When I first read this book, when I was about the age of the heroine, I reached the last page and almost cried that it was over – my first experience of such a thing, and it was so strong it has stayed with me. The Silver Crown, by Robert O’Brien, was written in 1973 and is set in America. Ellen receives a mysterious silver crown for her tenth birthday, but finds it brings her into terrible danger. She heads across country with her new friend Otto and his crow Richard to try to escape, only to find herself at the heart of the mystery. The house I have chosen is the house where Otto lives with the woman he thinks is his mother: it is hidden in the woods and is Ellen’s first really safe bolthole since the start of her journey.
“In the middle of Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s house there was one big cluttered, comfortable rectangular chamber that served as kitchen, dining and living room combined. Her wood stove was the biggest object in it… It was made of velvet black cast iron; it had six round stovelids as big as pies, and an oven big enough to hold a grown man (if properly folded); it stood on six shiny legs and was studded with gleaming nickel-plated knobs and spring-wire handles to regulate the draughts and open and close the doors. Its firebox had a glass window, so you could see the glowing logs inside. Out over the whole thing curved a great metal hood, with wide shelves to put things on to keep them warm, and above that, like a single huge organ stop, rose the stove-pipe, curving majestically up and into the chimney.
The smells that came out of it were just as beautiful: the smell of cloves and ham, of roasting sweet potatoes, of fresh bread, and piercing through all of these, of a sweet cake baking.
At the stove end of the room, near a window, stood a plain wooden trestle table with benches along the side and a chair at the end.
The other end of the room was lined with bookshelves, and books stood on them all the way to the ceiling. There were blue books, brown books, green ones and black ones, but most notably they were all old books, except for a few on an end of the one of the lower shelves. These were children’s books that Otto had acquired one way or another.
At this end of the room there was an old but comfortable sofa, several wooden chairs, a window seat with potted flowers growing on it and a cushion to sit on, and a big, rather ugly new armchair. At one end of the sofa stood a lamp table with a pretty, old-fashioned kerosene lamp on it. The mate of this lamp, which had a flowery white shade, stood on the dining table. A third hung from the ceiling. As evening fell and dinner-time came, Mrs. Fitzpatrick lit all three of these with a match. They gave off a pleasant, warm yellow light, much nicer than electric bulbs.”
Like Rivendell, this is a house that Ellen must leave to carry on on her quest, and we don’t return to it for the rest of the book – why could he not have written a sequel??