Tuesday, 11 January 2022

Read in 2021 - 19: Christmas Tree Land

Although I finished this free ebook in the first days of 2022, most of it I read in 2021, and so it counts for that year and not for this.

When I downloaded "Christmas Tree Land" by Mary Louisa Molesworth, I expected a a sweetly old-fashioned Christmas tale. And sweetly old-fashioned it was, but Christmas only happens in the very last part.

Rollo and Maia are siblings who have lost their mother and are sent to live with an elderly spinster relative for a while, far away from home in a fictitious middle-European country, while their father has other things to do.
The elderly relative lives in the ancestral castle in the middle of dense coniferous woods, and to the children, it seems like a forest of Christmas trees.

They can't wait to go and explore the woods, and are indeed allowed a walk outside the castle walls with their nanny. The latter is happy to rest under a tree while the children play, and soon falls asleep. In the meantime, Rollo and Maia discover a small cottage in the woods...

The fairy-tale like story is one I would have loved as a child. I still enjoyed it for its writing style, and although I did not care all that much for Maia and Rollo (knowing from the start that all was going to go well for them, and especially Maia getting on my nerves sometimes), their adventures were a bit of innocent fun to keep me company on the train rides going back and forth between my place and O.K.'s.

My edition was a free ebook from the Kindle shop with no illustrations, but I found some online.
Originally published in 1884 or 1886 (according to various sources), this was one of many childrens books by Mrs Molesworth. She lived from 1839 to 1921 and has been called the "Jane Austen of the nursery", although she wrote novels for adults as well, sometimes under different pen names. Her wikipedia entry is here. Almost ten years ago, I read another book by this author. You can find my review here. Back then, my quick research did not turn up much about the author, but now I have find more detailed information about her life here - well worth reading, I think.


  1. The castle in the forest recalls the Brothers Grimm.
    I came across Mary Louisa Molesworth in histories of children's literature without having read her. A copy of the book (illustrated) would be a find, such a striking colour.
    Decades ago I visited Hill House in Helensburgh, a short train journey from Glasgow, the property managed by the National Trust.
    The house was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh as a family home for Walter Blackie, a Scottish publisher.
    Blackie's library on the first floor has shelves of books like Christmas Tree Land.
    I have some Edwardian children's books in my own library; their illustrated spines, mainly in scarlet, blue and green, look rather splendid.
    Jack H

    1. There are definitely some Grimm elements in the story, but most of the original Grimm tales are rather brutal and cruel, something you won't find in this book.

      Hill House rings a bell, but I don't really know why; I have not heard of Walter Blackie or Charles Rennie Mackintosh before. The library sounds good! Is it open to the public?

    2. Hill House is open to the public in 2022. Visit Hill House, Facebook.
      My Uncle Andrew had a house, Dhuhill (see online) close to Hill House, in which I rambled as a child.
      A butcher with his own shops, Andrew did well for a miner's son, but died of a heart attack in his 50s, leaving behind six children, five daughters, some very young.
      It shook my father since Andrew had been so strong in his youth.
      I know you lost your husband that way and he was even younger.

      Hill House feels like a family house, and if there are any ghosts, they are happy ones, like my parents and all my uncles and aunts.
      I visited the first time on a Tuesday in February, and stood in the white-painted bedroom upstairs, quite alone, looking out at the Firth of Clyde.
      The tearoom is staffed by volunteers, or was when I last visited.
      Macintosh's masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art, burned down twice, through sheer negligence.

      Near Helensburgh is Dumbarton Rock and Castle, an easy climb, with a wonderful view, even on a rainy late afternoon when there is no one around.
      You could visit both on the same afternoon, and spend the next two days in Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle.

    3. Thank you, Jack, for telling me more about Hill House and your family.
      A visit sounds very tempting, but I'm afraid it is not very likely; the amount of days off I have in a year is limited, and when (if!) my sister and I hopefully make it to the UK again, we will of course spend as much time in Yorkshire as possible, to see family and friends and favourite places after the enforced absence.

      Scotland has been on my wish list for a long time, though, and... never say never.

  2. I was going to say I've never heard of her, but then I went to have a look at your review of the other book from ten years ago, and find I commented on that :) I don't think I ever got round to reading the book, though. As for this review, it makes me think of C.S. Lewis and Narnia. But I suppose the setup is pretty common for classic children's books (separating children from their parents, send them off to stay with some relative in the countryside or a castle, and go and find adventures on their own...)

    1. I agree, Monica; it is a typical setup. In this particular story, there are some more Narnia-ish elements: The children befriend squirrels and birds and can talk to them, and there is an adult friend of theirs who knows more than they first are aware of. But the danger and conflicts so present in the Narnia books are completely lacking in this relatively short story.