Can you imagine that this might be a Willoughby family Christmas card showing a festive stroll in the park for Sir Willoughby and Lady Green with their adopted niece Sylvia, taking gifts to Aunt Jane in the Dower House? Perhaps Bonnie is off shooting wolves with Simon in order to safeguard Lady Green’s new herd of deer (and maybe bag her mother another handsome wolf stole?) Or maybe she is back home at Willoughby Chase, tyrannising the Cook, Mrs Shubunkin and the kitchen staff and being adored and spoiled with sugar plums as they prepare the gigantic Christmas turkey and dozens of figgy puddings, with a sprinkling of diamonds due to be concealed inside them instead of sixpences, when Aunt Hettie brings them down from London…
Many readers always hoped to meet the two heroines of Willoughby Chase one more time, and have them meet the Duke and Duchess of Battersea – Simon’s new found family, and so here Joan Aiken did have a go at a merry sequel, but it turned out to be too tongue in cheek, even by her own pretty wild standards to ever see the light of day…
So I’ll take the liberty of sharing a taster or two of her imagined
Christmas at Willoughby Chase!
When Joan Aiken imagined the famous first volume of the Wolves Chronicles, she was planning to replicate the eye-watering dramatic reading of her own early childhood, full of oubliettes and haunted castles, blunderbusses and shipwrecks, as these were the kinds of wild adventure that she had most enjoyed, rather than some of the more saccharine tales generally recommended for children growing up in the 1920’s.
But when she herself became a children’s writer, she was always very concerned for the well-being of her readers, as she wrote in her spirited guide The Way to Write for Children:
So did she believe there must always be happy endings? These are not necessarily a good idea, she realised, because if you have tidied everything up and polished off all future adventures for your characters, then where is the next story to come from…?
And so in this madcap short festive tale that Joan has cooked up, everything goes wildly wrong, and there is certainly a spot of misfortune, if not total tragedy! The puddings turn out to have been poisoned by an impostor cook called Mrs Svengali, who has lured Mrs Shubunkin away with a false message, and the festive diamonds meet an unfortunate fate when the Battersea coach is held up by the impostor’s fiendish highwayman friends – these, luckily, are seen off in tremendous style by Bonnie and Sylvia who have been practising with their crossbows on the battlements!
The ever resourceful Bonnie, determined that the Christmas preparations will not be spoiled, turns to the newly arrived Duchess of Battersea (Simon’s Aunt Hettie) saying:
Even for Christmas Joan Aiken can’t quite allow herself a completely happy ending – let’s hope the ever capable Mrs Shubunkin has some spirits of Rhubarb on hand for poor Aunt Hettie – like many a Happy Christmas, this one might end with the need for a dose of salts!
I hope you (and Joan Aiken!) will forgive me for this bit of festive nonsense!
Find out about the real Wolves sequels here!