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Literature / The Secret of Platform 13

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The Secret of Platform 13 is a children's book by Eva Ibbotson. Inside the abandoned Platform 13 in King's Cross Railway Station lies the Gump, an ancient and magical secret passage. Every nine years it opens to take those who wish to leave the world behind for the mythical island known as...The Island. The Queen gives birth to a son the year the Gump opens again and after the Prince's three nannies are overcome with homesickness, she allows them to take the Prince with them for a brief visit to our world.

What they don't count on is running into Mrs. Trottle, who desperately wants to have a baby...even if it means turning to kidnapping.

Nine years later, a young hag named Odge learns about the rescue mission being planned by the King to bring home his son, who has been raised by Mrs. Trottle as her son, Raymond. After much convincing she joins the appointed rescuers—Cornelius the wizard, Gerkintrude the fey and Hans the (temporarily invisible) giant—in their journey to London. Their task will not be as easy as they thought however, as Raymond is not only constantly protected, but is also an extreme Royal Brat. Though they find immeasurable help from Ben, the grandson of Raymond's former nanny, and the many magical creatures in hiding, will it be enough to bring the Prince back to the Island before time runs out?

Trope examples:

  • Adaptational Heroism: The Nuckelavee, who seems to be benign or at least fairly harmless (and is driven away when Raymond insults it). In the original folklore that the creature appears in, it is much more nightmarish.
  • Ambiguously Human: Many of the Island's unusual creatures, which is why they can move or travel around London without being noticed. The rescuers were specifically chosen with this in mind.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Although they don't often fight because Mr. Trottle is always at work, the Trottles clearly dislike each other, and it's made clear, in a PG kind of way, that they haven't touched each other in years.
  • Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad: All of the Island's inhabitants are good, but species like hags seem to act this way. The fact that Odge isn't ugly and terrifying is seen as kind of embarrassing.
  • Bargain with Heaven: With less than an hour for her kidnapped son to return before the gump will close for nine more years, the Queen promises God that she'll never do anything bad again if he returns. The narration notes that she'd never done anything bad before anyway.
  • Call a Pegasus a "Hippogriff": Ogres are one-eyed giants that tend sheep. A description more fitting a Cyclops.
  • Death Bed Confession: In the hospital, Nanny Brown writes Ben a note to be read after her death. It reveals that he was kidnapped as a baby, cluing Odge to the fact that he's the real Prince.
  • Doting Parent: Mrs. Trottle. She's many things, but she pulls out all the stops to make Raymond happy, even if that's exactly how he became such a brat.
  • Enfant Terrible: Narration from Nanny Brown's POV reveals Larina Trottel to have been one (namely, deliberately tipping over a fish bowl and gleefully watching her goldfish suffocate). Are we really surprised that she hasn't grown out of it?
  • Everybody Calls Him "Barkeep": The King and Queen are never given any other names, and the Prince doesn't seem to have had a name until his kidnappers gave him one.
  • Evil Is Petty: The main reason Mrs. Trottle makes Ben's life so miserable? She hates that he outshines her precious child in any way.
  • Exact Words: Odge has been instructed not to ill-wish Raymond and as angry as she is with him, she complies. So how does he end up with a knickerbocker glory literally cartwheeling itself all over him? She ill-wished the dessert.
  • Family-Friendly Stripper: The complicated plan involves Gurkintrude replacing a dancing girl, in order to distract the people. The usual dance number is a striptease where the light is switched off exactly when the last veil could fall. The very prim and proper fey consents to the plan, but insists on wearing her very long, very decent underwear under the seven veils, just in case there's a problem with the light switch. Hilarity ensues.
  • Fat Bastard: Both Raymond and his mother are examples of this.
  • Floral Theme Naming: The three nurses, who are sisters, are called Lily, Rose and Violet.
  • Food Porn: The meal that, unfortunately, Raymond Trottle is eating when the travelers follow him around town. Given the most attention is the knickerbocker glory.
  • Freaky Is Cool: A recurring theme. Many of the magical creatures would come off as Creepy Good, including Hans (who spends most of the story looking like a disembodied eyeball) and the One-Scene Wonder Nuckelavee. The sympathetic characters, including Ben, take this in stride, while characters like Raymond react badly.
  • Gentle Giant: Hans.
  • Good is Not Nice:
    • The harpies, hags and other monsters on the Island, who serve as something like a police force—if you do something wrong, they deal with you, and chances are you'll never repeat your mistake.
    • The narration notes that Nanny Brown is not a particularly nice woman, but still a Friend to All Children.
  • The Good King: What the monarchs of the island has traditionally been. The rescuers immediately think Ben must be the Prince because he's so hardworking and polite, and he must obviously understand that a king is the servant of his subjects. They're terribly disappointed when they realize they've got the wrong boy. Good thing their first instinct was right.
  • Granola Girl: Gurkintrude. Being a fey, she has an even stronger connection to nature.
