This being National Reading Month, I thought
I'd do my bit for advocating children's literacy.
Have you read this book?
It's the first of Enid Blyton's original trilogy that is beloved by millions of children all over the world.
There are three books in the trilogy: The Enchanted Wood, The Magic Faraway Tree and The Folk Of The Faraway Tree. The originals cost a small fortune on ebay now, although you can buy the revised reprints (and a revised fourth title Up The Faraway Tree) easily and affordably enough. It's on the BBC's Big Read List (#66) - some versions of this list have the original trilogy, and some versions list just the second title -The Magic Faraway Tree.
In case you have a hard time finding it, let me quickly give you the background. Three children move to the country, into a cottage in whose backyard is the mysterious Enchanted Wood. People don't go into the Wood because they think it's full of magic, so of course the children run off to explore it the first chance they get. They discover in the middle of it, the ancient and enormous Faraway Tree. Lots of little folk live in the tree - fairies, pixies, gnomes, elves, brownies and talking animals. The tree sustains them because it simultaneously grows a veritable cornucopia of fruit and nuts. Its topmost branches reach into distant lands, which come and go, also by magic. Some lands are horrid and some are fabulous. The three children - and eventually their parents - become fast friends with the Tree folk, and go on all sorts of adventures in the various lands on top of the Tree.
I read the trilogy to the girls two years ago and they fell in love with the little folk, particularly Silky, the pretty little fairy who bakes magical, interactive confections. For the longest time, I'd been scheming to make some version of the Faraway Tree and its denizens for the kids. I told my friend Jen (she who did the drafting series with me) and she asked me if it was for the kids, or really for me. Aaahh - Jen knows me inside out.
Anyway, I made it!
I finally made it!
I made the Faraway Tree!!!!!!!!!!!!!
All almost-three feet of it - in glorious cardboard!!!!!!
If you've read the books, you'll probably agree that, artistic interpretation notwithstanding, there are certain features that must be included in any model of the Tree that distinguishes it from any old common treehouse:
The first is the Lands on the top of the tree. In the stories, the lands come and go as they please, and I wanted the kids to be able to recreate the different lands as they liked. So I left the roof of the Tree bare, accessible via a hole-and- ladder portal.
The second is the Slippery Slip - a twisting slide cut into the trunk of the tree itself, which allows visitors a quick and exhilarating descent to the forest floor below. It originates in the topmost room in the Tree and, according to the story, one sits on a cushion and rides down to the very bottom, where a little red squirrel collects the cushions and sends them up to the top again. In our Tree, this was made with little chutes in a zig-zag configuration. Our chutes were made from the cardboard tube inside a roll of wrapping paper.
The third is Dame Washalot's laundry basket, which is rigged up at nights to give the Treefolk rides up the tree and save them the effort of a manual climb.
Ours was made elevator-style, with a wheel-and-axle system and stabilizing pole for smooth ascent and descent.
The little folk live in small houses/rooms within the Tree itself, so I added alternating walls with doors and windows. The cutaway walls allowed better access for play throughout the entire structure.
Well, that's the Tree.
Now let's meet the cast:
There's Jo, Bessie and Fanny, the three lucky children:
and the first of the Treefolk they meet, The Angry Pixie:
who hates, absolutely hates anyone peeking in his window, and will hurl ink or water or anything handy, at them.
There's the gnome Mr Whatzisname, whose real name nobody knows, not even himself. He's usually asleep on a tree branch, tempting people to pop acorns into his open mouth.
There's the laundry-obsessed Dame Washalot
who will wash and iron anything from clothes to the foliage of the tree itself, for the sheer joy of it. Boy, do I wish I had friends like her. Also for the sheer joy of it, she will dump her washing water down the side of the tree like a waterfall. The Treefolk are used to this, and easily duck under a protective bough, but she has caught many visitors unawares.
There is Silky, the gentle elf, who bakes delightful, if sometimes surprising, confections.
Silky is Jenna's favorite character, so I made sure she turned out extra pretty and extra sparkly and extra pink and extra magical.
And Moonface, perhaps the most iconic of the Tree dwellers:
Sort of an unofficial leader, he's visually part smileyhead, part candycane and all heart. He lives in the topmost apartment of the Tree, and lets out his Slippery Slip for toffee reimbursement.
The Saucepan Man, an auditorily-challenged creature hung about with pots, pans and other kitchen essentials:
Not one of the original tenants of the Tree, he wandered down the old Hole-and-Ladder (sounds like a British pub!) portal from his own land
and failed to return till it was too late and his land had moved away. Since then, he has moved in with Whatzisname.
So there you are - The Tenants (and friends) of the horticultural high-rise apartment complex that is the Faraway Tree.
There are a few other secondary characters that I might add someday if I feel like it. Among these: The Owl, Cousin Dick, Curious Connie and The Saucepan Man's Mother, who was rescued from the employ of the volatile Dame Slap, and now lives with Dame Washalot and operates a cake stall in the Tree - a classic WAHM scenario, if ever I saw one.
Here are shots of the girls playing with the Tree, to give you an idea of its size.
They corralled all their fairy houses (see here and here) and made Fairyland arrive on the top of the Tree. Then they got their McDonald's happy meal fairies to come down the ladder to visit Moonface. Hahaha - Barbie meets Blyton: I never would've thought it possible if I hadn't seen it in my own living room.
I took photos of the construction process so if you want to see how the Tree was made, go to the earlier post here.
Also, painting the peg dolls for the Tree was so much fun that I kept going at it and made a very different set for a birthday gift. Check back tomorrow to see it!