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Children of the Stones

"Happy day!"

In 1977, a series appeared on British television which is still remembered fondly by those who were of a certain age during that time. Ostensibly a children's program, it plays well to any age group. Its main protagonist is a young boy, but his father gets more or less equal screen time and engages in just as much heroics.

Children of the Stones Matthew Brake and his father Adam arrive in the tiny village of Milbury (population about 53). Adam is an astrophysicist, and Matthew is, while obviously not as experienced, just as intelligent. The father has come here to study the possible electro- magnetic properties of the town's ancient upright stones; and since he is a widower, his son trails along. Adam naturally gravitates to the local museum, overseen by curator lovely curator Margaret; her daughter Sandra provides companionship for Matthew as well. The village is presided over by Rafael Hendrick, a pompus ex-astronomer who has set himself up as the local government administrator. Mysterious things begin happening, leading Matthew and his father to learn more about the village and the ancient stones which hold some sort of terrible secret about the local inhabitants....

Children of the Stones has been called a Wicker Man for kids, primarily because of its plot and theme of an outsider trying to make sense of queer village customs, and a group of hostile locals who smile sweetly while slyly plotting trouble. The tone of the short series (seven episodes, one more than many British television seasons) is one of mystery and horror, of dark unseen forces assailing our young hero even though he cannot possibly understand what's befalling him until the very end.

The upright stones of the town seem to have their own sinister personalities. The exterior shots of the series were filmed in Avebury, Wiltshire, home to an authentic stone circle of ancient lineage; these secnes would have been terrifically expensive to shoot (especially for the budget of a children's serial) and so their use here adds a definite feeling of authenticity. In close-up scenes, it is apparent - at least to modern eyes - that the stones are fake, probably composed of painted plaster. Still, the stones serve as a properly mystical and scary set of extra 'characters' for the story - especially when we see the townspeople turning into stone monuments themselves.

The show obviously makes up its own mythology, but enough research has been done into such 'authentic' lore to lend the proceedings a measure of believability. Ley lines play a part in the plot, for example: conjectured lines of psychic power stretching across the English countryside and passing through prominent ancient monuments and churches, within the storyline they mark out the node point of the mysterious events. There is also some on-screen speculation about the upright stones, primitive religious rites, village celebrations that can be traced back centuries, the use of talismans to ward off malevolent spirits, etc. It's all kept at a rudimentary level due to the age of its audience, but at least the writers made an attempt to keep things consistent. 1977 was part of the era in which the 'ancient astronauts' idea was still in vogue, lending things a bit more credence.

The tone of the show is significant. Throughout the seven episodes, a feeling of mystery and dread pervades, leaving the viewer confused and wondering just what can be the explanation for the fantastic events. While this is normal for television shows of this type, it isn't normal for a show created for children to be seen after school - at least, not in America. The musical score doesn't help either: consisting mainly of voices moaning and wailing in wordless chant, the effect is positively creepy. The music is heard often (sometimes to the point of irritation) throughout the series, loudly or in the background, particularly during significant plot points. Although all is made right again at the end (more or less), the feeling of the whole thing is a bit heavy, and may be a bit too much for younger viewers, who may not be able to grasp the intricacies of the story in any case.

Thirty years on, Children of the Stones is a fondly-remembered cult series, one of a smallish group of British kids' shows that poked a stick at reality and their audiences' imaginations. American audiences got to see the show for a brief time in the early 1980's when Nickelodeon aired episodes as part of its Third Eye anthology series. A novelization appeared as the show was in its first run in January-February 1977.

Children of the Stones is available on Region 2 DVD.

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