Dido & Pa



by Joan Aiken

Published 1986

In the last account of Dido’s adventures, The Cuckoo Tree, Dido runs into her father.  A staunch Hanoverian (in Aiken’s AU, the Scottish James III, and then his son, Richard, are on the throne; an underground political group desires to bring the German Hanoverian to rule over Britain instead, and most of the plots in the Wolves Chronicles are based on a Hanoverian plot of some kind), Mr. Twite is also a passionate musician.  The rest of Dido’s family (except for her older sister who eloped in Black Hearts in Battersea), was killed in an explosion (a literal backfire of a Hanoverian plan), so Dido is surprised to find her father alive and well, traveling under various assumed names to avoid arrest.

Well, Mr. Twite kidnaps his own daughter and spirits her away to London to be used as a pawn in the latest political scheme.  Per usual, the part of the book that I enjoyed was Dido herself.  She has developed, through the course of these books, from a rather aggravating urchin in Black Hearts to an intelligent, practical, humorous young woman.  But the rest of the book was just as confusing and verging-on-disturbing as the other more recent books in the series.

First off, we find that Dido’s father is living with a prostitute, with whom he had apparently been having an affair for many years.  The way that it is presented seemed, to me, a bit out of place in children’s book.  (Please keep in mind that many of my criticisms for these books are because they are published as children’s books; I think that a great deal of the material is very dark and almost morbid – not the type of material I’d like to hand any child, really.)  The other regular occupant of the household is Isadora, or Is, who is constantly referred to by Twite and his mistress as “the Slut.”  (I was relieved to find, however, that common British slang uses “slut” as a slovenly woman, not necessarily one who is sexually promiscuous, which is how the word is most often used here in the States; Is seemed far too young for the latter definition to apply with any kind of appropriateness.)  Is is abused, neglected, starved, and beaten, all quite callously.  Dido alone cares, but in many ways even Is herself has given up on life, and it’s a bit creepy.

Throughout the story, several people are rather brutally knocked off, and in the end, even Dido’s own father is killed pretty gruesomely, as he is pursued and beaten by a horde of angry street children (who have discovered that he was willing to let Dido die for the sake of his own preservation), and left, unconscious, to be eaten by the wolves that are invading London.

A stone flew, and hit him in the mouth.

“Come, come now!”  said Mr. Twite, wiping away mud, and possibly a tooth.   …

Another stone flew, and then several more.  Mr. Twite began to run.  He raced into the park, followed by the whole crowd of children.  They yelled and flung objects – anything they could pick up – eggs, oranges, shoes.  Mr. Twite ran desperately across the park toward the river; but the storm of stones, shoes, and other articles became fiercer and fiercer.  At last, under it, he crumpled and fell to the ground.

At the sight of his fall, the children halted.  The looked at him doubtfully from a distance.  He still stirred feebly and moaned.

… “We’d best leave him be.  He ain’t much hurt – I don’t think.  He’ll pick hisself up, soon as we’re gone.  We don’t want the beaks arter us, saying we done him in.  We never.  He’s just a bit dazed, like.”

Everyone agreed.  Without wasting a moment, the crowd of lollpoops [street children] took themselves off, disappearing speedily along alleys and narrow streets …  in five minutes the park was empty, except for Mr. Twite.

But the wolves had come across the river … they found Mr. Twite lying among the missiles that had stunned him and they quite soon finished off what the children had begun.

Not exactly lighthearted fun.  That whole scene was quite abrupt, too.  I had no expectations of Mr. Twite’s sudden demise, although perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, as just that morning he had heartlessly witnessed the complete destruction of the house of his mistress and seemed to display only relief that the burden of keeping her happy could be shed.

There were other things that seemed strangely unexplained, like how the lead villain apparently was being kept alive somehow by Twite’s music, so when Twite didn’t show up to play, he died.

And before their aghast eyes the margrave [that’s the villain] began to shrink, to shrivel and dwindle; the lips pulled back from the teeth, the jaw fell open, the eyes glazed and filmed; witha  final rattling gasp, which sounded like a wild ironic cackle, the patient writhed from head to foot and lay lifeless on his bed.  And not merely lifeless: from the appearance, the chill, and the dreadful dank odor of the body, anyone just arriving in the room would conclude that it had been dead for several days, if not weeks.

