Long Lankin cover
Cover illustration
See permission.
The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.

Long Lankin

by Lindsey Barraclough

Any storyteller knows that folklore is as rich with terrifying villains and creepy bad guys as it is with clever heroes and happy endings. Long Lankin, the titular baddie of a centuries-old British folk ballad, is one such monster, but while his tale is tellably rife with murder, witchcraft, and revenge, the story has been previously untapped as a source for novelistic adaptations. That changes here, as Barraclough pits this nightmarish creature against two resourceful but vulnerable little girls to create a stunningly atmospheric and genuinely horrifying story.

It’s 1959, and sisters Cora and Mimi have been shipped off to an old family estate in the English countryside to stay under the care of a distant relative. About as welcoming as the gloomy, dilapidated rooms of Guerdon Hall itself, Aunt Ida is ready to return the girls to London almost as soon as they appear on her doorstep, but with the sisters’ mother institutionalized and their father incommunicado, the old woman is stuck with the girls for the time being. After making the acquaintance of a village boy, Cora begins to suspect that her aunt’s anxious demeanor has to do with an ancient legend regarding the Hall’s history, and an encounter with a ghostly woman and the grisly spirits of dozens of murdered children convinces Cora that she needs to get herself and Mimi out of the small town before the sisters meet a similar end. Escape quickly becomes a non-option, however, and Cora is forced to investigate the past of her extended family and find a way to defeat a centuries-old evil.

Barraclough begins her adaption of the ballad with a splendidly developed setting; Guerdon Hall is entirely believable as a place where folklore would come to life. The stuffy, shadowy halls of the crumbling estate are vividly portrayed in cinematic prose, and the house soon becomes nearly suffocating with its menace. The surrounding town carries an air of desperation about it, as the residents attempt to forge their way into the twentieth century even as they are haunted by the unpleasant details of their village’s past. The oppressive summer heat plays a part as well, creating a feeling of strained stillness, an eerie peace that is abruptly shattered with the arrival of Cora and her sister.

The narration alternates between Cora, the village boy Roger, and Aunt Ida, a device that serves to echo the omnipresent gloom of the setting with Ida’s fraught voice while conveying a sense of vulnerability and innocence through the children’s perspective. Their everyday doings of dares and mischief seem to exist in a safe cocoon, escaping the sinister force that otherwise surrounds the kids, and the tension amps up considerably as the creepier elements come out to play. Before Long Lankin even make his appearance, Cora must contend with the aforementioned murdered young ones, a ghost with a cautionary tale, a few demented townspeople, and adults who remain mysteriously mum on the town’s history of missing children. The presence of Long Lankin is at first only made evident by mysterious scratching sounds, a rotten smell near an old graveyard, and whispered rumors, but Barraclough fulfills on the book’s promise of true horror, giving readers a spectacular scene in which the unfathomably evil villain appears sitting upon a throne of bones and brandishing sharp teeth and an appetite for young flesh.

That image will sear itself into readers’ memories, and it’s not the only vivid horror the book offers. Like all the best scary stories, this will haunt readers well after the tale has been told, leaving teens who have long thought themselves too old for the bogeyman double-checking the locks on their doors. (See p. 7 for publication information.)

--Kate Quealy-Gainer, Assistant Editor

Long Lankin cover

Cover image from Long Lankin ©2012 by Christophe Dessaigne/Trevillion Images.  Used by permission of Candlewick Press.

[Back to the Bulletin Homepage] [Back to the Bulletin Archives]

This page was last updated on September 1, 2012.