Lots of you suggested I read something by Diana Wynne Jones and I'm glad I took you up on the offer. As Fire and Hemlock seems to be a common favorite and one of her famous novels (and also was handily on my library's shelves) I'm now getting into the story. I've heard that the ending is somewhat ambiguous so I am trying to pay close attention to the details. We'll see how well I do. I fully expect to return here with a list of questions in hand.
I have a feeling that this is going to be a matter of a shifting narrative. The story opens with a nineteen-year-old Polly packing her things to return to college. A picture she has on her wall reminds her of when she was younger and her friendship with another girl whose adventures caused her to do things not perhaps in her normal nature. The picture, titled Fire and Hemlock, is one of the sort where if you look at it long enough you see things that may or may not really be there. Memory is a funny thing. If there is not a memory of something, then nothing happened surely, yet she knows that's not quite right.
My teaser is from recollection Polly has of a time when she and her friend were playing and exploring and she ended up following her friend into a house where something odd seemed to be happening.
"Here it was completely like a dream. The passage led into a grand hall with a white-painted staircase wrapped round the outside of it in joints, each joint a balcony, and huge, painted china vases standing around, every one big enough to contain one of Ali Baba's forty thieves. A man met her here. As people do in dreams, he seemed to be expecting Polly. He was obviously the servitor, for he was wearing evening dress and carrying a tray with glasses on it. Polly made a little movement to run away as he came up to her, but all he said was 'Orangeade, miss? I fancy you're not a bit young yet for sherry.' And he held the tray out."
This strange gathering turns out to be the reading of a will. Polly feels certain she shouldn't be there and is listening to all sorts of private family things. Thomas Lynn comes to her rescue, and two begin a fantastical conversation of heroes and dragons.
I'm not as well read on fairy tales and fables as I should be, but I do recognize the name Tom Lynn as being a reference to the legend of Tam Lin. Tam Lin is the hero of a Scottish ballad who is rescued from the Queen of the fairies by his true love. I'll be keeping Tam Lin in mind as I read about Polly's adventures. This seems like a good story to lose myself in--just what I need at the moment.