Miss Pittikin Pattikin and others

Capriccio with a British man-o-war(c) Essex County Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John Thomas Serres (1759–1825) Capriccio with a British man-o-war (© Essex County Council; supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation)

Another post looking at the background to Joan Aiken’s The Stolen Lake (1981) with its wonderful amalgam of history, alternate history, legend and whimsy. This one will look at the persons mentioned in the novel, saying who they are, what they do and, in some cases, why they may have been given the names they have; discussion follows below.

As I’ve found, Joan’s whimsical-looking names aren’t always what they appear, and there’s often a logical reason for why they’re applied to a particular character.

HMS Thrush
Three-masted British Navy man o’ war with added stern funnel and steam screw. Not the same as the 18-gun brig-sloop with the same name, originally a Revenue brig called the Prince of Wales, renamed HMS Thrush in 1806 and used as a powder hulk from 1809; wrecked in 1815 she was subsequently sold (Wikipedia)

Captain Osbaldestone, until promoted at Bermuda the captain of HMS Thrush when first mentioned at the end of Night Birds on Nantucket; no relation to his contemporary George Osbaldeston, a noted sportsman and gambler
Captain Owen Hughes, took over captaincy of the Thrush at Bermuda; we will discover in The Whispering Mountain that he was involved in ‘the China Wars’ — though this clearly wasn’t the First Opium War (1839-1842) — and that his roots are in Pennygaff in Mid Wales; referred to by his crew as “old Mumchance” from his taciturn nature
Admiral Hollingsworth, based in Trinidad
Mr Windward, First Lieutenant; formerly Second Mate on the Arctic Tern in Iceland; his name derives from a nautical term, or maybe from the Windward Isles in the Caribbean
Mr Bowsprit, 2nd Lieutenant; we’ll discover in Limbo Lodge that he was 35, thus born 1799 x 1800; left in charge of the Thrush when the shore party leaves to travel inland; another nautical term, this time from the spar that extends forward from the bow of a ship
Mr Frank Multiple, Midshipman; his name perhaps nautical in origin: a chine is a sharp change in angle in the hull of a boat, and a multiple chine hull is one designed to allow the boat to meet oncoming waves with less of a shock; Dido calls Frank by the familiar ‘Mr Mully’
Mr Holystone, Captain Hughes’ steward who came aboard at Bermuda; he attended the University of Salamanca in Spain aged 15; attended a butler’s school in London, aged 17; was at college with Lord Herodsfoot (as told in Limbo Lodge); left Salamanca aged 25; and spoke nine languages (including English, Spanish, Sanskrit, Greek and Italian); name from a nautical term for a piece of sandstone used for scrubbing the deck. See also below
Noah Gusset, able seaman; perhaps a reference to the triangular piece of cloth stitched into the seams of jeans in the 1960s in order to get the traditional bell-bottomed look associated with 19th-century seamen’s trousers
Plum, sailor and shantyman; from Usk in Wales where he heard tales about King Arthur; fatally acquainted with prehistoric flying beasts called Aurocs;* perhaps from plumb-line, a line with a lead plumb attached for determining the depth of water
David (‘Silver Taffy’) Llewellyn, formerly of the Queen Ettarde and, before that, the Maypole, sailing out of Bristol; his given names clearly of Welsh extraction, while Taffy is a common term for a Welshman — from the River Taff perhaps, or from the name Dafydd or Davy — and ‘silver’ refers to his silver-capped teeth; a nephew of some sort to Mme Ettarde (see below) whom he increasingly resents
Dido Twite, passenger on HMS Thrush sailing out of Nantucket; Captain Hughes estimates she is “not much more than 12” — born in early 1824, she is actually eleven and a half; named by her father from a canal barge (Black Hearts in Battersea); referred to by the British agent in Tenby as Miss Pittikin Pattikin

New Cumbrian town at the mouth of the River Severn

Mr Ludovic Brandywinde, British agent; married, with a daughter
Don Luis Pryce, jefe or Mayor of Tenby
Don José Jones, innkeeper of the White Hart (Joan Aiken was living at White Hart House when she wrote The Wolves of Willoughby Chase in 1962; the former inn was listed as a historic Grade II building on the Fifth of November 1973)
Bran, storyteller with a wooden leg; the name of a legendary giant in the medieval Welsh tale Branwen, Daughter of LLyr). See below
Mrs Mag Morgan, sempstress; her name is related to Morgan le Fay of Arthurian legend; a shapeshifter. See below
Mrs Nynevie Vavasour, sempstress, daughter of Mrs Morgan; her name links her with both Anne Vavasour, Maid of Honour to Elizabeth I, and with the Lady of the Lake in Arthurian legend, called variously Nimue, Elaine, Ninianne, Viviane, Nivian and Nyneve; some Arthurian tales have her linked with Merlin; like Mrs Morgan she too is a shapeshifter, able to transform into an owl

