Kneeknock Riseby Natalie Babbitt, Suzanne Toren
Instep is a village at the foot of a cliff called Kneeknock Rise. A terrible moaning can be heard from the cloud of mist which hides the top of the cliff. Noone knows what it is...nobody has ever gone to see and returned!
“Here's a wonderfully fluent fable about man's need to have something to believe in. . . . The strength of this tale is in Natalie Babbitt's clean, modern, very confident telling. For children, especially, this is fine writing.” School Library Journal, Starred Review
“An enchanting tale imbued with a folk flavor.” Booklist, Starred Review
“The allegory seems to have grown slowly and surely, so much folk feeling does it have along with its symbolism and satire. Beautifully and clearly written, the story can be read aloud with pleasure.” The Horn Book Magazine
“Natalie Babbitt's prose is as clean as her pen line. Like The Search . . . delicious.” Kirkus Reviews
“The theme is ageless--it poses the questions: Who is the fool? Who is the wise man? With help from her characters and from a sly cat and a very endearing old dog, Natalie Babbitt gives a brilliant answer--brilliant because her star, with each new book she writes, shines brighter in the universe of children's books.” Publishers Weekly
“Fantasy for the whole family.” Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A delightful fantasy stressing man's need for a belief in the supernatural.” The Kansas City Star
- Listening Library, Inc.
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Unabridged, 2 Cassettes
- Product dimensions:
- 5.53(w) x 7.37(h) x 1.21(d)
- Age Range:
- 9 - 12 Years
Read an Excerpt
By Natalie Babbitt
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 1970 Natalie Babbitt
All rights reserved.
The Mammoth Mountains were not really mountains at all. No glaciers creased their rocky, weed-strewn slopes, no eagles screamed above their modest summits. An hour or so would bring you to the top, puffing a little, perhaps, but not exhausted, and the view, once you were there, was hardly worth the climb. Nevertheless, the people who lived there were extremely proud of the mountains, for they were the only point of interest in a countryside that neither rolled nor dipped but lay as flat as if it had been knocked unconscious.
Because of this pride of the people's, you were well advised, on passing through, to remember the famous and somewhat true story of an early visitor who rashly remarked that anyone who could call those molehills mountains had to be either a blindman or a fool. It was suggested to him that he was already a fool himself and in grave danger of becoming a blindman on the instant. So, we are told, he wisely thought better of it, looked again, and said, "I see that I was mistaken. No mere mole could have made those mounds. They must have been the work of a mammoth!" The people were satisfied, the visitor escaped unharmed, and the mountains were christened.
However, the Mammoth Mountains had far more to offer than pride of ownership and rest for the eye that was weary of level plains. One of the mounds was different from its brothers, rockier, taller, and decidedly more cliff-like, with steeper sides and fewer softening trees, and its crest was forever shrouded in a little cloud of mist. Here lay the heart of the mountains' charm; here, like Eve's forbidden fruit, dwelt their mystery, for good or evil. For from somewhere in that mist, on stormy nights when the rain drove harsh and cold, an undiscovered creature would lift its voice and moan. It moaned like a lonely demon, like a mad, despairing animal, like a huge and anguished something chained forever to its own great tragic disappointments.
Nobody knew what it was that lived high up in the mist. As far back as memory could grope, no one had climbed the cliff to see. The creature had mourned there for a thousand years, in isolation so splendid, and with sorrows so infinitely greater than any of their own, that the people were struck with awe and respect. Therefore, climbing the cliff was something they simply did not do, and curious children were early and easily discouraged from trying by long and grisly tales which told what might well happen if they did.
From time to time, in the land below the cliff, strange things in fact did happen. A straying sheep would be found slaughtered, a pail of milk would sour, a chimney would unreasonably topple. These things were considered by some to be the work of the creature on the cliff, while others refused to believe that it ever left its misty nest. But they all had their favorite charms against it, and to all of them the cliff was the grandest, most terrible thing in the world. They trembled over it, whispered about it, and fed their hearts to bursting with gleeful terrors. It was frightful and fine and it belonged to them. They called it Kneeknock Rise.
