Elinor Lyon

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Elinor Bruce Lyon (17 August 1921 – 28 May 2008) was an English children's author from a Scottish background. Several of her novels are set on the Highland coast. They are said to feature "strong girls and sensitive boys and shared leadership between the sexes".[1]


Lyon was born in Guisborough, Yorkshire. She was educated privately, and then at St George's School, Edinburgh[2] and Headington School, Oxford (1934–1938).[3][4] She was strongly aware of her Scottish roots.[4] Her father was P. H. B. Lyon. After a period in Switzerland, she returned to Oxford to read English at Lady Margaret Hall just as World War II began. She completed four terms, but then joined the WRNS because "with many... friends being killed, I couldn't stay there reading Milton."[5] She served two-and-half years as a radar operator.[5]

Elinor was the inspiration for many of John Gillespie Magee, Jr.'s poems. Magee had met Elinor while attending Rugby School, and he remained close friends with her and her family until his death in December 1941.[6]

Her father was headmaster at Rugby School from 1931 to 1948. Elinor met her future husband Peter Wright there when he was a temporary classics and English teacher, and became engaged to him in 1943. He returned to teaching when he was demobbed in 1946, and although Lyon's father had retired, they remained at Rugby until 1975, when they retired to Harlech, Gwynedd.[5]

Lyon's fondness for Scotland, the scene of many of her books, dated back to a holiday spent there in her own childhood. Holidays with her children were frequently spent there too, often in remote houses without running water or electricity.[1]

Elinor Lyon died at Harlech on 28 May 2008, her husband having died of a stroke twelve years earlier.[4][1] She was survived by her two sons, two daughters and twelve grandchildren.[4]


Between 1948 and 1976 Lyon wrote over twenty books for children, which had some success on both sides of the Atlantic. She found they "came much more easily" than writing for adults and believes her inspiration came from "omnivorous reading".[7]

Lyon began The House in Hiding, for example, after reading Swallows and Amazons, because she disliked the characters within it (they were too good at everything).[8] In response, the children in The House in Hiding get things wrong, but still manage to succeed eventually. The development was pinpointed in an obituary by Julia Eccleshare: "Lyon's adventures, with their strong girls and sensitive boys and shared leadership between the sexes, were firmly within the Arthur Ransome tradition, yet felt more modern, more thoughtful about how children's behaviour is affected by what they experience, especially the way they are treated by adults. Within the adventures, her intention was to show the themes that she felt children cared about: justice, freedom and compassion."[1] The main characters, Ian and Sovra (pronounced with a long "o",[9] from sóbhrach, meaning "primrose" in Gaelic), son and daughter of a local doctor, appear in a series of stories recognisably set in the Ardnish Peninsula, specifically Arisaig and Mallaig.

Elinor Lyon's 2005 letter

From a 24 June 2005 letter from Elinor Lyon:
I used the area round Arisaig and Mallaig for my Ian and Sovra books, though I altered quite a lot of things.
Kinlochmore = Fort William
Loch Fionn = Loch Nan Uamh
Kilcorrie and Melvick = a mixture of Arisaig and Mallaig.
Fionnard = Ardnish where there is a deserted village, but not in the right place.
The railway and the viaduct are real, but Loch-head, Kindrachill and Camas Ban are all imaginary, and I've taken liberties with the landscape – mountains, white sand mountain roads etc.

As the children explain to a new friend in We Daren't Go A'Hunting, "Stay with us and you won't be bored. You may be seasick or ship-wrecked or drowned or lost or burned or killed by falling over a cliff, but you won't be bored." The third in the series, Run Away Home, is a darker story of an orphan, Cathie, on a reckless search for her past. As with the bossy town girl Ann in the first two books, Cathie is at once a focus and a foil for the doings of the bold and humane Ian and Sovra. In Cathie Runs Wild, No. 5 in the series,[10] she becomes the central character, ably supported by Ian and Sovra, but deeply uncertain of herself as a fostered child, despite very clear ideas of what and where she wants to be.[11] Determination to show that girls can be as resourceful and adventurous as boys pervades Lyon's books, not excluding the first, Hilary's Island (1948).[12]

Among the admirers of Lyon's books was Walter de la Mare. He stated in a dust-jacket endorsement of Wishing Water Gate that "a deal of close thinking must have gone into its bright-vivid and complex plot and its lively English; I enjoyed every page."[13] More recently, she was named by the US children's writer Lizzie K. Foley as a favourite author.[14] However, Lyon as a children's novelist escaped almost all critical attention during her thirty-year writing career. As one later scholar remarked, "Elinor Lyon, whose series of novels about Ian and Sovra – set in the Scottish Highlands – have something of the character of William Mayne's early fiction, is not mentioned in any of the standard works."[15] Still, the dust jacket of the 1967 American edition of Echo Valley quotes The Times Literary Supplement as calling her "a writer to remember and look for".

