“Tears prickled her eyelids. But they were not the gray, desperate tears she had wept as she stared miserably out of her window that very afternoon. They were tears of excitement and an obscure, deep joy….It was real….They were caught in an adventure now, and they could not escape.”
I recently re-discovered A Walk Out of the World by Ruth Nichols in the Juvenile section of our local university’s library; I first read my mother’s old hardcover copy when I was a kid. Fortunately, the library copy was likewise an early edition with the Trina Schart Hyman illustrations, rather than the awful looking paperback featured on Amazon. (Hyman also beautifully illustrated another GU book, Comus.) As I began to re-read this book, I quickly realized it was a Girls Underground story, if you focus on Judith rather than her brother Tobit (and indeed Judith has a more important role).
Judith and Tobit are siblings who spend all their time together. They have a particularly special road they like to walk along, which ends in a numinous bit of woods. One night, feeling upset, Judith urges Tobit to visit the road with her, and then takes off into the woods after a mysterious light. The siblings soon find themselves in another land (obvious due to the fact that it is suddenly daytime), surrounded by a group of men and dwarves. They tell Judith that her silver hair marks her as being very special, and they take the kids back to their people, who live in a huge house in the middle of a lake.
There they meet an ancient queen who tells them the history of this land and its evil usurper, Hagerrak; she believes the siblings’ sudden appearance in their world means that the time has come to challenge him. While waiting for a council to convene and decide their next steps, Judith comes to realize that she belongs in this world, not in the one she left. At the council, a power outside of her takes hold and she declares that she must set out to confront Hagerrak herself. Companions are gathered and the group begins their journey. Soon they are attacked by Hagerrak’s minions, and Judith and Tobit are suddenly transported to their own world again (a common occurrence for GU stories, the brief interlude back at home). Time hasn’t moved much there, but the siblings are clearly changed by their experience, and their parents worry. The next day, Judith vanishes again just as suddenly – transported back to the moment she left, in the otherworld – and Tobit re-enters the wood to find her; thus they are separated for the rest of the journey.
<SPOILERS> Judith continues on with the other companions, is nearly drowned, spends some time in an underground city, and then travels entirely underground through a mountain to reach Hagerrak. After more battles, they arrive in the capital city and Judith is once more stolen away by Hagerrak’s powers, and brought to his tower alone. She does face off against the adversary, but the moment’s power and meaning for her as a GU are kind of depleted by Hagerrak’s unexpected decision to kill himself and end it all. The rightful king is restored, thanks also to Tobit’s help, but the old queen nonetheless sends both the siblings back to their own world, against their protests. A pretty sad ending that seems unnecessary, but otherwise a pretty good 60’s fantasy novel.