Still Scared: Talking Children's Horror

Still Scared: Talking Children's Horror

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

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In this episode we discussed the 1962 The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken and the 1989 film of the same name directed by Stuart Ome.

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The sound effects used in this episode are:

wolves by Ornery and bbklong

glass hit impact by felix.blume


Ren: Welcome to Still Scared: Talking Children’s Horror, a podcast about creepy, spooky and disturbing children’s books, films and TV. I’m Ren Wednesday, my co-host is Adam Whybray, and today we’re talking about the 1962 novel The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken. Enjoy!

(Theme tune plays)

Ren: Good evening, Adam!

Adam: Evening, and welcome to the Bonnie Green Fan Club!

Ren: Oh, she’s great! I particularly enjoyed her spirited pluckiness and willingness to throw water in the face of monstrous authority figures.

Adam: Absolutely! So, Bonnie is one of the two protagonists of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, by John Aiken.

Ren: Published in 1962, but set in 1832 in an alternative version of England—

Adam: — with wolves!

Ren: With wolves, yeah.

Adam: If this version of England had a log line it would be ‘What if Victorian England… but wolves!’

Ren: I think the differences between actual Victorian England and this version become more apparent in the sequels, but they’re not particularly elaborated on in this one. There’s quite a number of sequels.

Adam: I was going to say, there’s a good half a dozen isn’t there? She was quite prolific, it said on Wikipedia that she wrote over 100 books. The ones I know her for are the Arabella Mortimer books. Mostly because my brother was terrified of the television adaptation when we were kids. I don’t know if you ever saw it?

Ren: No…

Adam: So it’s about a girl with bushy hair whose best friend is a raven, called Mortimer, who just says ‘Nevermore’, and they get into various scrapes. But my brother generally was quite scared of puppets as a kid, and these particular puppets… I don’t know if it was the same company who did The Spooks of Boddle Bay, which we’ll have to talk about at some point on this podcast, they had quite large noses. But anyway, my brother really didn’t like it.

(Audio clip from Arabella Mortimer: Creaky sinister voice: ’That’s right, run away, run away! I’ll get that bird, you see if I don’t’)

Oddly, despite being scared of everything as a kid, I was quite fond of it.

Ren: That’s a change!

Adam: It was a very friendly raven.

Ren: I read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase as a kid, I think I had my mum’s copy from the ‘60s or ‘70s, and I read the first sequel Black Hearts in Battersea —

Adam: — It’s a great title!

Ren: I remember it being really good actually, lots of eerie cobbled streets and escaping in a hot air ballon. So I think we might have to come back to that one.

Adam: And looking at some of the books, some of them are described as steampunk, interestingly! Presumably this has been applied after the fact, but I found that interesting. I guess Victorian industrial cities like Manchester and London, and often a focus on big machines and transportation.

Although The Wolves of Willoughby Chase doesn’t start in the city.

Ren: No, so, it begins with young Sylvia leaving her elderly aunt Jane behind, to go and stay with her cousin Bonnie at the grand countryside estate of Willoughby Chase, as Bonnie’s parents are going away on a sea voyage for her mother’s health.

As the countryside is so over-run with wolves, the train has to make a sudden stop in the station, and the gentleman sharing Sylvia’s carriage gets knocked out by his own luggage. They end up taking him back to the Chase with Sylvia to recuperate.

This is my quite pared-down version of the plot but we can go into more detail. Just to give folks an idea.

So Lord Willoughby is away, he’s engaged a distant cousin, Miss Slighcarp, to act as governess to the girls and look after the estate. However, as soon as the parents are gone, Miss Slighcarp reveals that she doesn’t have the slightest interest in teaching, or children, or anything apart from reaping all the wealth of the estate for herself.

Adam: I don’t know, I think to be fair she’s quite interested in sadism as well.

Ren: No, that’s true.

Adam: Let’s not simplify her character, she does enjoy a bit of the being horrible to children.

Ren: Yes. I think that is one of her passions.

