Friday, 31 July 2015

The Apple Orchard Special Train

りんご畑の特別列車 (ringobatake no tokubetsu ressha, The Apple Orchard Special Train, 1989) is a children's book by KASHIWABA Sachiko (柏葉幸子), best known for The Mysterious Town beyond the Mist. Like that, this is a fantasy for young readers. You could put children's fantasy on a spectrum. At one end, you have conventional fantasy stories, much like the post-Tolkien fantasy marketed to adults, which treat a magical world as something real and try to make it plausible. At the other, you have stories like Alice in Wonderland, which put more emphasis on invention and fill their world with deliberately fanciful and absurd creations. The classics of English language children's books would fit on the spectrum something like this: Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, C.S. Lewis's Narnia books, The Hobbit. Like The Mysterious Town beyond the Mist, The Apple Orchard Special Train falls near the middle of the spectrum, a little closer to the "absurd and inventive" end than to the "treat magic like reality" end.

Yuki is a fifth year primary school girl (ten or eleven years old), taking an early evening train home after school and piano lesson; but something seems to have gone wrong.
When he got to Yuki's seat, the conductor said, "Please show me your ticket."

But they never checked tickets on the train ..... Yuki pulled her season ticket out of her pocket. As she held it out, she felt the train taking a curve to the left and looked out of the window. There shouldn't be a curve here. As Yuki pressed her face against the window, she heard the conductor, still standing by her seat, "Not that, the special train ticket."

She turned round in panic, "'Special train?' Do you mean this train?"

The conductor nodded.

"This isn't the normal train?"

"It's the special train," the conductor shook his head.

Yuki felt sure she had checked it was the right train. A little sulkily, she said, "Well, I'll pay the difference."

Resignedly, she took out her purse; but the conductor shook his head, "You can't pay the difference. It looks like you got on the wrong train. You'll have to get off at the next stop."

"Whaaat?" As Yuki cried out in distress, the train clanked to a stop.

"Right, up you get. If you don't have a ticket, you have to get off." He took her arm and pulled her to her feet. The old woman sitting in front of Yuki looked like she felt very sorry for her, but didn't say anything.

"Right. Down you go, down you go," the conductor threw the weeping Yuki out onto the dark platform.

But it didn't say "Special Train", Yuki thought, giving it a reproachful look. What? She looked at the one coach train standing by the platform. When she had got on, there had been ten coaches. ... The train's door hissed shut, a whistle sounded and the train started moving.

"A! Aaa!" Yuki half sighed half cried. The last window of the train opened, Beni and Ryou's faces looked out. When they spotted Yuki, they called, "Go to Merry's place!", "Here's a map. It's a travel agency," and threw a crumpled piece of paper. "You have to go there."

Yuki goes to the place her friends tell her, thinking she can telephone her father to come and get her. Instead, Merry sends her into another world.

The book falls into two parts, an outer frame, in which Yuki wanders into a fantastic world, and a central narrative, in which she has an adventure in the world she has been sent to. Trains and apple orchards only turn up in the outer frame. The world she reaches is one in which everyone except her can do magic; in return, magic does not work on her. Only she can see the ghost like wizard Pekinpo, who had almost been reduced to nothing by the country's king, who had cast a spell so that no-one would remember his existence. Since Yuki is the only one who can see him, she uses his help to win a magic contest and become the companion to the young prince, who must prove his worth by recapturing a stolen piece of magic.

As often in fantasies of travelling to other worlds, the heroine finds new qualities where her character had been lacking before. Yuki sees herself as someone who is too nervous and slow to speak up or act when needed; but faced by the challenges in this world, she is forthright and positively reckless. The adventures are bloodless, and although the characters are often in real danger, the story returns regularly to scenes of comedy or friendship.

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