Many years ago I read Frances Hodgson Burnett's The lost prince in an old Puffin abridged edition. I always wondered why it had apparently been heavily abridged, now after reading an original edition courtesy of Kindle, I think I know.

There was much about this children's story that I loved, but it is slightly odd. The story has much in common with other Ruritanian romances of the early twentieth century. Young Marco Loristan lives an impoverished existence in London. He has been brought up by his father and his father's servant, Lazarus, almost as a young soldier. He knows little of his background, except that they are all exiles from the fictional country of Samavia which is currently torn apart by civil war. When Marco meets a disabled street urchin The Rat, who has an enormous talent for military strategy, the lives of the two boys will have an enormous impact on each other and the future of Samavia.

It's a very enjoyable tale, part-Ruritanian romance, part spy story, part out-and-out adventure. Marco and his father are engaging characters, and if the ending doesn't surprise an adult audience, there's plenty of enjoyment to be had for any child. The Rat is a great character, probably one of the earliest depictions of a handicapped person as a hero, and someone who has genuine strengths at least in part because of their disability. It's very unusual to find such a positive depiction in fiction.

There are some real oddities though about this tale. It was written in 1915, but feels a lot older. Here you have the Austrian Emperor represented as an ongoing force in Europe, here is Europe as it was before the First World War. Did Burnett not realise how Europe was being torn apart, or was The lost prince written much earlier, and not edited following the events in Europe?

Even odder is the religious element, and it is this I believe that was heavily edited out of my Puffin edition. It's a strange amalgam of Theosophy, Spiritualism and Psychokinesis. This all reads extremely oddly, sometimes brings the narrative to a grinding halt, and often gets in the way of what is actually a grand adventure story.

It's a good get-away-from-it-all read, spoiled by some rather weird thinking, but with much to commend it. If you haven't read this lesser known Hodgson Burnett yet, pop it on your reading list.


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