Vulpine villains

Cover illustration by Pat Marriott for the Puffin edition

Joan Aiken:
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
Red Fox 2004 (1962)

Though following the grand 19th-century novel tradition The Wolves of Willoughby Chase just lacks suitably teasing chapter headings, whether prosaic, witty, verbose or obscure.

I have taken it upon myself to remedy their absence in Joan Aiken’s mash-up of Dickens, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and a folktale from Jean de Bosschere’s Christmas Tales from Flanders.


Chapter 1. Bonnie Green awaits her first cousin Sylvia in snowbound Willoughby Chase; but first meets Miss Letitia Slighcarp, her fourth cousin (once removed) and new governess.
Chapter 2. In which Silvia Green leaves her Aunt Jane in London, only to be tempted by confections in a railway carriage and waylaid by wolves.
Chapter 3. Annabelle is startled — the curious case of the portmanteau — a dreamless slumber.
Chapter 4. The precarious incident of the wolves in the twilight — the archer boy in Willoughby Park.
Chaper 5. Sylvia and Bonnie dishonourably spy on Slighcarp, who thereby shows her true colours, and on Grimshaw who, remarkably, has recovered his composure.
Chapter 6. Weeks pass, winter deepens; a note goes awry after unwelcome news and waifs are sent away.
Chapter 7. Herein girls become ciphers, silence is not golden, and the hand of Friendshipp provides no succour.
Chapter 8. Bold Bonnie is locked in a cupboard and Sylvia, ill, locked in the coal cellar, but geese, cakes, cheese and eggs assuage more than hunger.
Chapter 9. In which a ladder to freedom is taken but our doughty trio must beware snakes in the grass.
Chapter 10. A doctor today keeps Jane’s illness at bay; Grimshaw goes for a gander, gets caught unawares and thrown down the stairs.
Chapter 11. Wherein a school of scandal is interrupted by the return of the natives, the fourth cousin is finally removed, and sundry lives are rounded with a sleep.

Can any true lover of literature fail to be thrilled by this synopsis and thus resist the urge to read this for the first, or even a further, time?

A review of the Puffin edition has previously been posted here, but a further perusal (in a different edition) for the Twitter readalong #WilloughbyReads encouraged me to supply the missing chapter headings

For more on this wonderful novel see this post, ‘A Wonderful Year for Wolves‘ by Lizza Aiken, on her mother’s “small masterpiece”, its influences and its reception.

With this review I’ve officially completed my Goodreads goal of reading (and reviewing) 52 books for 2019 … and we’re barely two-thirds of the way through the year. Dare I up my target to 78?!

18 thoughts on “Vulpine villains

  1. Love your chapter headings, Chris. Makes me want to read the book all over again.

    These struck me as particularly lovely –

    ‘only to be tempted by confections in a railway carriage and waylaid by wolves’

    ‘The precarious incident of the wolves in the twilight’ … lovely Holmesian reference there!

    ‘Grimshaw goes for a gander, gets caught unawares and thrown down the stairs’ … and nursery rhymes!

    Pitch perfect 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Vulpine villains — Calmgrove – Earth Balm Creative

  3. Having read that novel I can appreciate your tongue-in-cheek descriptions even better! I’d go as far as to propose them as a fixture in the new edition 🙂


    1. Hah, possibly! The next Wolves Chronicle up for forensic examination — Is / Underground — already has chapter headings (based on nursery rhymes in fact), but I may consider supplying them for the last few titles.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. earthbalm

    Am I correct in thinking it’s your birthday very soon? If so, have a very, very happy birthday. If not, have a great bank holiday weekend anyway.


    1. You’re correct, Dale, and how very kind to remember! On this day (though not the same year) Vesuvius is claimed to have erupted and the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre occurred, proving that it’s a day best avoided! Hope you have a equally good weekend 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Super job on the headings! They bring the story flooding back. I would read it again right now if I didn’t have “Black Hearts in Battersea” coming up after I finish my current read (Star Wars Ahsoka by E K Johnston – a quiet little gem of a story.)
    I really like the idea of having a short literary teaser trailer for each chapter. Was this a regular practice for 19th-century novels?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes they were! I’ve just completed Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley which has a mix of factual and humorous tongue-in-cheek headings, and this encouraged me to try the same for Wolves, but it was a common exercise a century or two ago: even the film version of E M Forster’s A Room with a View retained the author’s comic headings for each episode. This article gives some idea of the range of what was on offer then:


      1. Oh that’s really interesting! I’ve always preferred named chapters over numbered ones, but this is even more fun. I like the way they give a very slight indication of the main shape of the story. I like to start and stop reading at the chapter mark so having a little teaser for the next part is excellent! I wonder if little teasers like this might work in the classroom… “And after break we will be….etc. “? Thanks for a really thought provoking post!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. When I did a TEFL course us trainee teachers were encouraged to have a clear lesson summary on the whiteboard and never try to tease students with trick questions, all in the name of eliciting confidence and proficiency in using the target language.

          But in a classroom where a new language wouldn’t be a problem it would be an added dimension to get students’ minds engaged, I suspect, Jo, a little punny conundrum perhaps to get them thinking and allowing for a Eureka moment when they’d realise ‘Of course!’

          I wonder if that would work across the board in all subjects?


          1. I can see why it might not be good in a TEFL situation. (As someone who has failed to learn two foreign languages I would definitely appreciate a straight-forward approach.) I think it would be excellent in science education to really get students thinking and to have some fun. I think it could also work well in Key Stage 2. I would hesitate to use it in KS1 though, as their thinking is still quite concrete and they need a more straight-forward focus. I’m in KS2 next year for two days a week so I might give it a try!

            Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m a big fan of chapter headings and you’ve done a brilliant job here, Chris! I’m already primed and prepared to start reading the Wolves series but later in the year: they will be winter books for me. Once I start I shall return to these posts 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s always my hope, Sandra, that people will return here to enrich their reading experience after they’ve completed the relevant book, otherwise — you know — spoilers! But these teaser headings are designed to tell you next to nothing, or if they do tell you something to make you doubt that what they suggest isn’t misleading!

      Liked by 1 person

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