I had the great good fortune to find The Wolves of Willoughby Chase languishing in the bathroom recently, just when things seemed low and sad and I didn't know what to do with myself. Of course, once I had it in my hands, the only sensible option was to read it, and so I did.
As writer of this blog and mother to two driven readers, I have reread many, many books of my youth. In particular, lots of All of a Kind Family and Little House books. But for one reason or another, I hadn't actually reread this one. I had fond memories—which turned out to be true as far as fondness went, but profoundly wrong in terms of the actual happenings of the book—but it had been many years.
What a pleasure this book is! How generous its author! She will put in anything and everything to please a thirsty reader, particularly of the sort who says, "Let's play that we're rich girls, and then we get poor!" (not that I'm naming names). There is a beautiful box of chocolates tied with a violet velvet ribbon! There are fur capes! Golden dresses! Secret passageways! An evil governess! Pluck AND courage! This book has it ALL.
And there is also Simon, the goose boy. He was someone I had all but forgotten in my hazy recollections, but coming upon him now made me wonder all sorts of things. Chief among them: what is it with the British? So many of the cherished British books of my youth (Ballet Shoes, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Secret Garden etc, etc) have such reverence for: the Countryside! Putting roses in their cheeks! Walking on the heath! Getting brown as a berry! This always (and still does) made me feel secretly terrible, what with my wanting to stay indoors with my sallow cheeks and be in the unwholesome indoor environment, reading.
But what I noticed this time was embodying this particular ideal (or so it occurred to me as I was reading this) is the wild boy. Simon the Goose Boy lives in a neat little underground cave on the Willoughby estates, among his geese. He carries a bow and arrow and dresses in furs; he gathers chestnuts that he grinds into flour to bake small cakes among the embers, and he shelters the girls and is kind and true and altogether wonderful.
As a grownup reading this without the singular focus of a child, my mind strayed to other things I'd read, and I thought: Dickon, from The Secret Garden. He is Dickon, or rather, they are both expressions, somehow, of this wish somewhere for kind-hearted wild sprites of the countryside. They are the ones who always walk about the heath, with rosy cheeks and much interaction with animals. Simon made me think, too, of Mr. Tumnus and his cave, his feast, his connection to the pursued little girl.
If I were more educated and more well-read I think (or imagine) that I could trace this back to one archetype, and it would be Pan or someone. Who also brought roses to the cheeks of little girls, though not in quite this way.
Or am I just creating a fake trend out of two similar characters in two books, a la the New York Times style section? I don't know. I must say, I am really taken with the idea that there has to be a wild boy in every children's book, simply because they are so wonderful.
So I ask you: are these the only ones? Does Mr. Tumnus fit? Am I making this up? Should I go take a walk on the heath to bring the roses to my cheeks? I probably should, right?