* * *
At the foot of Kneeknock Rise, on its southern side, stood a village appropriately called Instep. Instep was closer to the Rise than any other village and was therefore exalted among villages, a sort of Mecca where you could go from time to time and renew yourself with reports of the latest storm, fatten your store of descriptions that strove endlessly to define once and for all the chilling sounds that wound down from the clifftop, and go home again to enjoy in your own village the celebrity you deserved — until someone else went off and returned with newer reports. Instep was famous in that flat and hungry land and the people who lived in Instep, made smug and rich by tourists and privilege, had fallen into the custom of flinging their gates wide, once a year, and inviting everyone for miles around to come to a Fair. The Fair was always held in the autumn, when storms were fierce and frequent, and was a gesture of generosity on the part of Instep whereby its inhabitants could say, "Come and eat and dance; be entertained and spend your money; and — hear the Megrimum for yourselves." For this was the name they had come to use when speaking of the mournful creature that lived at the top of Kneeknock Rise.
* * *
"Now, don't forget!" said Egan's mother for the twentieth time. "When you get to Instep, go directly to your Uncle Anson's house. Don't go wandering about the shops. Your Aunt Gertrude will worry if you're not there by six, and she's been worried enough since Ott disappeared."
"If Aunt Gertrude is as fussy as you say, no wonder Uncle Ott keeps running off," said Egan, pulling crossly at his new collar. "I wish I could stay with someone else."
"Nonsense!" said his mother. "If you're going to the Instep Fair, of course you must stay with your aunt and uncle. Anyway, Gertrude isn't exactly fussy. She's just nervous. Who wouldn't be nervous, living at the bottom of the Rise? I don't see how they stand it all year round. It's very good of Gertrude and Anson to look after Ott, seeing as he's never done a thing but read his books and write all those verses. And then, too, he's sick so often. Colds and wheezing. It can't be easy for them, even if he is your Uncle Anson's only brother." She walked around her son, eyeing him critically, and brushed a bit of lint from his shoulder. "Now, Egan, do be polite to Gertrude and Anson. They're so pleased you're coming to the Fair, and it will be a real treat for your Cousin Ada. Little Ada! Why, I haven't seen her since she was a baby!"
* * *
Egan rode across the countryside to Instep with his father's friend, the chandler, who was taking a load of fragrant new candles to sell at the Fair. It was forty miles from home to the gates of Instep, a long, tiresome ride on the hard seat of a bulky cart drawn by a very resentful mule the chandler called Frieda. The mule sometimes walked so slowly that you were sure she had fallen asleep, but she could also decide, quite suddenly and without warning, to break into a gallop. Every time this happened, Egan and the chandler would fall over backwards into the straw-packed candles behind them and then have to struggle upright, while the cart hurtled crazily down the road, and yell at Frieda until they were hoarse. The mule would stop eventually, gasping and glaring as if it were all their fault, and then the whole process would begin over again.
It was just after one of the galloping episodes that the chandler suddenly put his hand on Egan's arm and pointed. "There they are!" he said excitedly. "And there it is!" Along the level horizon, sure enough, a row of dark bumps had appeared. One of the bumps, narrower and straighter than the others, rose up in the middle of the row, crowned by a shred of mist that shimmered in the clear autumn sunshine.
"Is that it?" asked Egan in a low voice, squinting at the distant cliff. "I've never seen it before."
"That's it!" whispered the chandler. "I've seen it fifty times, but it always makes me shiver. It's a grand sight, grander close up." He prodded the dawdling mule impatiently with his driving stick. "Hurry up, Frieda, can't you?" he cried. "Get a move on!" Then his voice dropped again and he murmured, "That's it, all right. That's Kneeknock Rise."
* * *
When Egan arrived at last, he was tired and dusty and somehow resentful of the somber thrust of the cliff that had loomed larger and larger as the cart jolted over the fields toward Instep. It was too big, he decided; too proud. He scowled at it jealously. And the first sight of his Uncle Anson's house did nothing to improve his mood. A little girl was sitting on the wall that enclosed the small house and yard, and she studied him critically as he walked along the road to the gate. She was a skinny little girl with red hair strained back into one long pigtail and she was covered with scratches. She was cuddling something in her arms and he saw as he came up that it was a large, rust-colored cat.
"You're Egan," the little girl informed him.
"I know," he said.
"Say hello to Sweetheart," she commanded, and she thrust the cat forward. It was a very well-fed cat, battle-scarred and insolent, and it stared at Egan coldly out of narrowed yellow eyes, the tip of its tail switching slowly back and forth. Then suddenly it reached out a claw and scratched him across the cheek.
"Ow!" yelled Egan. "Quit that!"
The cat hissed at him, twisted neatly out of the small hands that held it, and lounged off down the road.
"For goodness' sake," said Egan, touching his wound tenderly. "What a terrible cat!"
