Book of the Week: Wolves Of Willoughby Chase

Sometimes we read to improve ourselves. Sometimes, to learn from others’ mistakes. Maybe we read to pretend we’re smart and know things. And then sometimes, we read for the sole purpose of playing make-believe.

Wolves of Willoughby Chase is one of the latter.  If you have ever wanted to be a rich 12-year-old girl wandering through secret passageways, wearing pelisses (whatever they are, it sounds like luxury), and going on adventures with the goose-boy—then this book is for you. For the rest of you, I deeply apologize. You may want to keep your smelling salts nearby in case you get queasy.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a fun book! Here’s the plot: Bonnie is the aforementioned girl with oodles of money and few cares in the world. Cousin Sylvia comes to live with Bonnie just as Bonnie’s parents are leaving on a long voyage. The cousins’ adventures begin, however, when an evil governess takesover the estate in absence of parents. The girls are sent to a boarding school in conditions worthy of a Dickens novel, and all is surely in despair—what will they do??

Seriously, I don’t want to ruin it for you. I liked the solution. (It involves Simon the goose-boy.)

I get shivers just looking at it. I'd take wolves over this bad boy any day.

Wolves of Willoughby Chase is part fairy-tale, part social novel, and a little scaryness thrown in. The wolves from the title would have frightened me badly as a kid (heck, we watched “Pinocchio” when I was three and I dreamed about giant man-eating whales for years—so maybe I’m a bad judge).  For the overall feel, think Series of Unfortunate Events, minus the doom and despair.  But that’d be a whole different book series, wouldn’t it?

Willoughby Chase‘s only major life lesson is that one should always check the evil governess’ references before leaving on vacation. But author Joan Aiken wrote about things she liked, which can be a good deal better than pleasing an audience. And in this case, she did both.

If you liked this book, you might also like:

other books by Joan Aiken
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
and, if you’re willing to wade through long sentences (which you obviously are if you read this blog…) any books by Charles Dickens

(Speaking of Charles Dickens, Oprah has recently discovered him. Good to know his existence has been validated.)

What do you guys think? Aiken’s plot seems rather unoriginal to me—but maybe that’s overrated. Do authors need to be original–or should they just write about whatever they like?


[click on photos for photo credits.]


5 thoughts on “Book of the Week: Wolves Of Willoughby Chase

  1. I find it fun living vicariously through fairy tale books, sci-fi novels, and fishing shows. Beats the daily Ag report. Writer should write their fantasies but if my vicarious life gets threatened form a book I start hearing voices….”Gaaarrrry…go fiiisssshhhing.

    • Hahaha, yes, those voices can be pretty persuasive : ). Mine usually end up being a list of all the things I need to do, which is significantly less fun than fishing. I hope you listen to your voices occasionally : ).

  2. Gary’s voice sounds like my husband’s!
    Are there ANY author’s that are really original? Or is it their way of telling it that is original? And then, if they are really speaking from their own voice (whatever that is), it IS original. It’s just that some of us sound like everyone else. I LOVE a good story (don’t we all)…it’s just where the inflections go and the emphasis. Kind of like life.
    I read the Wolves of Willoughby Chase years ago and don’t remember a whole lot (even the ending, surprise, surprise) but I do remember there was a good friend to the rich girl, a young helper sort of boy (“goose” is starting to bring it back to my memory) and the evil governess. And there is snow in there too, I think. Your blog is making me want to remember the ending. Maybe I’ll be rereading it soon.
    I think I heard David Brooks talking (on a PBS program recently about his new book) that reading broadening our experiences, creating our heroes, etc. So…even if it is a retelling of a rich girl’s story, I relive the adventure with her–the choices she makes, the consequences she experiences from those choices, the dreams she holds, the friendships she develops, etc. Sounds good to me. Josie…..go reeeeeeaaaaadddd!

  3. Elena,

    You’ve persuaded me to read this book! If I had time, I would pick it up:) I love reading for the sake of make believe. I think it would be brilliant for you to feature a list of books that people should read post-college (aka a list of escapism stories like this one). I think your “If you like this book, you must also like” is a great addition to this post. I absolutely LOVED the “Secret Garden” growing up, so I know I would like to pick up “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase”. It’s funny that Opera has recently discovered Dickens. This means 85% of American women will now be discovering him as well. What do you think the repercussions of this will be?

  4. It does sound like a fantasy novel! And I love those to death, but I agree with your thoughts about unoriginality. It seems to me like most of it (with the exception of maybe the goose-boy…that’s a new one for me) is one of the typical children-in-trouble-due-to-adult’s-mistakes type of book. The good thing? That can lead to adventures, the basis of a fantasy novel. And depending on the type of fantasy–take young adult, for instance–I feel like authors can get away with a little more unoriginality than in an adult book. Younger readers find comfort in familiar types, I think, and are more likely to enjoy the book if they think they might be able to guess what happens next. And reading for the sake of make-believe: Love it.
    I read “The Secret Garden” when I was younger, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend it, but maybe that’s just because when I read it, I had no real knowledge of what was cliché and what made a good story. I just know that I liked it. I might have to go back and reread it.

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