Queen Victoria 1819–1901

Bath Regis
Capital of New Cumbria; as in the case of Tenby, the inhabitants may be identified by both Welsh and Spanish names

Ginevra, the corpulent Queen of New Cumbria, of indeterminate age; her name (which means ‘juniper’ in Italian) is related to Guinevere, King Arthur’s wife; modelled perhaps on Queen Victoria in her later years: “like Queen Victoria she had very little chin, but her eyes, large as poached eggs, made up for that,” the author tells us, though this seems to be an aside to the reader, not necessarily an indication that there was a Queen Victoria in this alternate history
Manuel Fluellen, Vicar General
Daffyd Gomez, Grand Inquisitor; a misspelling of Welsh name Dafydd (David)
Asclabor, Chamberlain; named after King Asclabor or Esclabor, a legendary pagan monarch and father of Sir Palamides in Malory’s Morte Darthur
José Glendower, Advocate of the Queen’s Tribunal
Juan Jones, Physician and Chirugeon
Bran, soothsayer, jester, jongleur, minstrel; modelled after Merlin, with a hint of pirate (from his leg perhaps being nibbled by piranha fish, and a white cockatoo instead of a parrot on his shoulder); though named after a giant in the Welsh Mabinogion, Bran’s name also derives from the Welsh brân, the term for one of several members of the crow family — another bird name to go with Twite and Thrush, and not the only bird to appear in The Stolen Lake
Mme Ettarde, First Lady of the Bedchamber, Mistress of the Queen’s Robes; sister of Caradog, Guardian of Sul; her name is taken from Malory’s Morte Darthur where she is one of several ladies who is seduced by Sir Gawain

Country to the south of New Cumbria; named from sunken lands in Cornish and Arthurian legend

Mabon, King of Lyonesse (Mabon is a prisoner rescued by Arthur’s men in the Welsh tale of Culhwch and Olwen); father of Artegall (this name, perhaps meaning ‘Arthur of Wales’, is taken from Spenser’s Arthurian poem The Fairie Queene), also of Martegall and Elen, and foster father of Gwydion
Elen, Princess of Lyonesse, daughter of Mabon; from Elen, the Welsh form of a very popular name in Welsh and Arthurian literature; scrobbled first by Silver Taffy as she travels from Bath (where she had been boarding at Miss Castlereagh’s Academy in Queen’s Square since the age of seven) to Roman America, and then again by Silver Taffy’s aunt, Madame Ettarde, from Wandesborough in Lyonesse)
Gwydion, adopted by the king of Hy Brasil after being found left by Lake Arianrhod; named after a wizard in the Mabinogion, significantly the brother of Arianrhod; identical with Mr Holystone, steward on HMS Thrush and tutor to Dido. See below
Sextus Lucius Trevelyan, Commanding Officer, Frontier Patrol, Second Division, Wandesborough; accompanies Dido and her party to Bath Regis from Lyonesse; perhaps named after G M Trevelyan, a literary though now less regarded British historian who died in the same year that Joan Aiken published The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

Hy Brasil
Another country in Roman America, not to be confused with Brazil; a legendary Irish island in the Atlantic here conflated with the South American country; the characters noted here are mentioned (but, bar one, not featured) in the novel

Huayna Ccapac, King of Hy Brasil; died in 1825, twelve years before this narrative; cousin of King Mabon; the name derives from a real Inca ruler called Huayna Capac who died exactly three centuries before his fictional counterpart, in 1525; he is conflated here with Hu Gadarn, a mythical Welsh figure invented by Iolo Morganwg (died 1826)
Huascar Ccaedmon, son of Huayna; Huáscar was Inca ruler until 1532, while the original Cædmon was a Northumbrian poet mentioned by the Venerable Bede
Atahallpa, found abandoned as a baby on the shore of Lake Arianrhod, adopted as son of Huayna though there is no love lost between Atahallpa and Huascar; identical with Gwydion and Mr Holystone and eventually recognised as High King Arthur, Artaius Mercurius Ambrosius, true son of Uther Ambrosius, Rex Quondam, Pendragon of Cumbria, Lyonesse and Hy Brasil etc. etc.; the real Atahualpa was another son of Huayna, brother of Huascar, and Inca ruler until assassinated in 1533 by the Spanish under Pizarro

* * * * *

You will have noticed that this is a very large cast of characters. However is the casual reader to keep track of them all? Well, of course they aren’t: the key personages are very memorable and distinct, but the purpose and effect of the supporting cast is to create certain impressions. First to be noted are the crew of HMS Thrush, almost all sporting names that are clearly nautical and emphasising their links with the sea. Next are the inhabitants of ‘Roman America’ — taking a lead from the Welsh communities in Patagonia in the south of Spanish-speaking Argentina, Joan has mixed Welsh and Spanish names to create an ambience of hybrid cultures. (New Cumbria is derived from the Welsh name for their country — Cymru — meaning a nation of fellow countrymen; compare Cambria as a archaic name for Wales and also modern Cumbria, the county in northwest England which includes the former county of Cumberland.)