"Sweetheart is the loveliest cat in the world," said the little girl firmly. "He just doesn't like you. I don't like you, either. I'm Ada and I guess we're cousins."
"I guess so," said Egan. He looked at Ada with despair.
"You certainly are a mess," said Ada contemptuously. "How come you're all covered with straw?" Then she grabbed his arm with her sharp little fingers and pointed. "Look there! You never saw that before, did you? I see it every day. It practically belongs to me. Uncle Ott ran off up there and the Megrimum ate him." She smiled rapturously and pointed again.
Egan looked up just as the sun dropped down behind the mountains. A long shadow fell across the house and yard from beyond the wall, where the green and purple face of the rocky hillside rose into the evening sky. It was huge and silent and cold as a gravestone. As he stared, the mist at the top went blood-red in the sunset.
"I guess you're pretty scared," suggested Ada hopefully.
"Don't be silly," said Egan. "I'm not afraid of anything." But he shuddered just the same.
* * *
"Here's Egan, Mother," said Ada when she had pulled him into the house.
"Here he is at last. Isn't he a mess? Sweetheart scratched him." She giggled and put the end of her pigtail into her mouth.
Aunt Gertrude put aside a bit of sewing and came forward. She was as thin as her daughter and her narrow face was fringed with pale yellow hair. "Welcome to Instep, Egan," she said. "Dear me! You look exactly like your father! I never could understand how my own sister could marry such a man. So big and cheerful and noisy. I do hope you won't be noisy. You're awfully large for your age, aren't you? Dear me! You really do look just like him. And aren't you dusty! Heavens, look at that scratch. Whatever shall we do about Sweetheart? Such a disagreeable cat!" Still talking, she led him away to a small room at the back of the house.
Egan felt better when he saw the room. There was a cot against one wall, with pillows and a pile of worn and comfortable quilts. The corners of the room were cluttered with little heaps of books and papers, and on a large table, besides the usual pitcher and bowl, there were quills and ink and an old pipe. The cloth on the table was stained with blots and pen scratches. It was all very untidy and interesting.
"This will be your room, Egan," said his aunt. "You'd better wash yourself. I do hope you're not feeling too bad after your trip?"
"I'm feeling fine, Aunt Gertrude."
"What a brave, good boy!" she exclaimed. "Of course you're feeling wretched and exhausted. Why don't you lie down? No, you'd better wash first. This is Ott's room, you know — did you know he's disappeared again?"
"My mother told me," said Egan.
"Well, I'm sure I don't know what to do," said Aunt Gertrude, sitting down on the cot and wringing her hands. "Ott's been away for three days, and just before the Fair, too. Not that it isn't easier without him, you know, but he's a good man in his way, a gentle man, and I'm so afraid he may have gone — up there. That would have been a dreadfully foolish thing to do!" She dabbed at her eyes with the hem of her apron. Egan watched her and decided that she was enjoying the excitement very much, in spite of her nervous manner.
"You're a bright and clever boy, I can see that," she said, and Egan made another decision: he was going to like Aunt Gertrude. "Yes," she went on, "you're intelligent. You get that from our side of the family. Well, wash up and then take a rest. I'll try to keep Ada quiet, but she's such a stubborn child. I'm sure I don't know what to do with her." She stood up — and there was a sharp yelp from under the cot.
Aunt Gertrude shrieked and jumped aside. "Good heavens! Ott! Is that you, Ott? What are you doing under there?" She went down on elbows and knees and peered under the cot while Egan waited, round-eyed. "It's only Annabelle," announced Aunt Gertrude in a normal tone. "I thought it might be Ott, but it's only Annabelle." She stood up and brushed the dust from her elbows. "Poor old Annabelle. She loved him so. How could he have gone away and left her? Come, Annabelle! Come out now, dear. I'm sorry I stepped on you. Well, she won't come out. I hope you don't mind, Egan. She seems to want to stay there." And Aunt Gertrude left the room and closed the door behind her.
* * *
Egan stood quite still in the middle of the little room and wondered, somewhat nervously, who — or what — this Annabelle might be. He waited, hoping that something would happen. He had the distinct feeling that Annabelle was waiting, too. However, after a few minutes, the sound of gentle snoring filled the room. Annabelle had stopped waiting and had obviously gone to sleep. "It ought to be safe to look now, anyway," he said to himself, and he crouched down and peered under the cot. In the dusty gloom that hung there, the special cozy gloom that keeps to itself under every bed, he saw what at first appeared to be the round stomach and tapering legs of a whiter-than-average pig. "Strange to keep a pig indoors," he thought, and then, "But it seems too frazzy, somehow, to be a pig. Perhaps it's some kind of animal I've never seen before." He pondered the dim white shape for a moment and then said, experimentally, "Annabelle?" The snoring stopped at once. In its place came a soft thump-thump and then silence.
