Every now and then, I get the urge to read something from when I was much, much younger. I suspect some of the books I loved then and still think of gladly would be painful to re-read – I have fond memories of Hugh Walters' Chris Godfrey novels, with a team of young men exploring the Solar System planet by planet, but I have no doubt I would find them juvenile and clumsy now. But some authors still bear re-reading, and high in that list is Andre Norton.
Ms Norton wrote a very large number of books. I read a significant proportion of them when I was at junior school and into my teens. A good range of her books grace my shelves now, and every so often I indulge in another few. A recent acquisition was Dark Companion, an omnibus containing Dark Piper and Dread Companion. I can't help thinking Dread Piper might have been a more interesting title!
I'm sure I only read Dark Piper once – I found it quite disturbing when I was, at a rough guess, about 8 or 9. It tells of a colony world where a group of children are led into some caves by the Hamelin-esque Dark Piper of the title. His purpose is wise – he has guessed that there is about to be a bitter conflict between the colonists and the crews of a trio of displaced spacers. He's right – everybody else is slain by bombs and a plague virus. The novel disturbed me as a child – a book where all adults die, including parents and loved ones, was strong stuff. Re-reading it now, it holds together well.
Dread Companion was a later book. When I started reading it recently, I really wasn't sure if I had read it as a child. I didn't remember it – but as I read further, images came back to me. The heroine is the tutor of two brattish children – but one, the girl, has an invisible companion, who leads the heroine and the girl's brother into an alternate world, one that has a strong air of the fey. Eating food there turns the little boy into a faun-like beast, and the girl has witch powers. The heroine struggles to retain her humanity and get them all back home. Reading it now, it is a complex, layered novel, and one I've thoroughly enjoyed.
Next on my list is Star Gate. I know with absolute confidence I read this as a child, but so far, as I've been reading it, I haven't remembered it. As I've got further through, though, there are odd details that ring bells. I can't say much more about it - I'm not far enough through to comment intelligently.
So why have Andre Norton's books resonated with me all my life? I suspect, more than anything, it is because her heroes are always outsiders. Loners who don't fit in, who think too much and who don't know where they belong or what they are striving for. I've no doubt that I'm mildly aspergers – many, if not all of Norton's heroes feel as though they, too, are on that spectrum, even though when she was writing most of her novels the term was yet to be coined. I could identify with her heroes far more than with many of the brave characters in other books. Her heroes felt like me.