Having written a plot summary of The Little Broomstick, this is the blog post to accompany it, containing extra little nuggets of information about the book.
First of all, isn’t this a gorgeous bookmark that was enclosed in my first edition copy of the book? What is more, Mary Stewart is once again wearing the enormous camellia brooch shown in my auction post!
The Little Broomstick was published in 1971. During the 1950s and 1960s, Mary Stewart had written ten suspense novels and a novella. In 1970, with some trepidation, her publishers released fantasy novel The Crystal Cave: they need not have worried, of course; this book, like all her writing, was a best-seller and served to increase her popularity. However, Mary Stewart was unsure what to write next: would it be a retrograde step to write another suspense novel? She solved the problem by publishing her first children’s book, The Little Broomstick. As she puts it in ‘About Mary Stewart’ (1973 version), ‘I turned to something different – though perhaps still in “Merlin country” – and wrote a tale of magic for children called The Little Broomstick. When this was out and flying I found myself ready to start work on The Hollow Hills.’
But The Little Broomstick‘s origins predate the publication date of any of her novels – she began the book in 1950. On the covering page of her handwritten manuscript is written: “begun October 18th 1950. Continued June 2nd 1955” and on page 29 the date is again given: 2 June 1958. Other dates include 31 August 1970 (Draft Two), and 19 October 1970 (Final checklist). This tale of magic was brewing for many years! In a 1973 interview with Diana Norman, Mary Stewart said: ‘To me writing is agony, dreadfully hard work and dreadfully difficult. The only one I enjoyed was The Little Broomstick – this was the children’s book which finally got published in 1971. Writing for children is lovely, because you can take all the brakes off your imagination’.
The main thrust of the story remains constant through the different drafts, there is very little material difference in the versions I have looked at. Most changes are incidental, for example, the illness that causes Mary to be sent to Great-Aunt Charlotte’s (‘bundled off by a harassed and over-worked mother’) varies between scarlet fever, measles and flu – and varies too between affecting cousins she was to stay with or her own siblings. Originally her siblings were not twins (one was called Patricia, which just happens to be the name of a niece of Mary Stewart’s who was born in 1950). Mary was twelve and eight years of age before she was made ten. Miss Marjoribanks was Miss Marjoribanks-Mountfort ‘pronounced Marshbanks-Mumf’ and Danny Flanagan was Spud Flanagan, Zodiac Murphy or Zodiac O’Malley at different points. Harrods is ‘Bolfridge’s’ at an early stage – and the cost of a Harrods broom was 6/11d. The main differences are that Doctor Dee does not appear in the earliest versions of the book, and that the laboratory was burned down.
Of interest are the notes Mary Stewart wrote, particularly: ‘Make it clear that magic ok but this is bent and cruel magic’. I feel she succeeded in this, there is no doubt that the animal experiments were cruel (‘An experiment, they had said. A most difficult subject. Pretty puss, she had said, and laughed’ – from typed manuscript) and I don’t think anyone would be left feeling that the book was against all magic: flying, for instance, was shown to be scary but also amazing and exciting (but on the other hand, we have the little broomstick at the end of the book that ‘wants to be un-magicked’). What do other readers think?
Intriguingly, some of the typescript is typed on paper that has other typewritten matter on the reverse: Mary Stewart recycled in this way fairly often. So as well as reading The Little Broomstick, it is possible to read about ‘Writing Methods’ and other notes for articles and interviews such as ‘for me marriage was like coming into harbour’ – which is so lovely that I had to share it. I have read a quote similar to this from her before , but I can’t remember where it is from – if you know, please tell me!
Finally, I would like to share what else was written on the covering page of the handwritten draft of the book. Right in the middle of the page was:
The Little Broomstick
The Enchanted Journey
What??? Here we have The Little Broomstick, and it is quite widely known that Mary Stewart wrote but never had published a Walter de la Mare-inspired children’s book called The Enchanted Journey (and I can’t tell you how much I want this to be published!), but… Pandion? What is that? To taunt me further, it’s written in block caps on the top right of the page too, and underlined three times. PANDION. Has Mary Stewart written another unpublished story, or was it published under a different name, or was it never written at all? I would love to know.
If anyone has any answers – or more questions, or any comments – please do get in touch.