to stay in the garden forever, he discovers a memorial stone that reads ‘exchanged time for eternity.’(P.191) Pearce’s symbolic juxtaposition, of time (life) and eternity (death) demonstrates how ‘time no longer’ ultimately points towards death. It becomes clear that Mrs. Bartholomew dreams of her past because she is old and dying, and that to stay in the garden you must be dead. It is at this point, when we reach the conclusion of the novel, that Tom experiences a new type of nostalgia, ‘he found that, after all, he was looking forward eagerly to going home.’ Tom ultimately longs for the present, his family, for what once was.
For the conclusion of ‘Kit’s Wilderness’, Almond transforms Askew into a total and physical representation of the past. At the start of the novel Askew and his abusive father symbolize the men left without a place in the new community of Stoneygate, a place without mining. They are lost and refuse to move forward. This dismissal of progress and rebellion against time is what allows Askew to regress into the caveman character, ‘Lak’, from Kit’s stories, ‘I saw the congealed blood on his brow. There was a scarf of rabbit skins around his throat. His hair was matted and wild.’(P.182) Here Almond is demonstrating just how much nostalgia can hold you back. Juxtaposing Askew as a caveman is Allie who in this scene wears her silvery ‘ice girl’(P.206) costume from the school play. Allie represents the future and progression of the North East. She has developed new skills and a creative outlet in acting to reimagine herself. Here Almond mirrors Allie to the North East’s new creative heritage, for example The Baltic, Millennium Bridge and the Angel of the North, all risen from the industrial ashes of the past. In the ‘Presence of the Past in Children’s Literature’ critics write that the past is used to ‘enable the child (character and reader) to realise that time cannot be haltered.’3 Almond is showing his readers that whilst it is important to remember your past, it is vital to move forward and progress. We see the struggle to achieve this balance through Kit, caught in the middle of Askew and Allie, desperately holding onto the present, ‘his [Grandpa’s] voice is singing in my head; his stories are running through me.’ Kit doesn’t want to lose his childhood or his grandad but also recognizes that he must move forward and accept his loss which is mirrored by the book ending in Spring, the season of new life.
As both novels focus so intently on themes of nostalgia, it is easy to categorize them to the form of living history or timeslip novels. One distinguishing feature of this genre is the use of Lieux de Mémoire. Both Kit and Tom are transported back in time at specific locations. These locations are old sites of memory. The wilderness for Kit and the midnight garden for Tom provoke memories for them and surrounding characters, especially those from the older generation, for example, Grandpa and Mrs. Bartholomew. ‘Lieux de Mémoire [are] the sites of memory of which…come into being because memory fails.’ Sites like the wilderness, left behind from the closed mines, hold an important collective memory for Kit and Askew. Its presence is what transfers memories, songs and stories of their history and heritage through the generations, creating a special bond and encouraging the desire to bring back the past. ‘They sang together: whilst, lads, had yer gobs’(P.222) and ‘the music joined them one to one’(P.58) For Grandpa, whose memory is failing him due to dementia, lieux de mémoire becomes vital to remembering the past and holding onto his nostalgia. Similarly, the collective memory of childhood between Tom and Mrs. Bartholomew fails because of radical change in Britain and the progression of life in general. Yet elements of both childhoods are preserved in the lieux de mémoire of the midnight garden to revisit and remember. For most of the characters in both novels, lieux de mémoire and nostalgia, become a vital coping mechanism when facing real world problems.
Boym’s notion that ‘nostalgia is a rebellion against the modern idea of time, history and progress’ is indeed correct for aspects of both novels. Nostalgia encourages characters like Askew and Tom to hold onto their past. Through this, important parts of their identities are developed as they can remain connected to their history, heritage and childhood. Nevertheless, rebellion against time also denies both characters progress and development, for example, Askew becoming a caveman and Tom wanting to stay in the garden forever. Nostalgia, however, can also point towards growth. We see Almond and Pearce explore this in the conclusions of both novels. Tom eventually ‘hugged [Hatty] good-bye’(P.227) and returns home to present-day, having recognized that everyone must eventually transition from childhood to adulthood. Kit reunites Askew with his contemporary home/family and is finally able to let go of his Grandpa, ‘Good night. Grandpa’(P.231) Ultimately, Pearce and Almond are showing their young readers that because we can look back and remember we can recognize that we need to move forward and grow.