Vote and Rate Jamie Clubb's articles and reviews

Friday 4 September 2015

Of Ravens and Wolves - Tribute to Joan Aiken

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (film)
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Today I was reminded by a very nice doodle on Google that is the 91st birthday of the great children's novelist, Joan Aiken. Aiken was one of the staple children's authors who's work coloured a lot of my childhood upbringing in the Cotswolds. I heard her stories of Mortimer the raven on BBC's Jackanory and then again in my sixth primary school, where it seemed the majority of our reading material was illustrated by Quentin Blake! Later on, I became aware of her other work. Her Wolves Chronicles, particularly the first installment, "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase", were particularly inspirational in later ideas I would have as an adult.

When I moved back to the Cotswolds with my baby daughter, my thoughts often returned to Aiken's work, even if my eyes didn't. I found myself thinking on the worlds she created as I pushed a pram up a steep hill as winter drew near. That tinge of Gothic that touched upon most of Aiken's work put her years ahead of the trend that has shaped a lot of children's fiction, in film and literature, over the last two decades. Ahead of Phillip Pullman's steam punk and other children's alternative history authors, Aiken presented futures that touched strongly on reality. She held her hand with discipline when it came to applying fantasy elements and wove them believeable into the text. This is what makes the Wolves Chronicles so appealing.

Sadly very little of Aiken's prolific body of work has been adapted to the big screen or television. Despite her winning several prestigious awards a fair evaluation of her work's impact on literature is long overdue. The entire Wolves Chronicles need reviewing for adaptation. In a time when High Fantasy might have peaked Aiken offers us something decidedly different and yet, I feel, many will find surprisingly familiar.

Don't forget to check out Jamie Clubb's main blog