The Castle Mystery created by Gertrude Chandler Warner
The Aldens are yet again on a vacation; this time they’ve gone to a castle, again, I think, or maybe for the first time. Who even knows when you’re not reading the books in order?
The castle the Aldens are staying in is in the midst of some cataloging. There is a desire to put some of the items in the castle, in a museum, but something very important disappears–a Stradivarius violin, worth a lot of money. The children think they hear violin music one day, but they can’t make out where it’s coming from. Meanwhile, they pitch in and help spiffy up the castle. The mystery of the missing violin remains. Who could have taken it? Maybe it was the grumpy man who thinks the Aldens shouldn’t be there. Maybe it’s the supposed castle export? Where did that haunting melody come from?
What I liked
Despite the fact that the Aldens apparently get more vacations in a few books than I’ve ever gotten in my entire life, I do like the idea of a castle mystery. Castles can be very interesting places. I’ve never been in a European style castle, but I have been in a few castles from the Ryukyu kingdom, which are still castles, but they lack some of the sophistication and purposes that European castles had. I would like to go and visit at least one European castle one day.
I don’t know if the Aldens’ castle trip was based on any real castle, but the question of whether there’s a secret room over there, where the space just doesn’t seem right, is something that actually happens in castles. People made secret rooms–maybe for a hideout, or maybe to wall someone up in, or it could have even been for just plain superstition. Maybe someone thought someone else was a witch and those rooms were that person’s rooms and when that person was burned at the stake, they walled up their rooms. Who knows why rooms became secret in the first place?
I wish I remembered the particular castle name, but there is a well-known castle over in the UK where you can walk around the outside and count the windows, then walk into every single room on the inside and count the windows, and you’ll get a different number of windows, every, single, time. There are secret rooms and no one has been able to figure out how to get into them. If you happen to buy a castle one day, there’s a good possibility that there is a secret room somewhere.
Oh and that walled up in your room bit–Elizabeth Bathory–look her up. She was not a nice person.
What I didn’t like
Here’s the thing–these books, The Boxcar Children, are presented as a reality. They’re very logical and they mimic real life to a large degree. Children can read these books and find similarities between the lives of the Aldens and their own lives. With books like this, I think the author has a responsibility to the children readers. The whimsical part of these stories is that the Aldens solve mysteries and adults let them do it. The whimsical part of the story is not supposed to be that the Aldens seemingly have never-ending money and go on vacation all the time. I think the stories would resonate so much more with children if the Aldens had similar life styles. If the Aldens came from a middle-class family, who lived in a subdivision, and solved mysteries in their community, children could relate so much more to the Aldens. Yes, all these grand adventures are wonderful, but it’s not realistic. That’s not to say children’s books can’t be fantastic and out of the realm of reality, because they certainly can be, but generally, with those books, you know it’s not supposed to be realistic.
For the large majority of us, growing up, we took vacations once a year, maybe, to Florida, or to relatives’ houses out of our own state. We didn’t go to Europe or the South Seas.
Don’t steal Stradivarius violins.
Would you live in a castle if you could?
In truth, do you, as a reader, tend to tune out when you can’t relate to a book character because of a severe life style difference between the character and you?