’ (the desert), they come under the influence of an afrit which leads them in a trance across the desert to an abandoned fort. The children suffer from injured feet and lack of food and water and are near to death when the afrit is killed by a basilisk which the children subsequently defeat by means of an ingenious ploy devised by Michael.

Having defeated the basilisk, the children continue to the ice mountains where they meet the ice trolls. At first, because of the evil glamour used by the trolls, they believe they are among friends but, when the children fall into a drugged sleep, the true nature of the trolls becomes apparent and the children are thrown into a dungeon. Here they meet with other prisoners: elves, pixies, ludkis and a leprechaun. Michael tricks the troll which has been left on guard and the children escape with the other prisoners. There is a chase through the tunnels but they evade their pursuers and escape into the mountains.

The leading elf takes them to the Far Forest where they meet eight of the nine Muses (to the Muses, the Far Forest is Helicon). Thalia, the Muse of Comedy, befriends them and organises a party in which each Muse entertains them according to her speciality. Thalia explains that Aleph, the hobgoblin prince who has the Calendar, is very keen on riddles and might be defeated if they can challenge him to a riddling contest. She explains the importance of riddles in ancient times and describes the Sphinx’s Riddle, one of the first to be invented. She says, however, that it may be impossible to find a way into Aleph’s castle.

Thalia arranges for two unicorns to take the children further on their journey. They find a hobgoblin who has become trapped by a fallen tree. The unicorns advise against rescuing the hobgoblin because ‘hobgoblins cannot be trusted’. But the children rescue him and he promises to take them to Aleph’s castle. He does so. Aleph is more ‘small-boy-wicked’ than truly evil and Jennifer manages to get the better of him in a ‘diplomatic incident’. As a result, he challenges the children to a riddling contest, promising them that, if they succeed in beating him, he will give them the Calendar and help them to return to Olympus. The children eventually win the contest and Aleph forces a roc to fly them and the Calendar to Olympus and to Zeus who rewards them with the promise that they can return to Olympus whenever they want. Zeus creates a thunderstorm in which they return home only a few minutes after they left.

Although the story is in no sense intended to be educational, it is likely to generate an interest in mythology and folklore and the beings the children encounter are described according to their traditional attributes. Whilst the story is accessible to eleven to thirteen year olds, great care has been taken to avoid condescending to the reader and, indeed, some of the language and imagery may be challenging to some of the target readership. The story aims to rise above the simple ‘thrilling yarn’ and to provide a more literary experience.

 
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