With Halloween just past and Veteran’s Day (Armistice Day) on the horizon, here’s a nice segueway – a novel featuring a witch and other supernatural figures during World War One.
LIVING ALONE (1919) – Written by Stella Benson. This novel is like a World War One forerunner of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. In 1918, during what was then called The Great War, a London woman named Sarah Brown busies herself with War Savings Committee Work.
One day a witch invites her to move into a home called the House of Living Alone, which turns out to be a boardinghouse for practitioners of magic as well as assorted supernatural figures like faeries, imps, etc. Sarah accepts the invitation, taking her dog David Blessing with her.
This house is located on Mitten Island in the Thames River. Sarah becomes involved in the adventures of Peony, who is plagued by an Imp wanting to be born. She also meets Richard Higgins, a practicing warlock who runs – not a dairy farm – but a Faerie Farm, which is supervised by a dragon.
At one point a German bombing raid strikes a cemetery, waking up all of the dead. They rise from their graves, convinced that it is the Final Judgment, until Sarah and her new friends set things right.
Whimsically enough, circumstances later lead the witch who runs the House of Living Alone into mounting her flying broomstick and having a magical dogfight over England with a German witch.
The battle features this exchange of dialogue:
“We are Crusaders,” said the German witch. “Crusaders at War with Evil.”
“Why, how funny—so are we,” said our witch. “But then how very peculiar that two Crusaders should apparently be fighting each other. Where then is the Evil? In No Man’s Land?”
Ultimately Richard and Peony wind up involved romantically and Sarah moves to America with her witch landlady, who has a squirrel acquaintance forever extolling the virtues of the U.S.A … in a New England accent. The witch mistakes the Statue of Liberty for a giantess sending out a distress signal with her torch.
This is another novel that I cannot believe isn’t more well-known, especially given its status as an early variation on Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Living Alone is not quite a children’s book but it certainly is not dark and hardcore, either. “Whimsical fantasy” makes for a good two-word description.
Here is an excerpt from the quirky intro:
“This is not a real book. It does not deal with real people, nor should it be read by real people. But there are in the world so many real books already written for the benefit of real people, and there are still so many to be written, that I cannot believe that a little alien book such as this, written for the magically-inclined minority, can be considered too assertive a trespasser”.
Even if you’re not a World War One geek like I am there is plenty to entertain you in this neglected story. Just be aware there’s no real over-arching story, just a piling-on of events. +++
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