Joan Aiken enjoyed some very happy relationships with her illustrators, notably Pat Marriott, who illustrated her first story collections from 1953 onwards, and was responsible for the first ‘Wolves Chronicles’ covers and pictures, and so helped to create some of the best loved ( and scariest!) characters in the series. Pat became so familiar with Joan Aiken’s style that she developed a special gift for bringing those characters to life, and in this case it is their animal characters that come to mind. Better known as a cat lover, Joan Aiken also produced some delightful canine characters, and this illustration particularly captures the sympathy with which she describes the happy doggy nature of a tribe of hitherto listless and unloved collies who finally find a master – and something useful to do!
In a story called ‘The Man who Pinched God’s Letter’ postman Fred, and orphaned Emma have fallen foul of local busybodies in the village of Incaster Magna – he has been exiled to Outcaster Parva ( a free gift of Joan’s inventive gift for names!) and she is about to be burned as a witch. But in true fairy tale tradition, Fred’s kindness to those in need – in this case the bored dogs of Outcaster Parva who he has been taking for walks and training to fetch sticks – serves him in good stead.
The outraged citizens of Incaster are gathered round a huge bonfire where poor Emma is tied to a stake, when Fred, followed by the faithful collies of Outcaster arrives at the scene:
In the course of her writing life, Joan Aiken wrote perhaps five hundred short stories, (one day I shall have to count…) for magazines, anthologies, and collections of her own for readers of all ages, and she always said that they came to her in a marvellous rush – from dreams, from overheard conversations, from long forgotten ideas which suddenly tied in with a new one, from travelling through villages with extraordinary names? But what is certain, is that they are among her most memorable work. Who could forget those hundred-and forty-two eyes lighting up with joy – and the irresistible invitation to illustrate them?
This story is from the collection The Faithless Lollybird
Great to see that Favourite Aiken Moments could be a good idea?
If you send me suggestions I’ll put some up on the Joan’s Quotes page of the blog.
Here’s some friendly advice from the lost Queen’s boots in
Over the Cloudy Mountains, the first story in “The Winter Sleepwalker”
illustrated by Quentin Blake
‘Twelve layers thick of stiff,rolled-up rug, all glued together with fried potatoes, formed a wrap that was solid as oakwood. And when at last her head did begin to emerge from its carpet-collar, Is found that she had nothing much to be thankful for. Instead of being pressed against a filthy carpet, her cheek now lay on stony, gritty, freezing ground. It was dark, with no moon or stars to give comfort; on the contrary, a fine thick snow was falling, blowing like dust into the folds of the rug.
“Snow!” said Is in disgust. Why it ain’t but November!”
But then she recalled how far north she had travelled, into a colder darker part of the country. Humberland.
….A massive stone building loomed up on her right…a church…somewhere she had heard that church doors are always open. The first door she approached had a white paper on it, just visible, and writing on the paper: PLEASE ENTER BY SOUTH DOOR.
There! she could hear Penny’s triumphant voice: now do you see how handy it is to be able to read? Yus, and which way is south? Is retorted, but she acknowledged that if she kept walking round the church she must in the end find the south door.’
Is (Underground) Wolves Chronicles
Illustration by Pat Marriott
Do you have a favourite Aiken moment, from a letter or a talk that Joan gave? Or something from a story, a quotation from Dido perhaps?
Here’s a piece about Dido’s two sisters, Penny and Is (short for Isabett, but no one ever seems to call her that!) Is, trying to avoid the guards on the sinister PLAYLAND EXPRESS has dived into a roll of carpet, and now while she’s wondering how to get out again, has a moment for reflection. Interesting that Pen who teaches Is to read has made use of some of Joan’s own stories, like The Three Wishes, and possibly some of her own philosophy?
“She thought about Penny’s stories. There was one about a man who had three wishes and married a swan. If I had three wishes, I know what I’d wish for, thought Is. I’d wish for those two boys to be found, and for us all to be back on Blackheath Edge. She thought about Penny teaching her to read.
“What’s the point of reading?” Is had grumbled at first. “You can allus tell me stories, that’s better than reading.”
“I’ll not always be here,” Penny had said shortly. “Besides, once you can read, you can learn somebody else. Folk should teach each other folk what they know.”
“If you don’t learn anything, you don’t grow. And someone’s gotta learn you.”
Well, thought Is, if I get outta here, I’ll be able to learn some other person the best way to get free from a rolled-up rug.”
Is (Underground) The Wolves Chronicles