It is no surprise that Tom’s Midnight Garden continues to be read and loved, close to sixty years after it was published. The plaudits – it was voted one of the top ten Carnegie Medal winners of the last seventy years – are well-deserved. Given the period when Philippa Pearce wrote the book (the sixties hadn’t happened yet), it is a remarkable piece of story-telling.
The story is familiar to many. It has been told many times and in many different ways; there’s been TV and stage adaptations, as well as a film. Tom, a young boy sent away from his home to avoid catching the measles, lives with an Aunt and an Uncle (slightly distant and unpleasant, as story Uncles often are). It’s the 1950’s or thereabouts – it is a stuffy, stifled existence, with little to do, no children to play with and no garden to play in.
At night, when the old clock chimes, Tom is woken, creeps downstairs and opens the door to find a garden. Crossing the threshold of the door transports Tom to Victorian times. In the garden, now in the grounds of a large house, he meets other children – only one, a girl called Hatty, can see him. The rest are not aware Tom is there, as if he is a ghost.