THE GRIFFIN AND OLIVER PIE
Previously published, UK only
I hold all text rights to this book. Picture rights belong
to the illustrator, Adam Stower.
Ideal bedtime reading for 5- to 8-year-olds (or so): adult to child or the other way round.
'When Oliver Pie opens the ramshackle door at the bottom of the garden, he pushes aside much of the adult influence and constraints of imagination and possibility that have been exerted over his life, stepping instead into a world of ceaseless growth and endless openings. A griffin - a stone statue located amidst the long green grasses on the other side of the door - forms an anachronism but at once a manifestation of trust and of the needs-fulfilled that accompany the best friendships. The curiosity of Oliver Pie, the magic of the Griffin, and the careful depiction of emotion are reminiscent of Edith Nesbit’s writing. Truly, here is a tale that is timely and, like its subject, something to be treasured.'
From a review by Jake Hope of Achuka Children's Books website
The Guardian of Hidden Treasure
Oliver Pie sat on the back step in the sunshine and sighed for the thirteenth time in five minutes. They were going to Uncle Mick’s and Auntie Sal’s for the day, and his father was still upstairs ironing his favourite awful shirt, and his mother was putting one of her faces on, and Oliver Pie had been ready for ages.
Oliver Pie looked very smart today. His hair was just so, and he was wearing his best clothes and the belt with the big silver buckle his gran had given him on her last visit. Oliver Pie hated dressing up and looking all neat, but he was very fond of his new belt, and would have worn it all the time if he was allowed, except in bed and the bath.
Sitting on the back step in the sunshine waiting for his parents, Oliver Pie tilted his toes this way; then he tilted them that way; then he leant back to see how the sun shone on his silver belt buckle. But then he remembered he was bored and sighed for the fourteenth time and looked up the garden, hoping to see something interesting.
It wasn’t a very large garden and it wasn’t a very tidy garden, and there was a high old crumbly old wall round it, and right down the bottom there was a little wooden door. Oliver Pie hadn’t known about the door till yesterday when his mother had cleared some of the ivy away from the high old crumbly old wall; and suddenly there it was, just begging to be opened. His mother had opened it, and she’d looked through, but then she’d said, ‘Yes, well I think we’ll pretend it doesn’t belong to us,’ and shut it again before Oliver Pie could run up and see for himself.
Oliver Pie, sitting on the back step in his best going-to-see-people clothes, looked up the garden at the little wooden door in the high old crumbly old wall. ‘Hmm,’ he said, and got up slowly and wandered down the garden pretending to swat flies.
When he reached the little wooden door Oliver Pie turned and looked at the house to make sure no one was watching while he fiddled behind his back with the big round handle. ‘Just a peek,’ he said, tugging at the handle. ‘That’s all, just a little peek.’
The door creaked and groaned and opened a crack, and Oliver Pie looked through. And what a disappointment! There was nothing there. Nothing at all but long grass and weeds, then more long grass and more weeds.
Or so he thought.
‘Hello?’ said a very deep, very old voice.
Oliver Pie jumped. He looked harder. But as hard as he looked there was still nothing to see but long grass and weeds, then more long grass and more weeds.
‘Oh, I’m nobody,’ the deep old voice replied. ‘Can’t be, or I wouldn’t have been left alone out here all these years, talking to myself.’
The voice seemed to come from a small hill some way into the wild garden that his mother wanted to forget about. Oliver Pie swished towards it.
‘Still can’t see you,’ he said when he got there.
‘Well you wouldn’t,’ snapped the deep old voice, ‘with all this stuff on top of me.’
Oliver Pie tugged at some of the grass and weeds that covered the small hill. Underneath he found something ancient and bumpy, and surprisingly cold to the touch for such a warm day.
A large grey wing.
‘You’ll find another one of those on the other side,’ the voice said. ‘If you can be bothered to look, that is.’
Oliver Pie went round the other side and uncovered the second wing. It fluttered a little, even though it was made of stone.
‘If you’d do the same for my head,’ the stone creature said, ‘you would make me very happy. I can’t tell you how I long to see the sun again.’
Oliver Pie cleared the grass and weeds away from a grey stone head with a great curved beak. A large eye blinked at him.
‘A boy, if I’m not mistaken,’ said the owner of the eye, the beak and the wings. ‘Can’t remember the last time I saw a boy. Or any other creature come to that, other than snails and worms. What are you called, boy?’
‘Oliver Pie,’ said Oliver Pie. ‘What about you?’
‘What do you mean, what about me?’
‘I mean what’s your name?’
‘I don’t have a name,’ the stone creature said. ‘Only humans have names. Silly habit if you ask me.’
‘Well what are you then? An eagle?’
The stone creature looked offended. ‘Did you come out here to annoy me, Oliver Pie, because if so I’d rather you went back where you came from and forgot we ever met.’
‘Sorry,’ said Oliver Pie.
‘And I am most definitely not an eagle. An eagle is a mere bird, while I...’ A feathery stone chest lifted a little from the weeds. ‘I am a griffin. I would have thought that was obvious.’