She does things like lock Bonnie in a cupboard. But they discover a secret passage in the house and start creeping around it, and they overhear Miss Slighcarp talking to the gentleman from the train, Mr Grimshaw, about forging a new will for Lord Willoughby. They realise that the two of them had known each other all along, and had cooked up this plan for him to get brought to the estate.

Bonnie and Sylvia try to send a note to the doctor asking for help, but it is intercepted. When Miss Slighcarp finds out their plans, she packs them off to the industrial and very Dickensian city of Blastburn, to the orphanage run by her friend, Mrs Brisket.

Adam: If you’re wondering about Mr Brisket, according to the film she made soap out of him!

Ren: Yep. He was drowned in a vat of lye by his wife, and made into poor-quality soap for the orphans to wash with.

Adam: If you want to know where Fight Club stole its ideas from.

Ren: So yes, Mrs Brisket is just as shady a character as Miss Slighcarp, and runs this illegal workhouse masquerading as a school, where the two girls are forced into drudgery.

It is there that Bonnie finds out that the ship her parents were on was sunk, and her parents are assumed dead.

But they are rescued from all this miserable horror by Simon, who is a boy who lives in the woods on the Willoughby Chase estate.

Adam: And what a boy!

Ren: Oh yeah, I love Simon. I thought ‘I’m going to enjoy this film’ when pretty much the first shot is Simon throwing a goose at the floor? He had a goose in his arms and instead of putting it down he just threw it.

Adam: I like that this is a surefire indication you’re going to enjoy a film: goose throwing?!

Ren: I thought it showed it had character!

But yes, he breaks them out of the orphanage, and they travel to London, and there’s a bunch of sleuthing around as they find out the truth about Miss Slighcarp and that she forged her way into the governess role at Willoughby Chase.

They eventually make it back to Willoughby Chase, only to find that Miss Slighcarp has turned it into a (cruel and abusive) school with Mrs Brisket.

They pretend that they’ve come back with their tails between their legs to beg for forgiveness, but actually they’ve turned up with some police and even Lord and Lady Willoughby who it turns out hadn’t drowned, but had survived the shipwreck, floating on a raft and eating bananas —

Adam: And grapes!

Ren: And grapes. And the shock to the system and the Vitamin C had apparently cured Lady Willoughby, and she was back to her bright and bubbly self.

So the conniving adults are arrested, and all is returned to how it should be.

Adam: It’s a thoroughly happy ending!

Ren: It is! And unlike in the film the horror winds down quite a lot from when Simon breaks them out of the orphanage, things are fairly calm.

Adam: I’d say the film only winds down in the last two minutes?

Ren: Yes, it has a very hectic last ten minutes.

Adam: You haven’t seen the last of the wolves! I think they felt that the title of the film is The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and while these wolves may also be metaphorical, you gotta give the kids what they want. Which is a loada wolves.

Ren: Plenty. Plenty of big fluffy wolves.

Adam: I didn’t check if there were any wolf-wranglers mentioned in the credits. It only stays in my mind because I remember when we saw that terrible Mel Gibson film. Don’t worry, we sort of snuck in. We bought tickets for a different film and then went to see The Beaver, and on the credits it had ‘puppet wrangler’.

Ren: Oh that’s where that’s from! I’d forgotten the context, but the phrase ‘puppet wrangler’ —

Adam: — has endured.

Ren: The dream job.

Adam: So this was the first time I’d read it! What were your memories of it, can you remember how old you were when you read it?

Ren: I think I read it a few times, but I was probably, say 9-11. I know it’s about the same time I was reading A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which I didn’t realise at the time, but The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a semi-pastiche of that kind of book.

Adam: So what’s A Little Princess?

Ren: It was written in 1905, and it’s about a girl called Sara Crewe who has grown up in India with her adoring father, but is then sent away to a boarding school in England where at first she’s treated with great indulgence and respect because her father’s so rich, but he suddenly dies in an accident, and it turns out he had mountains of debt and she loses all her status and toys and clothes, and is made to live in the attic and work for a living in this boarding school.