 Thirdly, she’s introduced a sense of the original inhabitants preceding the arrival of Europeans by referencing those Inca rulers; there are also whispers of forest-dwellers called Biruvians, derived from early names the Spanish gave to parts of the Inca lands such as Perú, Biru, Virú, Pirú and Berú. The mass human sacrifices, including child sacrifices, that are associated with Inca religion seems to have influenced Aiken’s conception of why Queen Ginevra needed the cruel deaths of young people to maintain her immortality.

Finally, the interweaving of Welsh mythology and especially Arthurian legends in these names points up many of the associated themes that crop up in The Stolen Lake: the Lady of the Lake, the King Who Will Return, the Sword in the Stone, the Wild Hunt, the wizard adviser, the Otherworld Castle and so on. We’ll find similar themes when we come to look in detail at the geography of this alternate southern continent, Roman America.

* The pterodactyl-like Aurocs that Dido and her friends encounter on their trek across the high plateau leading to the Stolen Lake are doubtless a nod to Conan Doyle’s The Lost World with its prehistoric creatures.

9 thoughts on “Miss Pittikin Pattikin and others

  1. Lynn Love

    This is fascinating Chris. Joan Aiken really knew her history, didn’t she? Your research is polished, impecable as always. Can’t wait to read the next instalment

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Lynn! Yes, superficially just rip-roaring stories these tales are so rich it’s hard to know where to stop in uncovering the roots of Joan’s research and insights.

      For example, I forgot to mention that the three sempstresses who try to foist Dido into ‘lady-like’ attire (not to mention trying to kidnap her as a child sacrifice!) are of course the Three Fates of Greek and Norse myth, the original fays who control lives by weaving the cloth that represents their future or cutting the thread that determines their end. Ironically it is Dido who determines their fates …

      More of this to come!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. She must have been so knowledgeable – drenched in myths and fables and history. It’s part of the reason her writing survives and is still read – that and the rip roaring stories, of course 🙂 Great post, Chris

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Breathtaking research from the ever nimble Calmgrove…I am eagerly looking forward to further studies for the rest of the Wolves Chronicles which will help me immeasurably in the (long awaited..!) Wolves Timeline…

    From her wide reading, Joan was able to hold all these worlds in her imagination – the Arthurian, the Aztec and her own Roman America with its Welsh leanings – and scatter them generously into her story. She would so have relished you as a reader who could spot the references!

    Here’s my twopence worth – Hy Brasil comes back to play a part in The Witch of Clatteringshaws, the last book of the series, with a letter that arrives from the Governor of New Galloway – ‘Pater’ of Dido’s friend Woodlouse… Many spoilers rampant here so I’ll leave you in the lurch…

    But it brings back happy memories for Dido!

    ‘Well,’ said Dido, ‘when I was in New Cumbria, that’s next to Hy Brasil, there were some mighty rummy old gals there. If they weren’t witches, they was the next best thing. One of ’em turned into an owl and flew about at night. And she got shot and turned back into herself again. But dead.’

    And something you will enjoy – I’m sure Miss Pittikin Pattikin bears some relation to ‘Hickety Pickety, my black hen’ ( Joan obviously had the Oxford Book of Nursery Rhymes &c.) which turns out to be about soliciting and young ladies, but not for a Queen’s lunch!


    1. What kind comments, Lizza, thank you! Yes, I’m really enjoying retrawling through the earlier novels until I get to the ones I’ve only read once — like ‘Clatteringshaws’ with its valedictory tying up of threads.

      The alliterative Miss Pittikin Pattikin reminded me more of the Pit-a-cake pat-a-cake baby’s rhyme than of the Black Hen though that was a fascinating discussion you pointed me to. (That rhyme also echoes ‘Cock-a-doodle doo, my dame has lost her shoe etc’.Wonder if that’s on the same suggestive theme!)

      WordPress has very kindly suggested another related post to mine, this time comparing Philippa Pearce and Joan’s neo-Victorian novels: https://victorianist.wordpress.com/2016/08/12/neo-victorian-review-neo-victorianisms-overlooked-authors-2-joan-aiken-philippa-pearce/

      And I’ve been dipping into Charlotte Bronte’s ‘silver fork’ chronicles, her Tales of Angria. I’ve only recently come across this genre as a term, and realise that Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell would be also classed as such. And though I knew that Angria had something to do with the Brontes I was delighted to see that Charlotte’s tales were available in a mass market edition. As I’ll be coming to Limbo Lodge soon, where Angria appears in a different context, I thought I should be casting my reading net a bit wider!


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