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Literature / Playing Beatie Bow

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Playing Beatie Bow is a children's/young adult novel by Ruth Park, first published in 1980.

The novel is set in Sydney, Australia. The protagonist Abigail is transported back in time to colonial Sydney in the 1870s, where she meets the Bow family, who believe she has been brought to them for a purpose.

A film adaptation was released in 1986.


This novel contains examples of:

  • Doppelgänger Replacement Love Interest: Abigail falls in love with Judah Bow, but they are separated when she returns to her own time. Then Abigail meets a man who is descended from the Bow family and looks just like Judah.
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  • Get Back to the Future: Abigail is transported a century into the past, and has to figure out why before she can be returned to her own time.
  • Playground Song: In Abigail's own time, the local children play a game accompanied by a rhyme about a threatening figure called Beatie Bow (hence the title of the novel). When she travels back in time she meets Beatie as a young girl, and the local children are playing the same game but with a different name for the threatening figure. It turns out that Beatie got incorporated into the game after she became the principal of the local school when she grew up.
  • Prophecy Twist: There's a prophecy that one of the Bow children will die young. Everyone assumes it will be the sickly Gibbie, but he lives into his seventies, while his healthy elder brother Judah goes to sea to make his fortune and is killed in a shipwreck.
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  • Widow's Weeds: One of Abigail's fleeting visions of the Bow family upon returning to the twentieth century is of a slightly older Beatie in black. She assumes it's for her sickly brother Gibbie, but it turns out to be for either her brother Judah who died at sea or her cousin, niece, and grandmother, who died in an epidemic.

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