It also has a happy ending. Um… I’m faltering because I haven’t actually read the book in a long time and I’ve played instead, A Little Lily Princess, which is a visual novel based on A Little Princess, but has different and rather more lesbian endings.

So I can’t remember the canonical ending.

Adam: Because lesbian endings are intruding upon your consciousness.

Ren: Yes, I’m like ‘And then… she is gay’. No, that’s not how it originally ended.

Adam: The thing The Wolves of Willoughby Chase reminded me of, do you remember my housemate Stu used to do a puppet show called The Little Dying Orphans? I remember one of the orphans had to survive by eating their lung peas, which were little green bits of their lung they’d coughed up.

Ren: Well, the orphanage, particularly in the film is very Little Dying Orphans. More so in the film, I don’t think any of them actually die in the book.

Adam: There’s some proper death in the film!

So the film, we’re not quite talking Marianne Dreams into Paperhouse, where the film is a 15 and you have this almost adult interpretation of the book. This is still a kid’s film, I would say, but very much in the 1980s dark fantasy vein. And it doesn’t hold back on the killing!

Ren: I was quite surprised by how good the film was.

Adam: Yeah, same here! I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting much.

Ren: I don’t know, I sort of expected it to be a bit stuffy and dull.

Adam: A bit made-for-television maybe.

Ren: But when I watched it on YouTube the next thing that autoplayed afterwards was A Box of Delights, and I was like ‘Ah, okay’, these are very much a similar style of thing. I imagine we’ll talk about Box of Delights at some point, probably.

Adam: Oh yes, definitely. That is one I remember from childhood. My granddad recorded it on audio cassette for me, so I remember all the business of scrobbling people.

So this film was made on a budget, and as is often the way now, this meant picking up sticks and filming on location, in Prague!

Ren: Oh really!

Adam: So if you check the credits this is filmed at Barrandov Studios, so it’s the luscious forests of Bohemia. Which actually made a lot of sense when I discovered that, because it looks quite similar to a lot of Czech fairy tale films from the ‘60s. Like Three Nuts for Cinderella, which is a lovely film, I don’t think it’s quite dark enough, sadly, to justify talking about on this podcast. But that very deep snow, I think even by the 1980s you probably wouldn’t get snowfall like that over here.

Some interesting casting, Mel Smith of Smith and Jones being in it as one of the villains. Looking quite a lot like Robbie Coltrane, I thought.

Ren: Yep, he did. I don’t know who played Lord Willoughby but he did look a bit like you.

Adam: What?!?!

I don’t think you’re thinking of me, I think you’re thinking of my long-lost uncle Gerald Rumpus-Nubbins.

Ren: Maybe I am, yeah.

Adam: He looked a bit like Gerald Rumpus-Nubbins, I would agree to that.

Ren: We definitely need to talk about Stephanie Beecham as Miss Slighcarp.

Adam: She’s kind of like Angelica Houston in The Witches!

Ren: Well, yeah. I also thought she’s kind of doing a bit of a Nicholas Cage in this film.

Adam: Oh, why do you think that?

Ren: I just think she’s taking every opportunity to camp it up and put in strange little flourishes.

Adam: Yeah, it’s a very gestural mannered performance, it’s great.

Ren: She’s very vampy, and a fair bit younger than you’d imagine from the book, or at least than I imagined influenced by the illustrations which don’t suggest a young woman particularly.

But she likes to appear silhouetted in doorways, and at one point one of the girls comes across her dancing alone to herself.

Adam: There’s a bit of her in the bath admiring herself in the mirror while singing this strange ditty.

Ren: Well, she’s kind of trilling to herself.

Adam: Trilling is the right word I think!

Ren: A very interesting noise!

(Audio clip from The Wolves of Willoughby Chase of Miss Slighcarp well, trilling to herself in the bath)

And speaking of Angelica Houston, we get the idea in the film that Miss Slighcarp is completely bald, as a witch in The Witches.

Adam: Which as a YouTube commentator suggested, might be a signifier that she’s got syphilis. Which would make sense with its Victorian period setting.

