In a land of flat plains there sits a ridge of hill, and on the very top one, the one always embraced by a cloak of mist, there dwells a beast. The people of Instep, the town closest to Kneeknock Rise, hold a fair each autumn, when the weather turns surly and the Megrimum atop the hill begins to moan. It is to this fair that Egan is bound. Here he learns the nature of the beast, and the best ways to ward it off–candles, onions, wishbones, poppies and bells. Especially bells. Bright-eyed people happily shared exciting tales of mystery and dread, for the Megrimum was “frightful and fine and it belonged to them.” But is it a beast at all?
Natalie Babbitt creates a wonderful tale that took Newbery honors in 1971. I did not, however, like it as much as Tuck Everlasting, but that’s hardly fair. I’ve had an ongoing love affair with Tuck for twenty-five years. Kneeknock Rise, though written earlier, is completely new to me. But it just doesn’t reach the depth of insight and beauty that Babbitt achieves with Tuck.
In the end, Kneeknock Rise comes off much like a fable. For while Egan is visiting Instep, he hikes to the top of the rise. What he finds surprises him, but not as much as the response he gets to his story when he hikes below again. Perhaps the moral for this fable is best illustrated by a poem written by Egan’s Uncle Ott:The cat attacked a bit of string And dragged it by the head And tortured it beside the stove And left it there for dead. “Excuse me sir,” I murmured when He passed me in the hall, “But that was only string you had And not a mouse at all!” He didn’t even thank me when I told him he was wrong It’s possible – just possible – He knew it all along.
To put it another way: You can’t talk a fool out of deluding himself.