Every nine years, a secret doorway opens for nine days between this world and the Island, a magical place inhabited by fairies, ogres, trolls, mermaids and many other creatures. Called the gump, this doorway is hidden in the gentlemen’s cloakroom of Platform 13 at King’s Cross Station in London.
When it opens this time the people of the Island will be launching a full-scale rescue operation to find and retrieve their Prince, who was a three-month-old baby when he was stolen just before the gump last closed. Fortunately, when the rescuers reach London they will have help from the ghosts of Platform 13 who witnessed the abduction and who have kept watch over the Prince ever since.
The young boy is now called Raymond, and believes he is the son of Larina and Landon Trottle, an extremely wealthy and powerful London couple. However the ghosts of Platform 13 fear that rescuing Raymond will prove difficult because he is closely guarded by his doting mother, and he seems to have grown from a sweet-natured baby into a temperamental and self-centred boy.
The King and Queen of the Island choose the rescue team carefully. Though urged to call upon the harpies, the Island’s traditional police, they select Cornelius, a mighty but very elderly wizard, Gurkintrude, a plant fairy, and Hans, an ogre, to travel through the gump, and find and bring back their son. At the last minute, they add a fourth rescuer, a young hag named Odge Gribble whose plan to win over the Prince seems irresistible.
The four Islanders arrive in London, and accompany the ghosts to the Trottle Towers, a large mansion near Buckingham Palace. Through the basement windows of Trottle house, the rescuers see a young boy shining shoes and cooking breakfast, and joyfully believe that they have found their Prince. Unfortunately, the boy’s name is Ben, and he is the grandson of Raymond’s Nanny, but, when he hears their story, Ben eagerly offers his help to rescue the Prince.
Since they have promised the King and Queen not to use magic on the Prince and to avoid any violence, the rescuers must find a way to explain things to Raymond and convince him to return with them to the Island. Cor, Gurtie, Hans and Odge plan a magical spectacle on the banks of The Serpentine to entertain Raymond and introduce him to his heritage. They seek out all of the magical creatures who live in and around London to participate in the spectacle, including the nucklelavee who lives in the lake.
With Ben’s help, the rescuers figure out how to get Raymond to the spectacle which goes off without a hitch, but the Prince isn’t as entranced as they’d hoped, and then his mother becomes suspicious and decides that someone is trying to kidnap her Sweetikins. She hires bodyguards for Raymond, and has him spirited away to a secret location.
With time running out, Cor, Gurtie, Hans and Odge must figure out where Raymond is being hidden, and get him safely through the gump before it closes. Odge, the little hag, is also determined to convince Ben, the kind young boy who has worked so hard to help the rescuers, to come through the gump with them. Though he is mistreated by Mrs. Trottle and overworked by the Trottles’ servants, and has taken an instant liking to the Islanders, Ben is reluctant to leave his sick grandmother behind. However, as the rescue efforts reach a critical point, it becomes clear that Mrs. Trottle has plans for Ben that include sending him to a very unpleasant school for orphans.
Will the rescuers manage to find and retrieve the Prince before the gump closes? Will Odge convince Ben to come to the Island, or will he end up at Ramsden Hall? Will the Queen of the Island ever smile again? Read Eva Ibbotson’s magical novel, The Secret of Platform 13, and find out!