Ren: There’s also an interestingly sexual undertone to her character that isn’t in the book, as she seems to be having some kind of dalliance with both Mr Grimshaw and Mrs Brisket, in my opinion.

Adam: Well there’s just a general large amount of randiness among the villains. All the villains seem randy somehow.

Ren: They do!

Adam: In an unwholesome sort of way,

Ren: There’s a bit where Miss Slighcarp is reclining in a chair with Mrs Brisket sitting between her thighs, and stroking her hair. And Mr Grimshaw is a very leech drunk.

Adam: There’s an interesting thing with the kids spying on then and kind of knowing, but not knowing. It’s not exactly that the kids are naive, but they’re like ‘ugh, adults’.

The two child performers are really good as well. Exceptionally well-cast. It’s one of those films where miscasting could have really sunk it. *

Ren: I was really surprised and pleased by how much Bonnie both looked and acted like I imagined her in the book.

Adam: She’s a scamp, and a rascal.

Ren: They have perhaps a slightly more realistic relationship in the film, than in the book. They’re slightly more antagonistic towards each other.

Adam: I think that’s true. In the book the two cousins are immediately on side and best of friends, but really they are personality-wise very different, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t immediately get on.

Ren: Yeah. Sylvia’s mild-mannered and has been brought up by her eminently respectable Aunt Jane.

Adam: Who has fallen on hard times, but still wants to keep the level of respectability up.

Ren: One of her pieces of advice to Sylvia as she put her on the train is ‘try to avoid abstract nouns, they upset people’.

Adam: Sylvia definitely feels the most transplanted out of Dickens, I think.

Ren: Apart from possibly poor Orphan Joey, who is sacrificed to the waters of the laundry.

Adam: Yeah! Oh, that’s awful. There’s this poor, very cute little orphan called Joey, little Joey, who is horribly drowned until death! I was really banking on him actually being okay. And it’s awful because the cloth that they’re washing gets caught over his head, so as he’s drowning he’s trying to get free, and the cloth is caught and pulled over his face like a death shroud. Really quite an upsetting image and he’s a very little child, and looks little.

I was rather shocked by that. But then very shortly after, a rather less sympathetic older boy called Rupert is rollered to death!

Ren: He’s Mrs Brisket’s son who is deputised to keep the orphans in order, and he’s crushed to death in the giant laundry mangle.

Adam: To the jubilance of the children, I will note!

(Audio clip from The Wolves of Willoughby Chase: sinister music, clunking machinery noises, screaming and then cheering)

I think the book is a little bit more merciful than the film.

Ren: I mentioned this to Alex, and they said ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to go through a laundry mangle’. So, as well as a desire to be a mouse…

Adam: So if Alex does get transformed into a mouse, you know what to do with hir. No, don’t do that, even if Alex is squeaking to be put in the mangle, don’t do it.

Ren: So Miss Slighcarp goes in to deliver the news of her son’s death to Mrs Brisket with the compassionate response: ‘Rupert’s dead! Get used to it!’

Adam: That felt a bit ad-libbed, I thought!

Ren: One of the notes I wrote while watching the film was Constance ‘the beef’ Brisket.

Adam: What???

Ren: Well you know beef brisket, the dish, I thought that could be a cool nickname for her. Constance ‘the beef’ Brisket.

Adam: Like if she was in a gang? Or… the mafia. If you want to write some fan-fic spinoff.

There are lots of really good lines added into the script of the film!

Ren: There are. When Mrs Brisket is first introduced, she opens the big iron door and says: ‘my name is Mrs Brisket, and my word is law!’

Adam: There’s also some pretty horrible talk. The villains really enjoy scaring the kids, and say that children have been forced to eat their own vomit. Which was particularly unpleasant.

One of my favourite retorts though is from Bonnie. You mentioned before that she’s locked up in the cupboard, understandably she seems to be crying and Sylvia comes up and says ‘Oh, don’t cry Bonnie’ and she says ‘I’m not crying, I’m laughing with joy at not having to see her horrible face!’.

