Curious, magical books

I’m enjoying rereading two stories in a book by Jean Forbes-Robertson, ‘Chowry’ and ‘Idle’s Islands, published in 1953. I had forgotten the author’s names over the years but never forgot her stories.  If you Google her you’ll see she was an extraordinary looking and beautiful young woman and most  famous as an actress. She was born in 1905, and was the daughter of actors, Gertrude Elliot and  Johnston Forbes-Robertson. She was born into a whole family of actors – as well as her parents, her aunts, Maxine Elliott, and Frances Forbes-Robertson, and uncles Ian, Norman and John Forbes-Robertson!

Jean’s first public performance was in South Africa produced by her mother, and she later toured Australia for several years before returning to England. If you look on Wikipedia you can see the variety of different roles she played, from Juliet to Peter Pan. Because of her slight , gamine figure, she continued to play Peter for many many years. I can’t find much more about her than a list of her roles, and only a brief reference to her two children’s stories, she doesn’t seem to have written more than them. Jean’s three sisters were equally talented and extraordinary in different fields; Maxine known as Blossom was an aviation engineer, Chloe was an artist and Diana was an author.

‘Chowry’ and ‘Idle’s Islands’ are curious, magical books, where ordinary young children have extraordinary and other-worldly adventures. ‘Chowy’ reminds me a little of the adventures of Ratty, Mole and Toad in their gypsy caravan, but ‘Idle’s Island’s’ is very different. It’s creepy and supernatural, with a touch of mild horror – I certainly was caught up in that mixture of fear and fascination when I read it as a child, and re-reading it now it still gives me a slight shiver! I’m not suggesting Jean was influenced by J.M. Barrie, the islands in her story definitely aren’t Neverland, but having played Peter Pan so many times over so many years until she was in her thirties I wonder if the idea of a mysterious and sinister place took root from the story.

Jean was relatively young when she died, only fifty-seven when she died, very sadly on Christmas Eve, and I guess for the most part she is totally forgotten as an actress, and even more so as a writer of children’s stories.


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