My mother is a teacher and while she cleaned up her classroom at the end of each day, I would sit and read the curriculum reading books on her shelves. I was about 5 or 6, and there was one series that grabbed my attention: a series called Tim and the Hidden People. I wasn't to know it at the time, but these books would have a lasting effect on me. Even at such a young age, they gripped my imagination and for a while at least wouldn't let go. After I read the ones in my mother's classroom, I searched the other teachers' classrooms to see if they had any of the series that I hadn't yet read. I recall that I was a bit scared of the school caretaker at the time, but vividly remember sitting in a classroom, engrossed in one of these books, almost oblivious to his presence. The books took me to a different world.
The story was simple enough; a young boy called Tim finds a magic key, which enables him to see the Hidden People. Soon he is drawn into their struggle as the friendly Hidden People try to reclaim their home, Hollow Hill, from another faction. Before long I found myself engrossed in the stories of witches, magic and adventure. One of my favourites was the final book in the second series, called On the Night of the Full Moon, in which Tim uses magical thread to trap the evil hidden people and force them into the pool by the whispering trees. These may just have been intended as childrens' books, but there is some serious imagination at work here.
But if the stories were good, the illustrations were even better. I've never seen illustrations that fit the accompanying work so perfectly; moody and often bleak, they simply ooze atmosphere and create the perfect foil for the imagination. Here's an example:
After I exhausted all of the Tim and the Hidden People books I could find, I eventually left the series alone. Little did I know however, that the magic had touched me. It would lie dormant for several years, but would resurface later on...but the second part of how I came to embrace fantasy will have to wait for another day.
As far as Tim and the Hidden People goes, it's close to my heart to this very day. I made a futile attempt to purchase some of the books, but they went out of print a long time ago. Occasionally one will crop up on ebay where they tend to sell for around £50 ($100) a book. Obviously I'm not the only one that remembers them with fondness. I made a fortunate discovery one day however, as I came across one member who had scanned every single book from all four series onto CD. Even more fortunately I managed to snap up one of the (illegal) CDs before ebay removed them. Best £10 I ever spent. I now have the entire collection - artwork and all - at the click of a mouse button.
I've read the first two series again, but not the second two. They represent uncharted territory, and I want to make the magic last a little longer.
EDIT - 15/04/2009: Please do not email me requesting a copy of the CD, as I will not respond. The CD itself is illegal and if I make copies I will be breaking the law and putting myself at risk of legal action. Sorry, but you'll have to just keep checking ebay!