The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
Summer of Fear by Louis Duncan
It’s hot outside and no matter how cool my house can get, I always find myself unable to get to sleep. The middle of the night, when I’m jazzed up about nothing, is when I like to read horror. It’s been this way for years. When I was young enough to have a bedtime, I had a night light at the corner of my bed and would strain my eyes reading at the end of my bed. Books were especially frightening in the dim light when I was alone in the room and everyone else in the world asleep.
The following aren’t so much horrors as they are thrillers, but for an elementary school kid they’re chillers indeed. This is a post of nostalgic and terrible books.
When my brother and I were in school, Mom would read chapter books to us at breakfast. I think it was more a tactic to keep us from falling asleep in our cereal than a lesson in literature. (Parents, read to your kids for entertainment and they won’t suspect you’re trying to educate them or shut them up for ten minutes!) The Wolves if Willoughby Chase was read to me when I was in elementary school. The cover explains my fear of large, black dogs.
My copy once belonged to someone else, for their name is inside. It’s in pretty good condition for having been published in 1962. I should add mine to it in a similar, careful cursive. The pages and spine are sun-dyed, of course, but the only damage from use is a few nicks on the corners. Opening the book, the ends easily fall open because my mom liked to completely flatten a book as she read it from the table. I can often identify which of my books she read to me because if this. (Morning Girl by Michael Dorris, you were the most loved.)
Although I didn’t care for the story this time around, I believe schools could benefit from using it in history class. Readers get to live in Victorian England, and learn words such as “posset” and “crewel.” They learn common sense survival like making flour out of crushed chestnuts and using various home decor fabric to make traveling clothes. It puts things into perspective and provides historic vocabulary words.
The story didn’t emotionally engage me, and I can’t believe this became a series. Well, it was the 60’s. I do applaud Aiken for using the wolf as a metaphor for a villain. Until I finished the book, I hadn’t realized this. The actual wolves disappeared from the story when the children left their town, but they continued to be haunted by the horrible person they’d left behind because the antagonist put them in dire straits.
I shall never get rid of this book, but I may not read it again. Oh, well. Not all books in this challenge were to be wonderful. It’s the experience I’m after.
I couldn’t find a picture of my copy’s cover of Summer of Fear. I feel special.
Take yourself to the 1970s! Writers use words like “bureau”, “horrid”, and “folks”. Teenagers obey their parents and listen to records. The word “pussy” is innocent backwoods slang, but “dumb slob” is vulgarity. I always like to guess when a novel was published while reading it, and I was right. The cover was a dead giveaway because of the fashion worn, but there was also something so vanilla about the writing for teens. I can’t believe I used to read a lot of these books.
My copy was withdrawn from the public library. My name is on the back cover. The pages are terribly sunbleached and the ink has gone blurry, but my gosh. I love paperbacks. Especially the ones that encourage you to order the books listed in the back. “Richard Peck is tuned into teens! $2.95 each.” Books were $3 by mail! How I wish I lived in that time. I would have ordered so many badly-titled horrors. (Old lady voice: “Back in my day, they were $4.99.”) My inner Marvel lover is telling me to seek a book titled Cal Cameron By Day, Spider-man By Night by A.E. Cannon.
If there’s a lesson in Summer of Fear, it might be a lesson on how to justify your jealousy of another girl. (Spoilers ahead!) What if, after all that blaming, she wasn’t really a witch? Sometimes a string of bad things happen to you and there’s nothing supernatural about it. I have come to loathe climaxes where the protagonist and antagonist simply stand there and talk to each other. It’s easy to do, yes, and people do need to talk once in a while, but chick thrillers need more action and less thinking. I enjoyed being on the journey, but dang it, Rachel! Also, Professor Jarvis might not have died if Rachel had just disobeyed her father and gone to talk to Jarvis instead of allowing herself to be grounded for a whole morning (a punishment I didn’t quite understand because her father wasn’t around to enforce it). Do you see what I mean by vanilla? Rachel knew people’s lives were potentially at risk, but she marched right upstairs when her father told her to.
I’ll be honest; I did not enjoy this the second time around. For a 10-year-old, yes, it’s magical and mysterious, but I will be giving this book away because my shelves need to be free for better tales. My nostalgia has been sufficiently fed for now.
7 titles down, 45 to go.
Days left: 60.
I’ve reserved some better horror novels from the library, but I’m always taking suggestions. Anything except Goosebumps. I’ve read too many of those.