Friday, January 26, 2018

The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit

Once upon a time our family traveled to England for a month. While we were there we took in the stage production of The Railway Children which is performed in a specially designed theater connected to King's Cross Station. I meant to read the book before we saw the play but that didn't happen but it really was alright. Our kids were younger then and if I had read the story to them any earlier, I fear they wouldn't remember it. The play they remember in part and the book they now stand a better chance of remember in full.  (That's what we call a "win/win" right?)

As noted, we finally corrected our gaffe and read the book and it was a charming delight from beginning to end. In case you are unfamiliar with the plot line, I shall briefly fill you in:

Three children - Roberta ("Bobbie"), Peter and Phyillis - have their life turned upside a bit when their father is very suddenly and abruptly "called away" and their mother must move with them to the countryside. The children aren't sure as to why their father isn't around, but, being children, they quickly adapt to their new circumstances. Mother, who has always had time for play before, must now spend her time writing stories to make a little money. The children are largely left to their own devices and make a few choice friends down at the local railway station. Most of the story surrounds various incidents which occur around the railway line but we also get to know them through the eyes of other locals from the village. Running throughout the story are questions about where their father might have gone and when he might return. The book concludes happily alright but the family does undergo a fair amount of challenge and suffering before we're done getting to know them. Told in Nesbit's lovely style, this is a story our family is sure to remember for a long while.

I found The Railway Children well-suited for a read aloud. The chapters are a bit long so we only read one a day (we usually aim for two). Our kids are ages three to eleven and it was certainly our oldest three that got the most out of the story, laughing at all the right parts, etc. I would say if you only want to read this book once, then wait until your kids are at least six or seven before taking time out for this. However, I hardly think this is a "one and done" sort of read. I could easily see us devouring this book several times over. But that's Nesbit for you; her works are generally re-readable.

The Railway Children held a few surprises for me, in particular, at the end. Nesbit's theology shines through during a particular conversation between her characters. Peter and his mother are having a little heart-to-heart on account of the fact that Peter is missing his father's presence. He doesn't know the reasons why his father isn't at home with the family and proposes that sometimes books are better than real-life. He suggests to his mother that if their life were a story, Mother could just write it out so that Father would come home. The following interaction takes place:

Peter's mother put her arm round him suddenly, and hugged him in silence for a minute.
Then she said:
'Don't you think it's rather nice to think that we're in a book that God's writing? If I were writing a book, I might make mistakes. But God knows how to make the story end just right - in the way that's best for us.'
'Do you really believe that, Mother?' Peter asked quietly.
'Yes,' she said, 'I do believe it - almost always - except when I'm so sad that I can't believe anything. But even when I can't believe it, I know it is true - and I try to believe it. You don't know how I try, Peter.'

What a gem of a passage! There are many times over the course of my life that I've wished the story was going a little differently. It's tremendously easy to believe that I know best and that I'd write the story of my life out much better. In my Chronological Study Bible I've reached the story of Job where he too questions God's plan. I absolutely love the passage in Job 38 - 41 where God thunders out His reply in a manner which causes Job to stand still and believe.

Then Job answered the Lord and said: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” Job 40:3-5

There is so much that we can't know about our own lives so long as we're here on earth. There is so much that we will dream of having happen to us or through us on their earth that will never be. We will always live with questions. We will always be surrounded by mystery. This will never change. Our sole duty and responsibility is to believe. Believe that the Lord is Who He says that He is. Believe that His ways are higher, more perfect, and more holy than our imagination can comprehend. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for that is how we will be saved. (Acts 16:31; Hebrews 11:6)

Nesbit, through her character of Roberta, Peter and Phyllis's mother, got it right. If we were in charge of writing our own stories and proclaiming our own destinies, we'd be at a risk getting things wrong and making mistakes. But God knows how to make each of our stories end just right - in the way that is best for us.

It's worth reading the entirety of The Railway Children for this one passage if for no other reason. I loved it in every particular and I'm so glad that we took the time to get to know this book.

Of course, now that we've read the book we are permitted to watch the Masterpiece Theater version which we will do so as promptly as is humanely possible. My own children are already at me to see it. I must confess I'm just as impatient to get to it as they are!


FancyHorse said...

I really enjoyed your review! I read this a couple of years ago, but you and your children got more out of it than I did. I still have it on Kindle; I may re read it!

I'm going to link your review to mine
The Railway Children

Tarissa said...

I've heard of The Railway Children over the years, but never knew if it'd be worth my time to read it. Of course, I've read zero Nesbit books, so I had nothing to go on.

Well, you've convinced me now! I now know that I WILL read one day. :)


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