Borrobil (1944)

Borrobil 1Anyone heard of this one? Published in 1944 along with other English wartime oddities (The Magic Door, 1943; The Magic Bedknob, 1943), it is clearly the product of a time of scarce resources, with bad illustrations and insufficient editing.

Borrobil is the story of two children on holiday in the countryside, who sneak out of the house one night to explore a spooky wooded hill. It happens to be Beltane night, and they come to a ring of standing stones with lit bonfires, and are transported into the mythic past. There they meet a fat little magician named Borrobil and go on adventures with knights with names like Giric and Morac who slay dragons. The story culminates with the defeat of the Black King of Winter by the White King of Summer.

Over Sea Under StoneWeridstoneIt is the earliest use I’ve found in children’s books of English mythic history (not counting Puck of Pook’s Hill and The Magic Door, both of which are kind of all over the place, with Normans versus Saxons and Robin Hood and Julius Caesar and even dinosaurs). Borrobil is quite a bit closer to its sources than many later books; you get the feeling that the author actually read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and all that, while later authors seem to be modeling after other children’s books. Notable books in this vein are The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960) and the Dark is Rising books starting with Over Sea Under Stone (1965).

Borrobil itself, though, however good its inspiration, suffers from desperately uneven writing. Here is Morac, the archaic hero who has just slain a dragon, sounding like a 1940’s middle-class English school child: “You will bring them to the castle, won’t you Borrobil? You’d like to come, both of you, wouldn’t you?” To which King Brude replies, “Right, then,” before lurching into “I gave my word that they should ride where they would and as they would. That word I keep. But in your care, Morac, shall they be.”

The Funny ThingOne amusing detail to note is that the dragon gets its tail wrapped around a hill, just like the dragon-creature in the picture-book A Funny Thing (1929).


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