The Retreat – Forrest Reid

TR 2(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

The Retreat is the second of Reid’s three novels featuring Tom Barber, The Retreat earned universal critical acclaim when first published in 1936.

It begins with a vivid dream about an evil sorcerer and his boy apprentice. The dreamer is Tom Barber, age 13. Llike many intelligent and sensitive children, he moves between the world of everyday life and that of the imagination. “I pretend things, and all at once they become real,” Tom says, and they become real for the reader as well, as we follow him over the course of one summer during which the lines between reality and fantasy are frequently blurred. The book depicts Tom’s fantastic adventures in an unseen world, his attempts to thwart the malign influence of the cat Henry, whom he has observed scratching cabbalistic symbols on the gravel path; his meetings with the beautiful boy-angel Gamelyn; his conversations with animals and his experiences in the Garden of Eden.

TRThe book’s title came from a poem of Henry Vaughan

Happy those early days! when I

Shined in my angel infancy.

Before I understood this place

Appointed for my second race,

Or taught my soul to fancy aught

But a white, celestial thought;

When yet I had not walked above

A mile or two from my first love,

And looking back, at that short space,

Could see a glimpse of His bright face;

When on some gilded cloud or flower

My gazing soul would dwell an hour,

And in those weaker glories spy

Some shadows of eternity;

Before I taught my tongue to wound

My conscience with a sinful sound,

Or had the black art to dispense

A several sin to every sense,

But felt through all this fleshly dress

Bright shoots of everlastingness.

O, how I long to travel back,

And tread again that ancient track!

That I might once more reach that plain

Where first I left my glorious train,

From whence th’ enlightened spirit sees

That shady city of palm trees.

But, ah! my soul with too much stay

Is drunk, and staggers in the way.

Some men a forward motion love;

But I by backward steps would move,

And when this dust falls to the urn,

In that state I came, return.

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