‘What’s a griffin?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, everyone knows what a griffin is.’
‘I don’t,’ said Oliver Pie.
The griffin clucked his beak, but raised his head proudly. ‘A griffin is a Guardian of Hidden Treasure.’
Oliver Pie’s mouth fell open. ‘You mean there’s treasure under here?’
‘Er, well, no, not exactly,’ the griffin answered, somewhat less proudly. ‘You see, I’ve been moved.’
‘Yes. New people took over the house when my maker died and they can’t have liked me much because they put me out here, beyond the wall, where I couldn’t be seen. I’ve been here ever since, unwanted, neglected, forgotten. It’s a lonely life.’
But then the griffin heaved a contented sigh and gazed about him.
‘Oh, but this sunshine. Wonderful after all this time.’
‘Would you like me to clear some more weeds away?’ Oliver Pie asked.
The griffin’s stone eyelids fluttered in surprise.
‘Why, how kind. Yes I would. I’d really be most grateful.’
Older Than Grandpa
Oliver Pie got to work, and very soon he saw that the griffin, in spite of his wings and beak and the talons of his forelegs, was indeed much more than an eagle. There were just a few feathers on his back, for instance, and his hind quarters and legs were like a lion’s. He even had a lionish tail.
The griffin stretched his stone wings with pleasure.
‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you,’ said Oliver Pie. ‘Bits of you fall off when you move.’
‘Bits would fall off you too if you were as old as me,’ the griffin replied.
‘How old is that?’
‘Very old. Very, very old.’
‘As old as my grandpa?’
‘Oh, even older I should think. So many suns have set and moons risen since the master mason made me.’
‘What’s a master mason?’ Oliver Pie asked.
‘A man who carves wondrous things out of stone,’ the griffin informed him. ‘You don’t know much, do you, Oliver Pie?’
‘No, I don’t suppose I do. Sorry.’
‘Well, you’re only human,’ he said magnanimously. ‘And I can forgive anyone who wears such a magnificent belt.’
Oliver Pie looked at his new belt.
‘My gran gave it to me. I like the buckle, don’t you?’
‘Oh I especially like the buckle. It must be nice to have a gran. I never did. Stone creatures don’t, usually. I was very fond of my maker, though. He used to come and sit beside me in the evenings and talk to me. I was his finest creation, he often said so.’ The griffin tilted his head to catch the best of the sunlight. ‘Am I still handsome? Am I still a delight to the eye, a wonder to behold?’
‘Well,’ said Oliver Pie.
‘It’s all right, you can tell me, I’m not vain. You know, in my day -’
The griffin’s voice was drowned out by a terrible roar from high above which cast a long white trail across the sky.
‘In my day,’ he repeated irritably, ‘there were no flying monsters making a dreadful racket and interrupting civilised conversations between a griffin and his admirer. Not counting dragons, of course.’
Oliver Pie’s eyes popped. ‘Were there really dragons once upon a time? My dad says there was never any such thing.’
‘Dads don’t know everything,’ the griffin said. ‘They think they do, but they don’t. They never did, it’s a myth.’
‘Oliver Pie! What on earth are you doing out here?’
Oliver Pie jumped. His mother stood all hunched over in the little wooden doorway in the high old crumbly old wall.
‘Mum! Look what I’ve found!’
His mother swished through the long grass and weeds and stared at the griffin, who was now perfectly still, eyes looking at nothing.
‘Well! All the time we’ve lived here – almost a year now – and we had no idea there was anything like this out here!’
‘You might have had if you’d taken the trouble to look,’ said a sour, whispery old voice which only Oliver Pie could hear.
‘He’s a griffin,’ said Oliver Pie.
His mother glanced at him in surprise. ‘How do you know that?’
‘He told me. And he’s even older than Grandpa!’
‘Golly.’ His mother walked round the griffin, touching him here and there with her fingertips. ‘Wait till your dad sees this.’
‘He says he’s a... a Garden of Hidden Treasure. Or he would be if he hadn’t been moved.’
‘Fancy that,’ Mum said, not really listening. ‘Well, we’ll have to decide what to do about him some other time or we’ll be late for...’ She frowned. ‘Oliver Pie, you’re wearing your best shoes!’
‘You told me to.’
‘Yes, but I didn’t know you’d be wandering about out here, did I? Come on, to the kitchen, they’ll need a rub up.’
His mother swished away through the long grass and weeds and ducked through the little wooden door in the high old crumbly old wall.
‘Got to go now,’ Oliver Pie said to the griffin.
The griffin blinked at him. His eyes were even larger all of a sudden.
‘Of course you have. Everyone leaves me sooner or later. Well, who am I? Just an old griffin without any treasure to guard. But it’s all right, I’m used to it. You run along and enjoy yourself. Don’t spare me another thought.’
‘I’ll come back tomorrow after school,’ Oliver Pie said. ‘Promise.’
‘Suit yourself,’ the griffin said, and looked away. ‘It’s all the same to me.’