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!