"Well, there's only one thing to do," said Egan. "I'll have to move the cot." He stood up and dragged the cot carefully away from the wall and out into the middle of the room. There, exposed at last to the blue and peaceful twilight, lay Annabelle — Annabelle who had dearly loved his Uncle Ott but had been left behind. She was a dog — a dog with graceful white feet and ankles, a thick white chest, and a bulging stomach that hinted pink where the hairs were sparse and coarse. Across her back and hips were large, irregular brown spots, and her head, which was really too small for her body, wore several shades of brown that arched over her eyes, giving her a surprised and interested expression. Around her neck a thick roll of extra flesh fanned out soft fur into a deep, inviting ruffle and her ears drooped like rich brown velvet triangles. She was old and fat and beautiful and Egan was instantly enchanted. "Hello, you good old Annabelle," he said, and dropped to his knees to pat her. She looked up at him, her brown eyes sad and misty, and then as if she had said to herself, "Well, well, perhaps ..." her eyes cleared and seemed to smile. She rolled heavily onto her broad, flat back and, four legs akimbo, presented the meager hairs of her stomach for scratching. Egan scratched and after a moment she lifted her head awkwardly and licked him on the knee. They were friends.
* * *
Uncle Anson came home not long after, at suppertime, with a large package under his arm. "I've done it, Gertrude," he said solemnly to his wife. "It's finished. It will be the wonder of the Fair."
"Say hello to Egan," said Aunt Gertrude.
"Hello, Nephew," said Uncle Anson. "Welcome to Instep. Gather round, everyone. Come and see what I have here."
Ada was sitting on the floor in a corner of the room, playing with Sweetheart. "It's just another clock," she guessed without interest. "I'll see it later."
"Just another clock?" cried Uncle Anson in an anguished tone. "No, indeed, not just another clock. The clock. The only one of its kind in the world."
Egan came to the table eagerly. "My mother told me to be sure and see the clocks you make, but there's not a single one in the house," he said, watching as Uncle Anson opened the package tenderly.
Excerpted from Kneeknock Rise by Natalie Babbitt. Copyright © 1970 Natalie Babbitt. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
A gifted artist and writer, Natalie Babbitt is the award-winning author of the modern classic Tuck Everlasting, The Eyes of the Amaryllis, Kneeknock Rise and many other brilliantly original books for young people. She began her career in 1966 as the illustrator of The Forty-ninth Magician, a collaboration with her husband. When her husband became a college president and no longer had time to collaborate, Babbitt tried her hand at writing. Her first novel, The Search for Delicious, established her gift for writing magical tales with profound meaning. Kneeknock Rise earned her a Newbery Honor Medal, and in 2002, Tuck Everlasting was adapted into a major motion picture. Natalie Babbitt lives in Providence, Rhode Island, and is a grandmother of three.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This book was a great book with MANY twists and unexpected turns. The story starts off mysterious, with the whole town thinking that theres a monster on top of the mountain that comes down on some nights to kill and haunt. In the end, the story makes sense and all the parts play together...but you'll have to read the book to see if the monster really exists:)
"Knee-Knock Rise" is a great book for youth through the age of 12. It's a creative mystery that requires keen imagination. It also prompts the reader to think out his/her own solution at the end: What action would I have taken? I read this book to my two sons, ages 5 and 10, as my wife drove during a long car trip. Our agreement was that the boys would let me read a couple of chapters to them before they turned on a TV videotape. By the time we got to Page 16 they didn't want me to stop reading. They forgot all about the videotape. That is quite an accomplishment for an author.
This book has very good writing and encanted I think it deserves the newberry reward i like when uncle otte makes his aperence the part was sad it tugules my heart strings when he takes annable and goes down the other side of the rise. This book forced me to read more when i had to stop very interesting . The rise made me couriues i was like it cannot be a monster at the end of the book when otte tells Egan what is true rellay was not thought would happen the end was intersting was the secret is found out it was a good ending but the book was a little like it needed more action a little like it was when is something interesting gonna happen the end changed that but overall good book keep up the good work!!!!!!
this is a really great book you should read it!
This book rocks