Dido Twite’s World

winter sleepwalker
Winter landscape

Here I was promising a companion piece or two to my review of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and yet I’ve gone and entitled this post “Dido Twite’s World” when Dido doesn’t even appear in the first title of the sequence! What’s going on?!

Well, there’s no real agreement what to call this series of loosely-related books. They’re often called The Wolves Chronicles, but wolves don’t always appear — in fact I can at this moment only recall two or three of the books making reference to them. Occasionally, inspired by the introduction to Wolves, reference is made to ‘the James III sequence’, perhaps in the same way that we often refer to our own 19th-century as ‘Victorian’ even though that monarch ruled only for a little over sixty years of it, and despite it sometimes being applied to countries outside the British Empire.

Now I shall be calling this sequence the Dido Twite series as much as I talk about the Wolves Chronicles, simply because Dido appears in at least eight out of the twelve novels officially in the canon — thirteen if you include Midnight is a Place, but that’s another discussion! There’s another reason for me to think of it in this way: because, you see, I have a theory that Dido became a sort of alter ego for the author. Joan Aiken was born in 1924 and, I surmise from a bit of teasing out of details, Dido Twite was born a hundred years before, in 1824. But I anticipate myself, and having whetted your appetites I propose leaving my corroborating arguments until I discuss Black Hearts in Battersea, the next in the series. In any case, as Joan’s daughter Lizza told us in a comment on Ann Giles’ Bookwitch blog back in 2009, Joan’s head “was so full of a number of things that chronological consistency was not always one of them!”

So, chronology. Lizza’s wise caveat aside, here’s how I see things standing by the end of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase:

Summer: James III is crowned as King of England
December (late in the month? Snow is already on the ground): Sylvia Green takes the 6.00pm train from London north; the next evening Bonnie Green, her cousin, eagerly anticipates Sylvia’s arrival at Willoughby Chase, only slightly discomforted by the appearance of her distant ‘cousin’, Letitia Slighcarp
Bonnie’s parents leave at noon the next day for their sea voyage, leaving Miss Slighcarp in charge; Slighcarp starts her nonsense, the main action of this novel; Bonnie and Sylvia discover the secret passage; “during the next few weeks the children became accustomed to their strange new life”

? Late January: four days are described, during which Sylvia and Bonnie are taken to Mrs Gertrude Brisket’s school and set to work; more days pass; Sylvia sickens
Mid-February: an eventful week beginning on a Monday (February 20th?) during which Simon finds the cousins and arranges their escape (Sunday February 26th?); they head for London with Simon’s geese
27th-29nd February: Bonnie and Sylvia rest for three days in Herondale below Whinside; “another two-three weeks” would’ve seen primroses blooming in the dale
[Thursday 21st March: Spring equinox]
[7th April: Easter Sunday 1833]
Late April”: “nearly two months” after leaving Mrs Brisket’s, mostly at goose-pace, they camp on Hampstead Heath the night before entering London (perhaps the week beginning Monday April 23rd, St George’s Day); on their third day in London they take the train back to Willoughby Chase, arriving at dawn on the fourth day when all is eventually resolved

This then is my current view of the timeline of events in Wolves, which I hope will form the baseline for the subsequent chronology in the remaining chronicles; no doubt counter-arguments and tweakings will continue to shape this. But I’m aware that Dido’s World is also concerned with an England unlike ours so I will be building a map of how that may look; and of course novels are primarily about people so I shall aim to dedicate a post or two to the dramatis personae who populate these pages. I’m not done with Aiken’s delightful alternate world!


10 thoughts on “Dido Twite’s World

    1. Great, we’re of one accord then! You’ll be pleased to hear there’s plenty more of this to come. 🙂

      PS Even though you’d helpfully provided a translation, when I googled ‘cytuno’ — two years diffident studying of Welsh a decade ago doesn’t make for fluency — I came across this gem: “Maen ddiflas, Wyt tin cytuno?” amusingly was rendered as “Are they boring, you’re bum agree?” Microsoft® Translator asks us if we “Have a Better Translation?” I think us bums know the answer to that!

      1. earthbalm

        I think “It’s miserable, do you agree?” would be more in keeping with the original comment. I’m not sure where the ‘bum’ comes from. Looking forward to more Joan / Dido.

  1. Surprisingly – or not?! we agree on Dido’s birth year as 1824, and yes this was exactly 100 years before Joan Aiken herself was born, and the day, which we discover through the custom of birth-date sharing of the lost childrens’ society – the Birthday League – in ‘Dido and Pa’, was March 1st Joan’s mother’s birthday.

    Dido wasn’t going to survive her first book, but Joan was persuaded otherwise by a heartfelt letter from a fan…and she certainly became the companion of the rest of Joan’s writing life.


    1. It wasn’t until I read Dido and Pa that I realised that my first notion — that Dido shared Joan’s birthday on account of being born a century before — was incorrect, and that Dido was born on March 1st (St David’s Day, as it happens!). So I was glad when you pointed out a little while ago, Lizza, that it was her mum Jessie’s birthday that she was celebrating. And of course we’re all glad when she relented and, like Conan Doyle resurrecting Homes after the Reichenbach Falls incident, Dido lived to star in more tales!

  2. jbulloug

    Thanks for the fascinating information! I certainly like the ring that a Dido Twite birth year exactly a century before Joan Aiken’s makes. I suppose I should feel pretty good that while struggling in my own attempt to assign a timeline to the Wolves Chronicles (http://www.rpi.edu/~bulloj/wolveschronicles.pdf), I managed to get within a year of 1824 without the insightful connection to Joan’s birth year. I very much like your idea to generate a map or atlas of the Didoverse. Being an American my knowledge of British geography is lacking and I really loved the maps in Whispering Mountain and Cuckoo Tree! Thanks again for this informative and entertaining post!

    1. I’m working on that map at the moment, John, but it won’t be ready for a while. I’ll have to see about posting an interim one soon! I must get the edition of The Cuckoo Tree with the map (my Red Fox edition seems not to include it) — but perhaps it’s in the US edition? Looking forward to doing a map for that: did you know that Dogkennel Cottages are still there? and that when she rides Rachel to London Dido takes Stane Street, an old Roman road, all the way up to the district called, appropriately, The Elephant & Castle? And there’s more …

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