Bonnie throws a lot of shade, basically, in this film. There’s a great bit earlier where Sylvia says ‘don’t let’s quarrel, it’s unchristian!’ and the look that Bonnie gives her is amazing.

Ren: I noticed that too!

Adam: So this film is in its entirety on YouTube, and I suspect it might be quite hard to come by otherwise.

It really is quite good! I also watched some of it, because I’ve been quite busy in the last week, at 1.25 speed. And it’s the only film I’ve ever watched where that did not detract at all. If anything, it only added to the manic energy of the film!

Ren: That must have been quite an experience. There’s quite a good chase sequence at the end with wolves and Miss Slighcarp and Mrs Brisket on… steam powered….?

Adam: What even are they?! It’s like a steam-powered mini train that’s not on tracks. And not only does she get exploded, she then gets eaten by wolves. Because for this film, to be fair, we’ve already mangled to death a boy who was just a bit mean, so for the main villain of the piece you have to up the ante, I guess.

Ren: She also throws knives at Bonnie, just before they set her on fire.

Adam: Which does look a little bit dangerous for the child actor involved, I thought.

Ren: Yeah, is this one of these things where the child actor is later like: ‘I genuinely feared for my life!’. Like the little girl in Baron Munchausen.

Adam: Oh I didn’t know about that.

Ren: Yes, apparently Terry Gilliam was not at all concerned for her safety during the filming of that one.

Adam: Yes, I think the early ‘80s in particular was a very bad time for health and safety for child actors. I know that the death filming The Twilight Zone movie which was produced by Spielberg made a big change in child acting labour laws, basically. But in the early ’80s it feels like there are more and more big special effects in these family films with child actors having to do some very dangerous stuff.

So, good that it was cut back on, really.

Ren: So as we were talking about themes that we’ve discovered in children’s horror in our last episode, I made a few notes about that. We were talking about transformation of houses and the home changing from a place of comfort into a place of horror, which is definitely present in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

Adam: In the film the home is established early on as a real place of family and comfort. You see all the servants working happily together, and it’s shows to be a really warm inclusive domestic space. Rightly or wrongly.

Ren: But then we see Miss Slighcarp transforming it, first getting rid of all of Bonnie’s toys and luxuries and dismissing most of the servants, and then turning it into a horrible boarding school. Although I think there’s a bit of comfort in the secret passages, which seems like the house is on the children’s side a bit.

Adam: In the film there’s also, and I rather like this because I remember doing things like this as a kid, the two girls try to walk around the upper edge of the room without touching the floor, scampering over the wardrobes and things. And they do that again when the room’s been stripped of its toys, and Bonnie remarks, ‘well, at least it makes it easier to play this game’, or something.

Ren: I liked that too. I don’t know if I’ve played that exact game but I might have done. It’s a very familiar kind of thing.

Adam: And very true to how children transform everyday spaces.

Ren: The other thing that’s particularly relevant is monstrous authority figures, which we have a trio of, although Mr Grimshaw is not so much monstrous as greedy and pathetic.

Adam: Gross.

Ren: Gross, yeah. But Mrs Brisket and Miss Slighcarp are completely mercilesss.

Adam: They’re all about suffer the little children.

Ren: They seem to revel in the fact that children have no power and no-one to turn to to protect them.

Adam: They’re like the worst of Dickens’ villains, basically. Like a Mr Squeers or something.

Ren: And of course the other source of horror is the wolves themselves, of which there is less in the book but they definitely make their presence known. There’s the kind of horror of the oddness of them being there. Because it’s very similar to actual, well, a setting of Victorian England —

Adam: — fictionalised, Dickensian Victorian England.

Ren: Yeah. But there’s this one difference that feels quite creepy. I wondered if you wanted to read the part where Sylvia is on the train and the wolf jumps through the window:

Adam: Sure.

“She woke suddenly from one of these dreams to find that the train had stopped with a jerk.

‘Oh! What is it? Where are we?’ she exclaimed before she could stop herself.

