There is a note on the first page of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase stating ‘The action of this books takes place in a period of history that never happened’ – and describes a time after James III ascends the throne, and a tunnel between Dover and Calais has allowed a great many wolves to migrate from Russia to Great Britain. I love the phrasing Joan Aiken uses -‘a period of history that never happened’ – it makes it seem almost possible. However, I do wonder somewhat at how necessary is was to make up a part of history for this novel. While the wolves play a large part at the beginning of the novel, they don’t play a huge part throughout the book, and, as far as I can tell, history is unchanged apart from the appearance of wolves everywhere – so many wolves that they can stop a train from travelling through the night. The rest of the story, I believe, could have taken place in the history that really happened. However, I know that they are another eleven titles in this series, so perhaps the fabricated history plays a larger role in some of the other novels.
I wonder, somewhat, whether Joan Aiken used the idea of history that is not really history in order to excuse some of the less believable aspects of the story. I think I have a pretty big ‘suspension of disbelief’ ability. There have been plenty of movies where other people have gone, ‘that would never happen!’ or ‘that is so unrealistic’ but I have been so absorbed that I have swallowed whatever the story has fed me. So for me to say that something was a bit unbelievable makes me feel that perhaps, so someone not as gullible to me, they would find aspects of the story very unrealistic. But, even though I had to chew a bit harder than usual, I still swallowed most of what Aiken fed me. And, I must say, it was written with that old-fashioned slant that I love, where characters are quirky and funny and very proper, so I liked that as well. But would the story have anything taken away from it if it had been written in real history? I’m not sure. I am keen to read ‘Black Hearts at Battersea’, the next book in the series, to see if this imaginary history is expanded on. Right now, however, I am a chapter in to Ian Fleming’s ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’. I am finding no problem suspending my disbelief there – I am dying to get my hands on a piece of Crackpot Whistling Sweets!