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Horwood, William

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1944-    ) UK author best-known for the Duncton Chronicles, a double sequence of Animal Fantasies, Duncton Wood beginning with Duncton Wood (1980) and The Book of Silence beginning with Duncton Tales (1991). Set in rural England near Oxford, and telling the saga through many generations of a complex culture of moles, the sequence has some resemblance to Richard Adams's Watership Down (1972): the two are similar in their versimilitudinous settings, the sense of the precariousness of the lives depicted, and their underlying quest structure, though Horwood's initial sequence, which begins in Duncton Wood, returns there after travails and travels. The mole-like characteristics of his cast are subtly, tacitly and variously likened to the behaviour of humans, unlike those Animal Fantasies whose primary didactic function is to depict animals in their natural habitat. The intelligence of the Duncton moles, the complexity of their Religion, the ardour of their quests, the violence of their internecine disputes and the consuming intensity of their sexual activities all bring Duncton Chronicles close to the Beast Fable [for Animal Fantasy and Quest above, Beast Fable here and Talking Animals below see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below].

The Willows sequence beginning with The Willows in Winter (1993) – the whole comprising a series of Sequels by Other Hands to The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932) – is on the other hand pure Beast Fable, as is its famous model: the animals featured in the tales, who wear clothes and in their crotchets mildly Satirize humankind, interact constantly with their human neighbours. Further series include The Wolves of Time, beginning with Journeys to the Heartland (1995), which focuses on the wolves of Europe, who are mystically called upon to undergo a cleansing quest eastwards for their Czech Heartland, which is dominated by evil tribes.; and the Hyddenworld Quartet beginning with Hyddenworld: Spring (2010), Callanish (1984), a rare singleton, traces the escape of an eagle who masterminds an escape of his mate and his kin from London Zoo, their destination the eponymous refuge in the Outer Hebrides.

Two further novels are of interest for a gravely achieved Equipoise between fantasy and sf. Both are told within Near Future frames. The Stonor Eagles (1982) interweaves two narratives: that of the last sea-eagle in Scotland who flies to Norway, where she has mystical experiences and dreams of returning home; and the artist James MacAskill Stonor, who narrates his and a mysterious eagle's linked stories at the time (and from the perspective) of an enormously successful exhibition in 1996; in a somewhat mysticated sense, the eagle can be thought of as a Talking Animal, making Horwood one of a very few modern authors to utilize all three readily distinguishable modes for narrating fantasies about animals (see above). The title of Skallagrigg (1987), the second tale of sf interest, refers both to the only word utterable by an apparently subnormal boy, which may refer to a Monster at the heart of a Labyrinth; and to a 1995 Videogame, which when played unites – perhaps via Timeslip – several members of a family separated by decades and cruelties of geography. Skallagrigg may also contain within its meaning structure intimations of a Messiah figure to come (or always present).

Writers of fantasy focusing on animals tend to be treated by critics with a degree of insecurity, especially if their work seems to be addressed primarily to children; most of Horwood's work is not so directed. He deserves more attention than he has yet been accorded. [JC]

William Horwood

born Oxford, Oxfordshire: 12 May 1944



Duncton: Duncton Chronicles

  • Duncton Wood (London: Country Life, 1980) [Duncton Chronicles: hb/Douglas Hall]
  • Duncton Quest (London: Century, 1988) [Duncton Chronicles: hb/uncredited]
  • Duncton Found (London: Century, 1989) [Duncton Chronicles: hb/uncredited]

Duncton: The Book of Silence

  • Duncton Tales (London: HarperCollins, 1991) [Book of Silence: hb/John Barber]
  • Duncton Rising (London: HarperCollins, 1992) [Book of Silence: hb/John Barber]
  • Duncton Stone (London: HarperCollins, 1993) [Book of Silence: hb/John Barber]

The Willows

The Wolves of Time

Hyddenworld Quartet

individual titles (selected)


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