Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

It was dusk– winter dusk.
Snow lay white and shining over the pleated hills, and icicles hung from the forest trees. Snow lay piled on the dark road across Willoughby Wold, but from dawn the men had been clearing it with brooms and shovels. There were hundreds of them at work, wrapped in sacking because the bitter cold, and keeping together in groups for fear of the wolves, grown savage and reckless from hunger.
Snow lay think, too, upon the roof of Willoughby Chase, the great house that stood on an open eminence in the heart of the wold. But for all that, the Chase looked an inviting home– a warm and welcoming stronghold. Its rosy herringbone brick was bright and well-cared for, its numerous turrets and battlements stood up sharp against the sky, and the crenelated balconies, corniced with snow, each held a golden square of window. The house was all alight within, the joyous hubbub of its activity contrasted with the somber sighing of the wind and the hideous howling of the wolves without.
In the nursery a little girl was impatiently dancing up and down before the great window, fourteen feet high, which faced out over the park and commanded the long black expanse of the road.
"Will she be here soon, Pattern? Will she?" was her continual cry.
– The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

Don't you just want to be inside, peering out one of those golden squares of a window!
I discovered this book at a yard sale when I was probably around 12. I still remember what the yard looked like, and what the experience was like when I found what would become my all-time favorite book. The pages have become a light brown over time, and the smell when you bury your nose in this tome is heavenly. The copyright on my copy is 1962, and it shows, but that just means its been well loved.
Before it fell into my hot little hands a girl named Patty owned it. She left her mark on the inside cover, and when I was younger, I often wondered who Patty was, where she was, and why in the world she was willing to part with this wonderful story.
The saga is set in Britain in what I can only assume is the later part of the 19th century. It's the tale of two young girls who must travel across England, with the help of a young boy, in order to find safety from a wretched governess. I will say no more in hopes of luring you into reading it. Yes, it's a children's novel, but I still think it's worth reading. After all, the Harry Potter series is supposedly for children.
I just went on Amazon to make sure this book was still available, and it turns out it's the first in a series of 13 books, entitled The Wolves Chronicles. Now I have to go buy the other 12!

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