‘No need to alarm yourself, miss,’ said her companion, looking unavailingly out of the black square of window. ‘Wolves on the line, most likely – they often have trouble of that kind hereabouts.’

‘Wolves!’ Sylvia stared at him in terror. 
 ‘They don’t often get into the train, though,’ he added reassuringly. ‘Two years ago they managed to climb into the guard’s van and eat a pig, and once they got the engine-driver – another had to be sent in a relief-engine – but they don’t often eat a passenger, I promise you.’

As if in contradiction of his words a sad and sinister howling now arose beyond the windows, and Sylvia, pressing her face against the dark pane, saw that they were passing through a thickly wooded region where snow lay deep on the ground. Across this white carpet she could just discern a ragged multitude pouring, out of which arose, from time to time, this terrible cry. She was almost petrified with fear and sat clutching Annabelle in a cold and trembling hand. At length she summoned up strength to whisper:

‘Why don’t we go on?’

‘Oh, I expect there are too many of ’em on the line ahead,’ the man answered carelessly. ‘Can’t just push through them, you see – the engine would be derailed in no time, and then we should be in a bad way. No, I expect we’ll have to wait here till daylight now – the wolves get scared then, you know, and make for home. All that matters is that the driver shan’t get eaten in the meantime – he’ll keep ’em off by throwing lumps of coal at them I dare say.’

‘Oh!’ Sylvia exclaimed in irrepressible alarm, as a heavy body thudded suddenly against the window, and she had a momentary view of a pointed grey head, red slavering jaws, and pale eyes gleaming with ferocity.

‘Oh, don’t worry about that,’ soothed her companion. ‘They’ll keep up that jumping against the windows for hours. They’re not much danger, you know, singly; it’s only in the whole pack you’ve got to watch out for ’em.’

Sylvia was not much comforted by this. She moved along to the middle of the seat and huddled there, glancing fearfully first to one side and then to the other. The strange man seemed quite undisturbed by the repeated onslaught of the wolves which followed. He took a pinch of snuff, remarked that it was all a great nuisance and they would be late, and composed himself to sleep again.
 He had just begun to snore when a discomposing incident occurred. The window beside him, which must have been insecurely fastened, was not proof against the continuous impact of the frenzied and ravenous animals. The catch suddenly slipped, and the window fell open with a crash, its glass shivering into fragments.

Sylvia screamed. Another instant, and a wolf precipitated itself through the aperture thus formed. It turned snarling on the sleeping stranger, who started awake with an oath, and very adroitly flung his cloak over the animal. He then seized one of the shattered pieces of glass lying on the floor and stabbed the imprisoned beast through the cloak. It fell dead.

‘Tush,’ said Sylvia’s companion, breathing heavily and passing his hand over his face. ‘Unexpected – most.’

He extracted the dead wolf from the folds of the cloak and tipped its body, with some exertion, out through the broken window. There was a chorus of snarling and yelping outside, and then the wolves seemed to take fright at the appearance of their dead comrade, for Sylvia saw them coursing away over the snow.”

And it happens very abruptly! I think that’s the thing with the fright and danger in this book, it comes about all of a sudden. The scene might be quite cosy and tranquil and suddenly there’s a wolf snapping at your throat.

Ren: And also it shows more presence of mind and quick reflexes that you expect from Mr Grimshaw given the rest of his characterisation.

Adam: It’s odd looking back at the character after reading it and knowing what we know of him. Because at first we don’t know if he’s a villain or quite who he is, and why he’s taking an interest in Sylvia.

It did remind me actually, you mentioned Box of Delights and obviously with the TV series it starts on the train with the sinister priest showing off his magic tricks to the boy, and it reminded me a little bit of that.

I quite like that even reading it back, it’s hard to know if on some level he is trying to comfort Sylvia, or if he’s trying to frighten her even more through this false play of comfort, which is I think what’s going on. Because he’s like, ‘don’t worry, last time they only ate the engine driver’, ‘It probablywon’t happen again’.

Ren: He’s certainly quite an interesting one.

