Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr was originally published in 1958, and it’s one of those books that demonstrates how much publishing for children has changed in the fifty-odd years since. There’s a strong adult tone to the narrator, which is something that is frowned upon these days, and yet the story itself is as strong a concept as you could get: a girl draws pictures that then come true in her dreams.
Fiona Dunbar wrote a wonderful book called Toonhead a few years back (sadly, out of print WAY too soon) in which the hero, Pablo, drew cartoons that came alive. Marianne’s drawings don’t come alive in her real life but instead when she falls asleep she finds herself in whatever she drew during the day. It begins when she finds a pencil in her mother’s workbox, and draws a not-very-good house, with a boy at the window. That night, she’s trying to get into the house, and the boy calls down to her from his room above. Over the days and weeks that follow, Marianne and the boy discover just what the magic pencil can do, as she adds furniture, games, food and – accidentally – frightening rocks for wardens with one eye each. Why are eyes so terrifying? My daughter went through a phase of having nightmares about ‘red eyes’, and I remember a similar phase myself. Something that can see you, even if it can’t move, can have a menacing presence, and the author does a wonderful job of creating tension and fear this way.
Marianne is ill, and the doctor has told her to stay in bed. Whatever illness she has (it’s never made explicit) makes her extremely tired, but staying in bed is very boring, and her mother engages a governess to teach her while she’s at home. This governess also teaches another invalid child – a boy called Mark – and Marianne slowly comes to realise, much to her astonishment, that Mark is the boy she is meeting in her dreams. But how? And, more importantly, why?
This is a lovely story, unfolding quite slowly and with a delicate touch. There are scary monsters, but not so scary that a child would stop reading. There’s a race against time, in the real world as well as the dream one, and an ending that will leave you feeling all achy and worn out. Marianne and Mark are by no means delightful children; they frequently bicker and sulk, as real children do (and I was tempted to count how many times the word ‘beastly’ was used), but they develop a real bond due to their unique situation, and that makes the reader invest in their future. They are proper friends, sharing and planning and dreaming together.
I came across Marianne Dreams when a fellow author said it was a childhood favourite, and I rather think that if I had read it as a child alongside White Boots by Noel Streatfeild and Seaward by Susan Cooper, I would have fallen completely in love with it too.