This little book has been sitting on my shelf for almost three decades. I recollected having enjoyed it the first time (I wouldn't have kept it otherwise), but had almost completely forgotten the plot, so it was obviously time for a re-read.
And what a strange story this is. The first part concerns a mysterious world inhabited by Jogs and Rats. It gradually becomes clear (although it is never spelled out) that the Jogs are hedgehogs. These are no ordinary animals; they are intelligent and converse with each other (the two species share a language), and seem very human. The Jogs and the Rats live on opposite sides of a large body of water and their relationships are sometimes cooperative, sometimes antagonistic. This part of the story is told entirely from their perspective (and especially that of the young but wise Jog, Rummage) so many aspects of their environment are taken for granted and not explained, leaving the reader to puzzle out what they might be; particularly the fixed Moon and the Great Star. The climax of this part of the tale is an expedition to the Great Star, which can be reached only by climbing a huge mountain.
The second part takes up the story from the perspective of Elizabeth, a young and lonely disabled girl. She has a strange and vivid imagination, and lives in her own world as much as the real one; it is difficult for the reader to sort fact from fantasy in her thoughts. The context is contemporary, in an unnamed town or city somewhere in England. She lives with her father who scrapes out a living as a street newspaper-seller, and who has a mysterious past which he won't explain to her. Elizabeth imagines a golden age in the past, when her mother was still alive, and is convinced that if she can only discover what happened to her father and put it right, all will be well. By chance, she stumbles on the world of the Jogs and the Rats as she searches for the answer to her father's plight.
The third part of the story switches back to the perspective of the Jogs and the Rats, and reveals what Elizabeth's arrival means to their world.
This novel is difficult to characterise. Possibly as a result of this, it does not seem to have been republished since the 1970s and the author isn't listed as having published anything else. The world of the Jogs and the Rats is nothing like as light-hearted as in "The Wind in the Willows", it tends more towards the grimmer tone of "Watership Down". The depiction of the human world is also realistic and at times brutal. The narrative is adult and often philosophical, especially in the human world (the viewpoint switches between various adults as well as Elizabeth). The cover text compares the work to Tolkien, but I find it difficult to see any similarities. Despite first appearances, this is not a book for young children. It is, however, a very unusual and rather haunting story, and has been returned to its place of honour on my shelf.