Adam: But I think it the book generally has quite frightening rhythms. It works in fits and starts and things get bad or turn worse at unexpected moments. Which works well for children’s horror, I think. That feeling of things being out of your control and having to live according to the rhythms of the adult world, come what may.

In a way it kind of felt like an inverted Water Babies. Our main protagonist Tom in The Water Babies is wild and unruly and it’s because of his impoverished upbringing, and he needs to be disciplined into behaving. Whereas in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase discipline is often looked at askance, or seen as just being an excuse for sadism and power to be exercised.

Lord Willoughby himself seems quite keen on a bit of chaos. He’s quite happy for this boy to live in a cave at the end of his garden, and has offered him gainful employment but the boy says he’d rather feed his geese —

Ren: — and live off chestnuts —

Adam: — and Lord Willoughby’s just like ‘fine! If you want’.

Ren: And also Bonnie’s slight wildness actually proves to be quite useful to her, and to Sylvia, that she’s not submissive to authority.

Adam: Yes, it saves their skin many times, basically. Which also just makes this a lot more fun than The Water Babies, which makes you feel like you’re constantly being lectured to. There’s no ‘be as you would be done by’.

If there’s a moral, obviously you probably shouldn’t be greedy and be horrible to children, but it mostly feels like a romp, a mini silly Dickensian epic.

Ren: Shall we do Texture of the Week?

(Shaking noises)

Adam: (operatic) Texture…. of…. the….. weeeeeek!

I was going for an old-timey, like in a church? Maybe? Sort of Victorian.

Ren: Did you hear I had an actual instrument that time?

Adam: Oh was it an actual instrument, I thought it was keys!

Ren: Nope, it was a little shaker.

Adam: A lil shaker! Not a salt shaker?

Ren: No, an actual musical shaker.

Adam: Is it in the shape of a whimsical animal or creature?

Ren: No, it’s very sensible. Not whimsical at all.

Adam: Oh sorry, a sensible shaker.

Ren: It had a little rubber band to stick it to your finger.

Adam: That’s very sensible!

Ren: So my Texture of the Week was going to be the soap made out of the late Mr Brisket, but we have already mentioned that. I did also quite enjoy the orphans punching through a thick layer of ice to wash their faces in the morning.

Adam: I thought it was going to be the mangling with the rollers!

Ren: Well, yes.

Adam: You just didn’t want to be to type.

I found, this is more sensory that it is textural, so I may be bending the rules a little bit. But I really like this little piece of writing, just in terms of the smells and the colours it brings up.

'There's nought like lying wi' sheep two-three days for a chesty cough,' pronounced Mr Wilderness. 'The breath of sheep has a powerful virtue in it. That and a brew of my cherry-bark syrup with maybe a spoon-full of honey in it, and a plateful or two of good porridge, will set her to rights better than the grandest doctor in the kingdom.’

I just thought cherry-bark syrup was really lovely.

Ren: Also actually, there was Sylvia being laid to sleep on a moving bed of geese, which was quite good.

Adam: Yes, despite all the ‘orribleness there is some really lovely descriptive writing in it too.

Ren: So I just wanted to do a shout-out to my friend and our dedicated listener Eric in Greece, who has been listening to this podcast while recovering from a heart transplant. Also a very appropriate episode as he has a particular affinity with wolves.

Get well soon, Eric!

Adam: Get well soon!

Ren: Any further thoughts?

Adam: Just one last thing, that in the film Bonnie’s mother comments ‘Oh I almost wish we’d stayed on the island’, which I thought was a little bit mean.

Bye spooky kids, don’t make soap out of any orphans!

Ren: Events in this podcast should not be replicated at home.

See you next time!

(Outro music plays)

  • We really should have mentioned their names here, apologies. It’s Emily Hudson as Bonnie, and Aleks Darowska. Also we failed to mention another connection to The Witches, which was Jane Horrocks’ interestingly twitchy performance as Pattern!


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About this podcast

A podcast in which one film lecturer and one scaredy-cat discuss creepy, spooky and disturbing children's books, films and tv.

by Ren Wednesday, Adam Whybray


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