The Secret of Eternal Youth

The peerless girl Floretta, daughter of the forest — beautiful, innocent, gentle, vulnerable — emerges from her secluded backwood into the World of Man, where she becomes known as the holder of the Secret of Eternal Youth. Many, from common scoundrel to mighty king, would have this secret for themselves and will stop at nothing. But does Floretta possess this secret and can she bestow it at will?

The Secret of Eternal Youth is the first book of Margaret Swift's Amaranth trilogy, the following two books being A Spell for Irresistible Charm and The Crown of Untold Wisdom.

belief in the story

Margaret Swift first conceived the story while taking a class of girls for Creative English at Wawne High School, Kingston-upon-Hull, in the late 1960s (yes, the 1960s). This in itself was a remarkable experience and established Margaret's ongoing belief in the strength of the story, a belief that was to see her through three volumes and 200,000 words, later entitled Amaranth.

spellbound

The lesson took place first thing in the morning after assembly and was due to continue for an hour or so until break at ten thirty. Margaret suggested the girls write a story about a magic object, say an umbrella or a pen, whatever they liked. To get everyone in the mood, she started making up a story about a magic flower. As she got more and more into this, the class became spellbound. A long time went by. The bell went for break, but everyone ignored it. The bell went for the end of break, but everyone ignored that too. The story was so exciting. Everyone wanted to know what would happen. Another class arrived outside for the next lesson and began knocking on the door, but Margaret and the girls took no notice of them. At length the deputy head arrived to find out what on earth was going on. She found a teacher intent on speaking to a class that refused to be distracted. The story was however almost finished. Margaret completed it and the spell broke. The girls grabbed their bags and ran out to the bus that was waiting to take them swimming.

prose poetry

The story was not forgotten. As years went by, it grew in Margaret's mind. She began putting it on paper in the early 1970s, beginning with the ‘Prologue’ which is a passage of what might be called prose poetry about the fate of Flora, the mother of the heroine Floretta, many years before the story actually starts:

‘With a parting word and a glance at her slumbering babe she left the warmth of the tightly shuttered cottage, shunned its cosy hearth for the bleakness of a sunless forest twilight.’

This melancholy piece is immediately countered in Chapter 1 with a vibrant introduction to the peerless girl herself, which begins:

‘Upon a soft mossy bank in a secluded grove a young girl was sleeping, intoxicated by the drowsy warmth of a strong summer sun.’

(The image, incidentally, taken by the artist in her work for the cover.)

the World of Man

Each of these two passages is something of a one-off. Floretta has spent her childhood deep in the forest, but she is about to set off for the World of Man. Interaction with human beings, good and evil, can no longer be avoided: Floretta will attract attention wherever she goes. Events will be fantastical. In this other-worldly setting, in the pre-industrial kingdom of Torquella, Nature and its minion the forest are not in retreat. The forest is able to take action, not always vainly, to help those it loves, and Nature can perform miracles, if it so wishes, and bestow miraculous powers — powers which observers, rightly or wrongly, will attribute to Floretta. One thing is certain: her beauty on its own is miraculous so that all who see her realise that something exceptional is afoot.

who is Floretta?

We know of no living being comparable with Floretta (though there is a certain likeness with the cover artist who has spent many hours portraying her and who has always understood the book well). The Secret of Eternal Youth is essentially a work of the imagination.

As you read, many distinct voices will be conjured up:

The ‘low unhurried voice of the forest’:

“The human race may destroy itself, it may destroy the forest, but then with time there would come more forest. We do not wish the human race to destroy itself, we wish it well, but wishing has no substance. We have always watched people deceiving themselves and have grieved for them. But our grief has no power.”

The ‘soft persuasive words’ of the scoundrel Elavisado:

“I can arrange, if you wish, for word to circulate that the rumours spreading about you are fictitious, invented by ill-wishers to the Crown, exaggerated by importunate fools, dreamed by the fanciful… I can arrange all this, weaving a web of new reality, carefully extinguishing all breath of the old one, carefully silencing all who would breathe to the contrary… I can arrange… in short, I can arrange… anything. Any means of protecting your privacy, of securing your safety, which you would find personally satisfying, I can arrange it.”

The ‘reliable, steady’ voice of the butler Ashvy Parva with its ‘apparent lack of emotion’:

“I allow myself no qualms, for, to possess qualms, in that direction lie madness and destitution. It is not for me to doubt decisions but to implement them; my life and livelihood depend on this. I have long since denied myself the luxury of doubt. If I paused to doubt the rectitude of every instruction it would lead ultimately to the dereliction of my duties and my career would be forfeited.”

The sinister words of the high and mighty Julien:

“How amusing, that an upstart such as yourself should feel above criticism whilst criticising a King upon his throne. But it is no wonder that you feel no fear in my presence, I realise now, no wonder that you dare to criticise and provoke me: you, who see yourself as immortal, as above death or damnation, and quite justifiably, I suppose. But I, in my earthly power, will curtail your confident expectations. I will crush you, quarter you, dissect you, destroy every ounce of your physical entity, and reduce you once more to the petty status of mortality.”

Floretta herself says:

“He destroys beauty because he does not understand it.”

proto-ecological

When she first completed this work Margaret Swift found that it was widely misunderstood, though it did have strong aficionados. At that time, relatively few people seemed able to get their heads around the quite simple analyses of man's relationship with Nature. In the 70s and the 80s people were interested in a perceived over-population of the United Kingdom and in looming energy shortages, but there was little mention of ecology. It had not entered the public consciousness. In that sense The Secret of Eternal Youth can be seen as proto-ecological and, therefore, light years ahead of its time.

What people have said about The Secret of Eternal Youth :

I have started reading ‘The Secret of Eternal Youth’ for a second time. You see how much I liked the book, and it is not only because of its beautiful descriptions and the language of the different characters, it also conveys a philosophic background or even a religious meaning; it is sad and soothing at the same time.

- Susanne Stark, Villingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Really delightful. The words just danced off the page.

- Kay Evison, Auckland, New Zealand

This was a very great surprise of a novel, it tells a very engrossing story that is interesting as it starts and ends perfectly with a wonderful main character. Descriptions at times seem to dance off the page and are wonderfully crafted. I must also say that the book is very consistently paced from an ambitious author. Cannot wait to read the second book!

- Alex

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Book Details

The Secret of Eternal Youth

Author
Margaret Swift

ISBN
978-0-9557460-1-7

Age Range
16 Years +

Pages
174

Price
£7.99
(Uk Delivery : £1.49)