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Tom's Midnight Garden
PhilippaPearce TomsMidnightGarden.jpg
Classic Einzig cover thought to be first edition
Author Philippa Pearce
Illustrator Susan Einzig
Cover artist Einzig
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Children's fantasy, adventure novel
Publisher Oxford University Press
Publication date
31 December 1958
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 229 pp (first edition)
ISBN 0-19-271128-8
OCLC 13537516
LC Class PZ7.P3145 To2

Tom's Midnight Garden is a children's fantasy novel by Philippa Pearce. It was first published in 1958 by Oxford with illustrations by Susan Einzig. It has been reissued in print many times and also adapted for radio, television, the cinema, and the stage. Pearce won the annual Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's outstanding children's book by a British subject. In 2007, for a celebration of the Carnegie Medal's 70th anniversary, a panel named Tom's Midnight Garden one of the top ten Medal-winning works and the British public elected it the nation's second-favourite.


Tom is a modern boy living under quarantine with his aunt and uncle in a city flat, part of a converted building that was a country house during the 1880s–1890s. At night he slips back in time to the old garden where he finds a girl playmate, called Hatty. Hatty is a princess or so she says.

Plot summary

When Tom Long's brother Peter gets measles, Tom is sent to stay with his Uncle Alan and Aunt Gwen. They live in an upstairs flat of a big house with no garden, only a tiny yard for parking. The former grounds of the big house have been sold for building and are occupied by modern houses. The elderly and reclusive landlady, Mrs Bartholomew, lives above them. Because Tom may be infectious, he is not allowed out to play, and he feels lonely. Without exercise he lies awake after midnight, restless, when he hears the communal grandfather clock strangely strike 13. He gets up to investigate and discovers that the back door now opens on a large sunlit garden.

Every night the clock strikes 13 and Tom returns to the Victorian era grounds. There he meets another lonely child, a girl called Hatty, and they become inseparable playmates. Tom sees the family occasionally, but only Hatty (and as is revealed later in the book, the gardener) sees him and the others believe she plays alone.

Tom writes daily accounts to his brother Peter, who follows the adventures during his recovery – and afterward, for Tom contrives to extend the stay with Aunt and Uncle. Gradually at first, Hatty grows up and passes Tom's age; he comes to realise that he is slipping to different points in the past. Finally she grows up at a faster rate, until she is an adult and is courting an acquaintance of hers, Barty. At this stage in the book, the season in the old garden tends to be winter. Tom ingeniously obtains ice skates by having Hatty conceal her old pair in his room, where he subsequently finds them and joins her skating on the next night.

On the final night before Tom is due to go home, he goes downstairs to find the garden is not there. He desperately tries to run around and find it, but crashes into a set of bins from the present–day courtyard, waking up several residents. He shouts Hatty's name in disappointment, before his Uncle Alan finds him and puts the events down to Tom sleepwalking. The following morning, Mrs Bartholomew summons Tom to apologise, only to reveal herself as Hatty, having made the link when she heard him call her name. The events Tom experienced were real in Hatty's past; he has stepped into them by going into the garden at the times she dreamt of them. On the final night, she had instead been dreaming of her wedding with Barty.

After taking Tom home, Aunt Gwen comments on the strange way that Tom had said goodbye to Mrs Bartholomew when he left: he hugged her, as if she were a little girl.

Themes and literary significance

The book is regarded as a classic but it also has overtones that permeate other areas of Pearce's work. We remain in doubt for a while as to who is the ghost, there are questions over the nature of time and reality and we end by believing that the midnight garden is a projection from the mind of an old lady. These time/space questions occur in other books by Pearce, especially those dealing with ghosts. The final reconciliation between Tom, still a child, and the elderly Hatty is, many have argued, one of the most moving moments in children's fiction.

In Written for Children (1965), John Rowe Townsend summarised, "If I were asked to name a single masterpiece of English children's literature since [the Second World War] ... it would be this outstandingly beautiful and absorbing book". He retained that judgment in the second edition of that magnum opus (1983) and in 2011 repeated it, in a retrospective review of the novel.

In the first chapter of Narratives of Love and Loss: Studies in Modern Children's Fiction, Margaret and Michael Rustin analyse the emotional resonances of Tom's Midnight Garden and describe its use of imagination and metaphor, also comparing it to The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Researcher Ward Bradley, in his review of various modern stories and books depicting Victorian British society, criticized Midnight Garden for "romanticizing the world of the 19th-century aristocratic mansions, making it a glittering 'lost paradise' contrasted with the drab reality of contemporary lower middle class Britain.(...) A child deriving an image of Victorian England from this engaging and well-written fairy tale would get no idea of the crushing poverty in the factories and slums from where mansion owners often derived their wealth".

Time slip became a popular device in British children's novels in that period. Other successful examples include Alison Uttley's A Traveller in Time (1939, slipping back to the period of Mary, Queen of Scots), Ronald Welch's The Gauntlet (1951, slipping back to the Welsh Marches in the fourteenth century), Barbara Sleigh's Jessamy (1967, back to the First World War), and Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer (1969, back to 1918).


The historical part of the book is set in the grounds of a mansion, which resembles the house in which the author grew up: the Mill House in Great Shelford, near Cambridge, England. Cambridge is represented in fictional form as Castleford throughout the book. At the time she was writing the book, the author was again living in Great Shelford, just across the road from the Mill House. The Kitsons' house is thought to be based on a house in Cambridge, near where Pearce studied during her time at university. The theory of time of which the novel makes use is that of J. W. Dunne's influential 1927 work An Experiment with Time.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

  • Dramatized by the BBC three times, in 1968, 1974, and 1988 (which aired in 1989).
  • 1999 Full-length movie starring Anthony Way
  • 2001 Adapted for the stage by David Wood

2007 recognition

Since 1936, the professional association of British librarians has recognised the year's best new book for children with the Carnegie Medal. Philippa Pearce and Tom won the 1958 Medal. For the 70th anniversary celebration in 2007, a panel of experts appointed by the children's librarians named Tom's Midnight Garden one of the top ten Medal-winning works, which composed the ballot for a public election of the nation's favourite. It finished second in the public vote from that shortlist, between two books that were about forty years younger. Among votes cast from the UK, Northern Lights polled 40%, Tom's Midnight Garden 16%; Skellig 8%. The winning author, Philip Pullman, graciously said: "Personally I feel they got the initials right but not the name. I don't know if the result would be the same in a hundred years' time; maybe Philippa Pearce would win then." Julia Eccleshare, Children's Books Editor for The Guardian newspaper, continued the theme: "Northern Lights is the right book by the right author. Philip is accurate in saying that the only contention was from the other PP. And, it must be said, Tom's Midnight Garden has lasted almost 60 years ... and we don't know that Northern Lights will do the same. But, yes. A very good winner."

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