David and Keith are schoolboys who meet a drummer boy on the hillside for whom an hour-long journey down a tunnel has taken three hundred years. He is carrying a mysterious candle which he leaves behind when he returns into the tunnel. David is mesmerised by the candle, and he and Keith see strange things around which others eventually notice: giants on the hillside, extinct wild boar, and King Arthur’s army. Then David disappears, presumed dead. Keith realises he must bring him back.
David is a moderate rationalist, applying some spurious reasoning about prayer being telepathy. Apart from that, you’ve only got the usual standing- stones-and-giants stuff to get through. The writing is very atmospheric and portrays the two boys very well, but shows its age (30 years) and appears a little dated perhaps because of it: David translates the Odes of Horace to calm his mind; the boys wear (presumably uniform) ties while walking on the hillsides. From the point of view of the book’s construction, it’s much shorter than the equivalent book would be if written nowadays, and leaves much more unsaid and unexplained.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London and the editor of goodtoread.org.