Lyon ceased to write in 1975, but reprints of several titles appeared in the 1980s, and four were reissued from 2006 onwards by an Edinburgh publisher.[16] Three of these, The House in Hiding, We Daren't Go A'Hunting and Dragon Castle, were still available in 2018,[17], but only secondhand by the end of 2019.


  • Island Adventures (c. 1939, unpublished)[18]
  • Hilary's Island (1948)
  • Wishing Water-Gate (1949)[19]
  • The House in Hiding (1950, Ian and Sovra No. 1)
  • We Daren't Go A'Hunting (1951, Ian and Sovra No. 2)
  • Run Away Home (1953, Ian and Sovra No. 3)
  • Sea Treasure (1955)
  • Dragon Castle (1956)
  • The Golden Shore (1957)
  • Daughters of Aradale (1957, Ian and Sovra No. 4)
  • Rider's Rock (1958)
  • Cathie Runs Wild (1960, Ian and Sovra No. 5)
  • Carver's Journey (1962, US: The Secret of Hermit's Bay, Ian and Sovra No. 6)[20]
  • Green Grow the Rushes (1964)
  • Echo Valley (1965)
  • The Dream Hunters (1966, Ian and Sovra No. 7)[21]
  • Strangers at the Door (1967, Ian and Sovra No. 8, about their children)[21]
  • The Day That Got Lost (1968)
  • The Wishing Pool (1970)
  • The King of Grey Corrie (1975, Ian and Sovra No. 9)
  • The Floodmakers (1976, Ian and Sovra No. 10, about their children)[21]
  • Hugh Lyon – A Memoir (with Barbara Lyon,[22] 1993)
  • The Shores of Darkness (2009)?

Elinor Lyon's publisher up until 1962 and for The Day That Got Lost was Hodder & Stoughton; subsequent books were published by another Hodder imprint, the Brockhampton Press. Several US editions were published in the 1960s by Follett of Chicago. The biography of her father was privately published by Laurence Vinney. Some of her books were reissued in the 2000s by Fidra Books, but their planned posthumous publication of Shores of Darkness seems to have been shelved.[23] Some titles were translated into German, Spanish, Italian, Swedish and Danish. FictFact is the source for the order of the Ian and Sovra titles.[24]


  1. ^ a b c d The Guardian obituary by Julia Eccleshare, 24 June 2008. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
  2. ^ Fidra Books Newsletter 2. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
  3. ^ Elinor Lyon: children's author |Times Online Obituary; Robertson, Fidra Books website.
  4. ^ a b c d The Independent obituary by Nicholas Tucker, 6 June 2008. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  5. ^ a b c Introduction by Elinor Lyon, The House in Hiding, Fidra Books, Edinburgh 2006, ii
  6. ^ Hermann Hagedorn: Sunward I've Climbed (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1942). In this biography of Magee, Elinor is referred to as "Diana".
  7. ^ Lyon, iii.
  8. ^ Lyon, iv.
  9. ^ See Strangers at the Door (1967), p. 72 in the 1969 US edition: "'Oh,' said Mrs. Waterston, letting go of Sovra's arm reluctantly. 'Well, Sovvra, did you see who it was?' 'No, I didn't, and if I did, I wouldn't be telling you. And my name is Sovra. Like "sofa".'"
  10. ^ Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  11. ^ Reader review: Goodreads Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  12. ^ Reader review: Retrieved 7 February 2013.
  13. ^ The Times obituary.
  14. ^ Author website. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
  15. ^ Victor Watson: Reading Series Fiction: From Arthur Ransome to Gene Kemp (Abingdon, UK: RoutledgeFalmer, 2000), p. 102.
  16. ^ Daily Telegraph obituary, 22 July 2008. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  17. ^ Publisher's page Retrieved 15 September 2018.
  18. ^ Hazel Sheeky Bird: Class, Leisure and National Identity in British Children's Literature, 1918–1950 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), passim.
  19. ^ Kirkus review Retrieved 13 September 2017.
  20. ^ Some interesting comments by the American cover designer, Gerald Lazare, in an article dated 11 August 2015: Retrieved 13 September 2017.
  21. ^ a b c Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  22. ^ Archives Hub. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
  23. ^ Archives Hub. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  24. ^ FictFact Retrieved 15 October 2017.

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