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December 1998
 
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The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton (1962)

I can't recall exactly how or when I encountered this book, but I know I read it early on. This haunting tale of curious children perpetually on the edge of grasping an ineffable mystery lodged deeply in my imagination. What I remember most vividly is neither the plot nor the characters but the mood it evoked: Weird, frightening, beautiful.

The novel is cast in a favorite traditional form for children's fantasy: Edward and Eleanor Hall, a pair of children in Concord, Mass. (circa 1962), discover a secret attic room in Uncle Freddy's big old house on Walden Street. The room contains a cryptical poem tantamount to a treasure map, and a variety of antique toys that draw them into an eerie and fantastic otherworld that continually impinges on this one through visions, through dreams, and through encounters bizarre and grotesque. There is a haunted harp, a spectral nautilus shell, an evil jack-in-the box, a magic mirror, a missing Prince Krishna of Mandracore . . . and permeating everything, references and reverberations of the Transcendentalists: Emerson, Thoreau, and the Over-Soul. I managed to forget most of the literary references in the 30 or so years since I first read this book, but I have never forgotten the nautilus.

What is marvelous in this book and unforgettable and most stimulating to the imagination, is the persistence of the mystery, an appreciation for strangenesses that can never be explained away. The continuation of Edward and Eleanor's story, entitled The Swing in the Summerhouse, I remember as being even more frightening, ominous and surreal.

Langton has been writing mystery novels for adults in recent years, but it's in the children's section of the library that I always seek her titles. In some odd and personal way, I consider these two books cornerstones in a meaningful children's collection. In writing this piece I conducted an online search for Diamond at www.amazon.com, and was pleased to discover (along with the welcome news that the book has been reprinted) a dozen readers had come seeking Langton's novel and felt compelled to recommend it to others. Like me, they placed it high among the unforgettable reading experiences of their youth.

—Marc Laidlaw

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