Friday, September 7, 2007

Just William

William is an endearing child - though only from a distance. If he was my son, I'm sure my BP would be way over normal. He gets up to all kinds of mischief, from running on fences to letting sheep out of their pens. He is constantly into mischief. He loathes school and wants to found a society for suppression of cruelty to boys, abolishing school and baths, among other things. He is always the fearless leader of his gang, and is to be found outdoors, ideally as dirty and mud-soaked as possible. His imagination constantly runs away from him, and he cannot perform the simplest of tasks without injecting an element of fantasy into them. He talks endlessly, he can be shrewd and manipulative when needed, and has a secret soft corner for extremely feminine girls.

William Brown was the creation of author Richmal Crompton, who came up with the boy in 1919. From then until her death in 1969, she wrote 38 novels featuring William and his band of outlaws. What is incredible is that despite somewhat repetitive storylines, there is some twist or other to keep you engrossed through the series. She has managed to capture the mind of the child ina completely natural way, as the best of children's writing does. At the same time, her books are cleverly layered so that they appeal to adults as much, if not more. One of her cleverest stories, for instance has to do with a critique of communism. In it, William's elder broether and the brothers of his friends band together to create a bolshevist society and decide that since everyone should have an equal share of everything, they will ask their fathers for a fair share of everything their fathers own. William and his band naturally overhear all the rhetoric, and fired by it and believeing it implicitly, do their best to even up the injustice of the world by helping themselves to a fair share of their brothers' possessions. That's when the brother and his friends realise the weak spot - it's all very well asking for other people's things but it's a different matter when someone else asks you for their share of your things!

Richmal Crompton also unerringly puts her finger on the foibles of the older generation, be they parents, or youth - William's brother and sister, or the endless stream of relatives and neighbours who populate William's world, from victorian Great-aunts to the vicar's wife, to a nouveau riche culture vulture. The books are set in what I like to think of as 'Merry England', not Robin Hood's time, but a time before the two world wars, when life seemed to have a gentleness and an innately gracious rhythm the world has not seen since. Though several of the books do take place during WWII, encompassing some of the events that Britain went through, including air raids, bomb shelters and rationing, life is still a fun adventure, rather than something serious to be analysed and pondered over.

Reading William always puts a smile on my face, though I daresay I won't let my son read these books before he's in his teens (don't want him to get any more ideas for mischief). I'm sure if I were William's mom I'd go mad. But I do find it sad that we live in a world where I need to send someone to supervise my son, rather than letting him run to the park by himself, and envy William and his friends their ability to range across field and wood, at their will.


dipti said...

Hey, I'm a huge William fan myself - so was thrilled to find him on your blog. I used to have the entire collected works of richmal crompton on my bookshelves and relished re-reading them when i needed a good laugh. P G Wodehouse is the only other laugh inducing phenomenon who could compete with the William sagas in my opinion, other than Bill Bryson that is! BTW, do you remember the one where he(W) turns this old aunt who visits his family into a 'museum exhibit' displaying her and her belongings (dentures and all) as she sleeps and snores, to his friends for a fee!!

Just discovered your blogs courtesy sujata and blogpourri. Nice.

bird's eye view said...


How nice to find a William fan! I was introduced to him at the ripe old age of 16, and he's been part of my collection ever since. I do remember the story you're talking about, though I don't remember which book it's in.

I agree on PG Wodehouse too - anyone who can make you laugh out loud...! I love Bob Hope's autobiographical books - don't know if you've come across them. try 'Don't shoot, it's only me'.