Saga’s ending

Joan Aiken 1924-2004

Next year it will be sixty years since what is now regarded as a modern classic was published; as well as being a delightful children’s novel The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962) unexpectedly proved to be the start of a series of instalments set in an alternative world of the early 19th century.

Six years ago I began a reread of all of Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles (as her daughter Lizza dubbed them) with a view to thoroughly exploring through reviews and discussion posts the alternative history world she’d created. (Incidentally, these posts can be read in chronological order via this link or in reverse order using the tag Wolves Chronicles.)

I’ve now, after a dozen or so titles, started on the last ever of these chronicles, The Witch of Clatteringshaws which was published in 2005, a year after her untimely death: Aiken, who was born nearly a century ago on 4th September 1924, in Rye, East Sussex, passed away on 4th January 2004, in Petworth, West Sussex, but not before completing the final instalment in novella form.

You may have noticed that I’ve been slowly working my way through her extensive work, encompassing as it does children’s fiction, Regency novels, picture books, Gothic thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, short stories and much else. Just now, though, I’m concentrating on concluding the run of novels also variously known as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase saga, the James III sequence, or the Dido Twite series.

While James III was the monarch for only a few of the novels, and wolves were never in every story, Dido Twite appeared in over half of the titles — and she is unarguably the principal star of the finale — so I’m happy sometimes to refer to the sequence as the Dido Twite series. She’s come a long way from her first waif-like appearance in Black Hearts in Battersea (when she met her friend Simon in London) — around the world in fact.

As we’ll discover, The Witch of Clatteringshaws will have many of the ingredients of the previous instalments — railway journeys, conspiracies, sudden deaths, psychic occurrences, revelations about previously unknown relationships, cliffhangers, rhymes, songs and, above all, sharply delineated characters whom we’ll cheer or boo according to what roles they play.

I do hope you’ll join me with Dido and her friends as we embark on the beginning of the end of the saga. Will there be any more wolves? You’ll have to wait to find out!

© C A Lovegrove

10 thoughts on “Saga’s ending

  1. Now you have set me searching – I was fairly sure there was a wolf in every work!

    Certainly all her villains have wolfish qualities, even turn into them, or meet their ends because of them.
    Joan Aiken acknowledged her debt to early Wolf Lit. so I felt there was more than enough justification to give the series its Chronicle nickname, quite proud of it in fact! As Katherine Rundell wrote in her introduction to the Folio ‘Wolves’ – “Every little girl loves a wolf”!

    A Wonderful Year for Wolves…

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    1. Now I too am misdoubting myself! Are there wolves in Limbo Lodge or The Stolen Lake, for example? Dangerous beasties for sure but I don’t remember wolves in Aratu, though I’m willing to be corrected. 🙂

      But there are definitely vulpine and lupine characters throughout, who growl and metaphorically show their teeth or, as in Dido and Pa and, especially, Midwinter Nightingale, revert to their bestial nature.

      And, you’re right, Katherine’s “Every little girl loves a wolf” observation is so apt: from Sylvia (whose name alludes to woods though her cape and name are both Green) to Dido in equatorial forests or Is in Blackheath woods our female leads are veritable Red Riding Hoods whom we desperately hope will win the mortal game of What’s the Time, Mr Wolf?

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    1. Glad to have awoken some nostalgic memories, Andy! True readers always retain images of where their favourite library books and authors were shelved … only the books, of course, pity any poor writers forced to sit in library cubby holes awaiting eager young bibliophiles. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really must get to (or should that be back to) these books soon; I read and very much enjoyed the first two, and did mean to continue but as always, it became a case of too many books…

    I’ve been enjoying your posts on the books very much and look forward to the ones to come as well as revisiting old ones when I get back to the books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Mallika, I’m always diffident about these detailed posts, wondering if they’ll hold any interest for those unfamiliar with the series, so you’ve helped allay my anxieties!

      It’s interesting though, looking at social media, how many adults enjoy reading these, either to their children or for themselves, or have fond memories from their own childhood. It definitely suggests to me there’s something special about the series.

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  3. Having read and loved my first Joan Aiken book recently, I’m definitely interested in reading the Wolves Chronicles at some point. When I do, I’m sure I’ll find it helpful to refer to your earlier posts on the series!

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    1. Good to know, Helen, thanks! This series of novels can be read just for the thrilling ride offered by the narrative but for me (speaking with musician’s hat on) there are so many overtones and even undertones to appreciate that it would be a shame not to point them out to potential readers!

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