  • Harping on About Harpies: The harpies, led by Mrs. Smith, give the impression of stern, female politicians, and while not technically evil, are certainly not nice. They carry handbags, which contain cosmetics that smell like a slaughterhouse.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am a Dwarf Today?: Melisande is a water nymph, not a mermaid. She keeps pointing to her feet to prove it. Nobody ever mistakes her for a mermaid, and it's Lampshaded that nobody knows why this would bother her so much.
  • Humanshifting: A minor character, a troll named Henry Pendergrast, has this ability.
  • Invasion of the Baby Snatchers: Inverted — instead of supernatural creatures stealing away a human baby, a human steals away a baby from a land of supernatural creatures.
  • Jumping Out of a Cake: The hotel Mrs. Trottle and Raymond hide at has a dinner act where a girl leaps out of a fake cake and does a dance of the seven veils for the patrons. When the rescuers try to get closer without alerting Mrs. Trottle, one of the things they do is pay off the dancing girl and have Gertrude take her place.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Mrs. Trottle cannot get pregnant, so she eventually decides to adopt a child—and, when she realizes there's a waiting list, resorts to stealing one. She finds out she's pregnant shortly afterward and makes Nanny Brown raise the kidnapped child instead.
  • Limited Destination Time: The gump is only open for nine days every nine years. Hence why the Islanders had to wait before rescuing the Prince, and why they have a limited time to do it.
  • Magical Seventh Son: Odge is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. Her mother expected her to be an especially terrifying child; to her disappointment, Odge wound out being the least hag-like of her children.
  • Mama Bear: A villainous example in Mrs. Trottle.
  • Modest Royalty:
    • The royal king and queen of the Island. Their mansion is even open to any guests who want to stay a night or two.
    • At the end, Ben is this as well. He sets up a guest room for Odge, so she can live in the mansion with him, fixing it up with bat-themed wallpaper and a door for the pet mistmaker she gave him.
  • My Biological Clock Is Ticking: The main reason why Mrs. Trottle kidnaps the Prince after adoption doesn't work out.
  • My Greatest Failure: Lily, Rose, and Violet never forgive themselves for losing the Prince, and spend the nine years between the gump openings living in a cave punishing themselves by making sure they're always as miserable as possible.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Subverted with the former nanny, who really doesn't want to help Mrs. Trottle kidnap a baby. She ends up going along with it not out of loyalty, but because Mrs. Trottle threatens to frame her for the kidnapping if she doesn't comply.
  • Never Mess with Granny: One of Raymond's bodyguards is a little old woman who spends most of her time knitting. With very long, sharp needles, and she knows exactly what points on the body they'd be most effective. Her going rate is twice that of her hulking brother.
  • Nice Guy: Ben.
  • Nice to the Waiter: One key difference between the royalty on the Island and the Trottles.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Ben was raised by his grandmother, Nanny Brown. Subverted because she's not his real grandmother.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: The mistmakers! They look like extremely fluffy baby seals, and love music and being cuddled.
  • Rich Bitch: Mrs. Trottle.
  • Royal Brat / Spoiled Brat: Raymond Trottle, the whole deal: tantrums, the room of broken toys, disrespect to anyone who isn't his mother, and there's nothing anyone can do about it since his parents are incredibly rich.
  • Running Gag: One character is always referred to as "the troll called Henry Prendergast".
  • Same-Sex Triplets: Lily, Rose, and Violet are identical triplet sisters. Part of the reason they were hired as the Prince's nannies is because of this trope, as they would give the young prince the security of one constant helper but could provide three times the work.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: Mrs. Trottle to Raymond after the magical show the Islanders put for him, and he starts wanting to go to the Island.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: When the harpies are sent in to take Raymond, one of the guards doesn't even bother shooting and runs away screaming.
  • Self-Punishment Over Failure: Lily, Rose and Violet defy orders by taking the infant Prince through the gump; he winds up getting kidnapped, and he can't be recovered until the gump opens again in nine years. The King and Queen are too nice to punish the nurses, so they move into a cove and punish themselves by eating nothing but rotting food, sleeping on hard rocks and constantly dipping their body parts in freezing water. When the rescue party finally goes to retrieve the Prince they wait right by the gump with a big box of bananas, desperately waiting for when their punishment can end.
  • Strange Secret Entrance: The eponymous Platform 13.
  • Theme Triplet Naming: Lily, Rose, and Violet.
  • They Have the Scent!: Not said word for word, though. How the Islanders find Mrs. Trottle—through the powerful smell of her custom-made perfume, Maneater, in the sewers.
  • Uncatty Resemblance: Raymond looks so much like Mrs. Trottle that the rescuers are taken aback, attributing it to something like this trope. It's actually a sign that he's her biological son.
  • Villainous Glutton: While out at lunch with his mother Raymond orders fried prawns, soup, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, fries, and an ice-cream sundae. Other times when he is out he is usually seen downing more.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Mrs Trottle has no qualms over making Ben's life as miserable as possible.