Susan Hill has brought the sinister side of children in the novel I am the King of the Castle. It was first published in 1970 and one French film was made with an almost similar theme. Other than this it has not been made into a stage show as it involves a lot of landscaping and the sets cannot be created on stage. There are not many characters in the story. Children are the main focus of this novel where Susan Hill has painted the darker side of children and the extent they can go to get their way.
The Theme Evident In the Beginning
The novel is set near a village of Deme, in a huge house which has decayed and needs major repair. The house is called Warings. It must have been a grand mansion of the country side as it was imposing and large. But the present state was more than desirable yet there were people who lived in it and were proud of this mansion. But some time before becoming the proud owner Joseph Hooper refused to move into Warings if his father was alive. This is seen in the first chapter and it is evident that the father and Joseph did not share a cordial relationship.
Only after his father’s death Joseph moves into Warings, and we soon get to know, quite early in the novel that Joseph does not have good relationship with his son Edmund as well. Edmund’s mother had died six years before and he had grown without any care and concern of a woman. So this young boy is brash and even crooked in thoughts. Moving to this new mansion Joseph advertises for a caretaker and he finds a good one in Mrs Kingshaw and her son who is almost Edmund’s age. Joseph believes that Charles would change Edmund Hooper for the better.
Joseph Hooper Mistaken
Joseph Hooper is sadly mistaken for the obvious hatred of Edmund is seen in the rest of the novel. Edmund does not want to share his house with another child and he starts his taunts with Charles family background. Charles like any other child is hurt and wants to retort but is calm, and does not want to create trouble for his mother. One day a crow swoops down on Charles and he is terrified. Edmund watches it from his window and takes this as another opportunity to tease him. He even puts a stuffed crow on Charles’ bedstead and he gets really frightened. Charles however refuses to show his fear and Edmund silently appreciates the grit of Charles.
On few other occasions Edmund tries to scare the wits off Charles and he succeeds but Charles never complains to his mother. Meanwhile Mrs Helen Kingshaw and Joseph Hooper take their relationship beyond that of a caretaker and master; a little intimacy creeps into their relationship. This makes them blind to the problems of the children and neither of them listens to the mishaps of Charles. Totally vexed Charles wants to get away from this place and he gets a chance when the elders go away to London to spend the day. He goes to Hang Wood where he had spent some time a few days before.
Charles Get Away
Hang Woods is dark and eerie but Charles ventures into the woods all alone. Though the woods were dark and dense Charles begins to enjoy the surroundings. Suddenly he hears a sound and in an instant his mood changes and to his utmost disgust finds Edmund in front of him. From that moment there are moments of hardship for Charles and some flashes of goodness from Edmund. Edmund, Charles realized was actually a timid boy especially when out of his bastion, the mansion. This gave a sense of pride to Charles. Charles never misused the opportunities to belittle Edmund and till the next day (the time they remained in the forest) Edmund never recognises the goodness in Charles and abuses him at the slightest pretext.
They come across animals, they swim, and they fish and spend the whole night in each other’s company. Edmund’s provocation is so intolerable that Charles sees hatred within himself and he is surprised in feeling thus. Next day when they go back to Warings, Edmund’s forte, he complains that Charles pushed him into the water and both Mrs Kingshaw and Joseph believe that Charles might have done. This upsets Charles as his mother too did not bother to listen to his side of the story. More bad news awaits Charles as his mother was going to marry Joseph and both would attend the same school.
The New Friend
On a day out to Leydell Castle Edmund slips and falls though Charles tried to help him. But Helen and Joseph think that Charles tried to push Edmund and once again they were not ready to hear the version given by Charles. Not just that, all sympathies were for Edmund who was in the hospital bed. It is during this time Charles wanders away to a farm house near Warings and meets Fielding, a mild boy whom he befriends quickly. After the first day he meets Fielding often, the only solace for Charles. When Edmund returns from the hospital Fielding is invited to Warings and it so happens that Charles had to fight with Edmund to keep the friendship with Fielding going.
Charles realizes that all he loved was lost to Edmund Hooper and a sense of resignation sets into him. He lost his mother and the final was the wedding that was to take place soon between his mother and Joseph. He then goes back to Hang Woods to find some peace. He walks into the river and drowns himself – maybe he must have thought that death was better than going back to Warings where all hated him.
The main theme in this novel is power. The ways and means to keep the power is seen even in children. Animal imagery is brought in a lot to show the fierceness and adds to the eeriness. Nature is also described in many words; the beautiful and the ugly side of nature. To establish power the evil is used abundantly. It is seen in the form of verbal and physical abuse and lies and torment. This is indeed a very different story that can change your outlook on children.