Eric Hester reviews The Secret of Glaston Tor by Donal Anthony Foley

Little things are revealing. I was attracted to this book by the very third paragraph of the first page: a car is described, missing someone by “inches” – not, “centimetres”. I knew then that the book, though set at first in modern times, was not going to be politically correct. Anyone who knows anything of the author will not be surprised to know that the book is dogmatically correct and edifying throughout. It also has some unexpected twists, and sees life as an important drama which virtue must win.

It is a splendid “old-fashioned” story – “old fashioned” being one of my highest terms of praise. Not that it is just concerned with the past: it does go back in time, but it also goes forward. Anyone who knows children will know that their preference is for tales of the past and certainly not for contemporary political correctness.

The author has learned from the C.S. Lewis Narnia books, but there is no slavish copying. It starts with children at Glastonbury for Christmas who go to St Michael’s tower and discover strange secrets involving their going to German-occupied France in the time of the Second World War. The children help a captive to escape from the German National Socialists. We have the Gestapo, the National Socialist police, involved.

There is an excellent plot for children, gripping the attention, but underneath it has real lessons about the power of prayer. As in the best books of this genre – those of Lewis and Tolkien – the understory becomes clear but it is not made obvious in a heavy or laboured way. The real battle is between good and evil. We are gently led into considering the power of prayer, the nature of a true wish, and how the desires of the heart, connect all these together. All this is put across with fine story-telling with suspense, secrets, excitement and escape from danger.

I strongly recommend this book for children of secondary years – the main character of the book is fifteen. Such things are not fashionable nowadays, but when I was an English teacher (and Chief Examiner for GCSE English Literature) books like this were used as “class readers” – with the whole class reading a book together, party in school and partly at home. You can see the scope this provided for class discussion and deeper insight to a book.

This book, as I said, has my recommendation. But do not just take my word: the book is recommended by, inter alios, Professor Emeritus Michael Kalgpakgian, a very big name in the consideration of all literature. I cannot better his overall description of the book: which, as he says, “illuminates the nature of a true wish, and why these wishes – the deepest desires of the heart – come true.” The book would make an excellent present for a child, godchild, other relation, or as a present for birthday Christmas or Confirmation.