The Stolen Lake: Remembering a British Children’s Classic

If you have never taken an adventure with Dido Twite, I recommend you embark on the quest. The Stolen Lake by Joan Aiken continues the Wolves Chronicles, an imaginative series from Joan Aiken’s classic The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Although it is part of a series, it can definitely be read on its own.

Dido Twite, heroine of Black Hearts in Battersea and Nightbirds on Nantucket, is on her wildest adventure yet. On her way back to London aboard the Thrush, Dido and crew are summoned to the aid of the tyrannical queen of New Cumbria. Her island is an infernal place where birds carry off men and fish eat human flesh. The queen is greatly distressed because a neighboring king has stolen her lake. Dido faces fire, flood, wild beasts and, ultimately, threat of execution in order to get the lake back. Is she equal to the challenge?

The Stolen Lake contains all of the essential ingredients for a fantastical adventure: witches masquerading as dressmakers, revolving palaces, apocalyptic volcanoes, birds that steal children, magical cats, and ancient legends revealed in one mysterious occurrence after the next.

Nothing about this story is predictable. Too often children’s books fall in the trap of routine predictability, but Joan Aiken’s is one of those rare middle-grade authors that writes with the complexity and intrigue attractive to an older audience, while remaining within the simplicity of child’s world.

Joan Aiken is a true artist. Her clever word craft takes you on a ride through a detailed alternate history of Earth. The magic of her imagination is boundless, as she weaves together a historical backdrop of the ancient kingdom of Arthur. In Aiken’s world, the remains of the Roman Empire stole the boats of the invading Saxons and fled to South America where they founded “Roman” (as opposed to “Latin”) America. King Arthur still sleeps, and his “beloved” Queen Guinevere has been sacrificing the lives of children to keep herself alive for the past 1300 years as she waits for the return of the King. Enter Dido Twite.

Dido Twite is an irresistible character, full of all the contradictions of a child.  She is confident, and fearless – wise beyond her years, yet repeatedly unsure. Ignorant of proper education, but a genius in human behavior. She can read anyone, seeing through words and all the superfluous nonsense of the adult world, right into the heart of any matter. That’s what makes her inexhaustibly valuable in predicaments – Dido knows how to get out of a tight spot.

If you love fantasy, Arthurian Legends, and rearrangeable history, you’ll fall in love with Dido and her storming of Guinevere’s palace.

Cheers to another British classic and its whimsical ability to tie together history, fantasy, and magic, and wrap it all up in the adventurous life of an irresistibly plucky twelve year old. Well done, Brits. As usual.

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