When I was a child there was always something special about receiving the perfect gift book in the bottom of my stocking on Christmas morning. They were tiny and fully illustrated and you could read them within the hour – a little jewel of writing twisted together with rich illustrations that created a moment of calm before the Festive whirlwind lifted you up into true chaos. I hope ‘The Star Dreamer’ will be such a book.
It’s written by Susan Hill CBE, multiple award winning author of many books but mostly famous as the author of ‘The Woman in Black’, a dark gothic mystery subsequently made into a suitably spooky stage play and film.
Although ‘The Star Dreamer’ is for children, it’s also a dark gothic tale. Set at the time of the Nativity, it features Aziz, a small boy who has vivid dreams of dancing comets and strange beasts like camels with leathern wings. He goes on a journey across the sands with three Eastern mystics – they hope his dreams will help them interpret the meaning of the stars and find the special child they are seeking.
One of the three mystics traditionally carried Myrrh with him – a resin originally used in the Middle East to embalm the dead and certainly a peculiar gift for a baby. I don’t remember questioning that as a child; we have taken that first Nativity story and lit it with fairy lights and tinsel, conveniently wiping out the implicit shadows hovering at its corners.
‘The Star Dreamer’, however, respects that darkness. It’s a quiet tale woven with dreams and divination and ultimately a homecoming that is sweet yet tinged with death. There’s a strange and uneasy note for the future and on first reading, my skin prickled both with wonder and a peculiar foreboding.
Considering the original inspiration, perhaps that darkness is appropriate to remember from the midst of the food, the noise, the gifts. It is exactly what retellings of the Christmas story should be…
‘The Star Dreamer’ is published by Susan Hill and available to buy from all good bookshops. I hope it will end up at the bottom of a child’s stocking somewhere and give a little moment of wonder and quiet thoughtfulness before the chaos begins.