Book Review: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase


British-born Joan Aiken (1924-2004) was a member of a family of writers. She loved writing and did so from an early age. There were possibly good opportunities for this, as she was educated at home by her master’s-graduate-mother until the age of 12. Joan Aiken herself did not go to any university. It was her editorial work that helped her to improve her writing skills. Joan Aiken also like to read and she was especially fond of ghost stories.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was published in 1962.  By then Aiken was able to write full-time. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a children’s book. The setting is partly London and partly Willoughby Chase up north of Britain. Joan Aiken rewrites the history to accommodate her own kind of world. The protagonist and hero is Bonnie Green. In fact, Bonnie Green was the original working title. It would have actually been a more suitable title, though not as interesting or catching as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

It is the wolves that prove slightly problematic in the book. They do not quite add to the plot as much as one might expect. Or could it be that Joan Aiken is thinking of wolves in multiple ways? Could people also be ‘wolves’? Be that as it may, Joan Aiken uses wolves to add drama. They might well frighten a child – even too much so, as here Joan Aiken is playing with the child’s fear of being eaten. The fright is positioned early in the book and stays throughout. How they feature in the end, is for the reader to find out. Joan Aiken, however, continues with the wolves in the follow-up books.

I can believe that Joan Aiken loves writing. The text flows and she has good sense of drama. The characters are varied and distinct, even if very stereotyped. The plot can be believed by children, and the inconsistencies and coincidence upon coincidence passed by. How this book and the pampered world of the protagonist will sit with a child reader of today, is an interesting question? The adult reader will, of course, be satisfied with the fact of having been introduced to Joan Aiken’s writing. Like I was.

Publisher: Vintage Books

Pages: 223

STARS: 3/5

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