Wait, what?  SHE NEVER EXPLAINS WHY.  Was he some kind of zombie, kept alive by the magical music of Twite?  There was never a sense of otherwordliness about him until his death, and that’s all we get, this strange implication that he’d been walking dead for a long time, and then we just move on, still confused and clueless.  (Or at least I was.  Maybe I’m completely dense and bad at these books?)

Overall, I can see these books appealing to and being enjoyed by some.  And Wolves of Willoughby Chase is still one of my childhood favorites.  But these later adventures in the Wolves Chronicles have just been a bit too dark, morbid, and confusing for my personal tastes.  Dido and Pa was a Paperback Swap find, and I do believe that it will be posted there again soon.  2/5.

The Neverending Story



by Michael Ende

Published 1979

So when I was a very little girl (as an aside, whenever I start stories about my young childhood days, I always verge on bursting out into song: “WHEN I WAS A YOUNG WARTHOG!” and I can’t even explain why ANYWAY), I can remember going to a sleepover for a friend’s birthday or something and we watched “The Neverending Story,” and all I remember was  being completely creeped out by it.  I was like six or maybe seven, so I think I was just too young to get it.  And so, I subconsciously avoided this book for years and years, until college, in fact, when a friend gave me this copy for my birthday, informing me that it was ridiculous that I had never read it.

Since then, I’ve read it several times, and I love it.  (Although I have to admit that I have still never watched the movie again!)  But my love for this book is a bit inexplicable.  The story is excellent, the pacing perfection, the characters unique and intriguing (although how I hate Ende’s “but that is another story for another time” gah seriously, what a cop out) and the observations about both Fantastica and our own world are insightful and thought-provoking.

I think I like the way that I don’t really like Bastien, and that Bastien isn’t a very good hero in many ways.  I love the imaginative creatures and Ende’s ability to describe them concisely yet well enough that I can immediately picture them in my mind.  This is fantasy at its best, in my mind.

So yes, this is a definite recommendation.  It’s a classic, it’s brilliant and beautiful writing, and it’s definitely worth your time.  5/5.

The Return of Jeeves

(This story is included in a single-bound collection of five Wodehouse novels, so I don’t have a picture of it to share!)

by: P.G. Wodehouse

Published 1953

I had never before read this particular Wodehouse novel, and when I started it, I realized that Wodehouse had done the unthinkable:  He separate Bertie from Jeeves.  For the entire book.  I kid you not.

The story opens with Jeeves serving as a butler at Towcester Abbey, the ancestral home of William Egerton Osingham belfry, ninth Earl of Towcester, more commonly known as Bill.  I was quite distressed until Jeeves explained where Bertie had got to:

“My relations with Mr. Wooster continue uniformly cordial, but circumstances have compelled a temporary separation.  Mr. Wooster is attending a school which does not permit its student body to employ gentlemen’s personal gentlemen.”

“A school?”

“An institution designed to teach the aristocracy to fend for itself, m’lord.  Mr. Wooster, though his finances are still quite sound, feels that it is prudent to build for the future, in case the social revolution should set in with even greater severity.  Mr. Wooster – I can hardly mention this without some display of emotion – is actually learning to darn his own socks.  The course he is taking includes boot-cleaning, sock-darning, bed-making and primary-grade cooking.”

The story moves along with the usual Wodehouseian methods, and classic descriptions such as

It was one of those lovely nights which occur from time to time in an English June, mitigating the rigors of the island summer and causing manufacturers of raincoats and umbrellas to wonder uneasily if they have been mistaken in supposing England to be an earthly Paradise for men of their profession.

Still, though, it’s like chocolate without peanut butter.  It’s good, it’s fun, but you know it could be better.  My favorite part of the Jeeves stories is actually Bertie’s narration, and I missed it a great deal during this story.  It was a fun time, but I really felt as though the story could have been told without Jeeves, especially as some of his actions seemed out of character (dressing up in a ridiculously garish disguise to help Bill be a bookie?  What?!), so this Wodehouse garnishes a 3/5.