The Secret of Platform 13
by Eva Ibbotson
This story by the author of the Carnegie Medal runner-up Which Witch?
has an awful lot in common with Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
. It has a gateway to a magical world located in a railway platform at Kings Cross Station. It has a little boy who has been brought up by a nasty couple from infancy, treated like the hired help or worse while they spoil the dickens out of their fat, obnoxious son. And it has wonderful people from the magical world, coming to find a long-lost boy and tell him about the place where he really belongs-- where he is really important and loved-- and where he has a magical destiny of his own.
But let's not point fingers. It was published in 1994, three years before Philosopher's Stone. And lest you think J.K. Rowling ripped off the idea, the similarity goes no further than the carefully-worded description above. There are, after all, many more differences than similarities between the two books.
There is a magic doorway, called a Gump, that opens for only nine days, every nine years. It leads from a disused platform in London's Kings Cross Station, to a sandy cove where a ship awaits, ready to ferry travelers to a beautiful, mist-shrouded isle full of magical creatures. The island is ruled by a handsome king and a beautiful queen, who are overjoyed by the birth of a precious baby boy. But when the Prince is only three months old, the Gump opens and his nurses take him to the sandy cove for an adventure. One thing leads to another, and the baby falls into the clutches of a horrible, childless woman named Mrs. Trottle just as the Gump is about to close again.
Needless to say, nine years of calamity and sorrow dampen the beauty of the hidden Isle. Then, as the Gump is about to open again, the King and Queen choose a handful of rescuers to go to London and fetch back the lost Prince. They choose an elderly wizard named Cor, a fey named Gerkintrude who helps green things grow, a gentle giant named Hans who has been made invisible for the trip, and a very ordinary-looking hag girl named Odge.
Aided by the ghosts and magical denizens of London, they soon find their way to the Trottle home and encounter a good-looking, honest, cheerful, sensitive boy who they would be honored to bring back as their Prince. But the complication is, he isn't the child the Trottles have raised as their own. They have been sent to fetch Raymond Trottle, and the likeable boy is just a kitchen boy named Ben. The rescuers' disappointment grows when they discover that Raymond Trottle is a horrid, fat, spoiled child who doesn't really want to go to the Island, and whose vile "mother" will stop at nothing to keep him safe.
Of course you'll have figured out, long before anyone else does, that Ben is really the Prince. But everyone goes to so much trouble to "rescue" Raymond that by the time the truth comes out, it may be too late.
Packed with magical people of all different kinds, loaded with lovable (not to mention a few loathable) characters, full of wit and charm, and laced with danger and suspense that will make your heart go thumpity-thumpity, this story should win over many a Harry Potter fan. And it turns out, after all, to lead in quite a different direction from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I suppose the change of Platform makes the difference.
Recommended Age: 8+
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