The Whispering Knights – Penelope Lively

After reading Simon Smith’s excellent blog, I’ve done a lot of thinking about why I blog and whether I’m sticking to my original aim. I’ve focused entirely on ‘new’ books and ignored the thousands published before last year. As a result, I decided it was time to add a bit more variety.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at books from my childhood which left an impression on me. Out of the thousands of books I must have read over my lifetime, these are books that have stuck with me for one reason or another. They are more than just books: they are part of my life, my memories and my feelings. Let me explain with my first example.

The Whispering Knights – Penelope Lively

William, Susie and Martha concoct a witches’ brew. They don’t expect anything to happen but, as they chant their spell over a bubbling cauldron, an uneasy feeling creeps over them.

An evil spirit, Morgan Le Fay, has been aroused and mischief and destruction is bought to the village. The children have to fight Morgan themselves, leading her finally to the only enemy that matches her strength – the Whispering Knights.

It’s July 1995 and the Davies family are about to set out on their annual holiday. As always, we go into our local bookshop (Bookland) and my brother and I are allowed to choose a book to read while we are away. I remember vividly browsing the shelves before eventually deciding on The Whispering Knights.

A few days later, I was tucked in our chalet in Roch, Pembrokeshire reading away. Every night, I’d be laid on the top bunk reading away happily with the sound of the 10 o’clock news in drifting through the paper thin walls. Then a few days in the lead story grabbed my attention. Over the next few days, the gruesome murder of Sophie Hook struck a chord with the whole country.

I remember the worry seeping into my 10-year-old mind. The haunting character of Morgan Le Fay in my book became the murderer in real life. There is an epic chase scene in the book through a church. To me, the mood of the whole country was contained in that chapter: the anxiety, the worry and the anger all blurred between words and reality.

I had all but forgotten these emotions until last week. However, when I picked up Whispering Knights from the shelf they came flooding back. I was overcome with emotions. The chase scene flew back into my mind, so to the raw emotions connected with the events of the time.


Penelope Lively is one of the greatest children’s authors of all time. Titles like The Ghost of Thomas Kempe and A Stitch in Time are classics, that tens of thousands of children will have read at school. She is a master of interweaving myth, folklore and her own imagination, The Whispering Knights proves this without doubt. Drawing on Arthurian legend and the Rollright Stones, Lively creates a tale bound to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Almost 50 years since publication, The Whispering Knights does show its age in places. It is not as fast paced as modern literature. Instead the atmosphere slowly builds as you are transported into Lively’s world. Then, page by page, the tension mounts as the inevitable happens, leading to a classic good verses evil story. As the the Church scene, it is one of the most riveting chapters I have ever read.

For me, this book hold a very special place in my heart. It is one that evokes memories. More importantly, it is one that stirred me emotionally and has remained in my mind for over 20 years. And that is the power of books. They transport us to different times and places, take us out of our comfort zones and create life-long memories.

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