The People in the Castle

by Joan Aiken

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trade cloth · 256 pages · $24 · 9781618731128 | ebook · 9781618731135 · Edelweiss

Read the introduction and title story on Tin House.

Here is the whisper in the night, the creak upstairs, that half-remembered ghost story that won’t let you sleep, the sound that raises gooseflesh, the wish you’d checked the lock on the door before it got really, really dark. Here are tales of suspense and the supernatural that will chill, amuse, and exhilarate.

“The particular joys of a Joan Aiken story have always been her capacity for this kind of brisk invention; her ear for dialect; her characters and their idiosyncrasies. Among the stories collected in this omnibus, are some of the very first Joan Aiken stories that I ever fell in love with, starting with the title story “The People in the Castle,” which is a variation on the classic tales of fairy wives.”
— Kelly Link, from her Introduction

Reviews

“Though the late fantastical British writer is best known for her children’s literature, this short story collection, edited by Aiken’s daughter Lizza and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction finalist Kelly Link, compiles tales of the surreal and supernatural suited for an adult audience. ‘A Leg Full of Rubies’ features a doctor whose own mortality is measured out by the grains of sand in an hourglass; ‘A Portable Elephant’ imagines a world where a live animal companion is required to buy passage across a border. ‘She was one of those writers who made me think you can be funny while telling a scary story,’ Link says. ‘You can still write really fresh contemporary takes on a classical ghost story.’”
—Ryan Porter, Toronto Star

“Renowned fabulist and children’s author Joan Aiken had a long and prolific career, and it’s easy to see why her career endured across decades. Her stories have a timeless feel, whether screwball romantic comedies about ghosts, or tales of confounded faerie royalty. If you’re an Aiken neophyte, this offers an amazing starting point, with stories running the gamut of fantasy, horror, comic fantasy, reimagined fairy tales, and legends. If you’ve experienced Aiken before, this is a selection of her best work. Either way, The People in the Castle is a great example of why her stories still hold up.”
Standout stories: “Sonata for Harp and Bicycle” “Some Music for the Wicked Countess”
Barnes & Noble: 7 Essential New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Short Story Collections

“[A] haunting and wondrous book.”
— Emily Nordling, Tor.com

“If you’re looking for speculative short fiction of a decided literary bent, it’s hard to imagine a more satisfying source than this assembly of fantastical work by the peerless, prolific Joan Aiken (who died in 2004), assembled from across her storied career. The magical and the everyday collide in these short, evocative tales, which, in marvelously efficient, elegant prose, find unsettling strangeness lurking just around the corner from normal (the ghost of a puppy is trapped in an abandoned storage box, fairy queen squat in overgrown forests). A slim, seriously moving collection.”
— Joel Cunningham, B&N SF&F

“Joan Aiken has been a favorite of mine since my childhood reading of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, a book that has stuck with me for decades. This collection is wonderful, full of undiscovered gems, and important. Joan Aiken is a classic.”
— Susan Buchman, Stonington Free Library

“A welcome anthology of fantasy stories by a 20th-century master. The author of the beloved classic gothic for children The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Aiken (1924-2004) also wrote hundreds of works of popular fiction that spanned the genres, from fantasy to horror to historical fiction, including several Jane Austen sequels. Naturally the tone of her books and short stories varies with their content, but its main notes include sophisticated, spritely satire and the darker moods of literary fairy tales. Fans of Wolves will recognize the honorable orphans and cruel guardians who populate these tales. Typically the wicked meet with fitting fates and the innocent triumph, though for Aiken, a good death counts as a happy ending. She plays with the contrast between the eldritch and modern culture and technology: ghosts and dead kings out of legend who contact the living by telephone, a doctor who writes prescriptions for fairies, a fairy princess who’s fond of Westerns. Her metaphors and similes surprise and delight: “the August night was as gentle and full as a bucket of new milk”; “He was tall and pale, with a bony righteous face and eyes like faded olives”; across a field, “lambs [followed] their mothers like iron filings drawn to a magnet in regular converging lines.” Sprightly but brooding, with well-defined plots, twists, and punch lines, these stories deserve a place on the shelf with the fantasies of Saki (H.H. Munro), Sylvia Townsend Warner, and Susanna Clarke.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“There’s so much to love about this slender collection… The juxtaposition of mundane and magical…feels effortless and fresh. The language is simply splendid, so evocative, as though the stories were actually very dense poems. And it brilliantly showcases Aiken’s affectionate, humorous, deft portrayals of female characters… Aiken’s prose is extraordinary, impossible to do justice to in this small space. Her skill with the language of folk tales—specifically the oral storytelling native to the British Isles—is unparalleled… These stories both feel very 20th century and somehow timeless.”
— Publishers Weekly, Boxed, signed review by Rose Fox, Senior Reviews Editor

Table of Contents

Introduction by Kelly Link
“The Power of Storytelling: Joan Aiken’s Strange Stories” by Lizza Aiken
Cold Flame
The Dark Streets of Kimball’s Green
Furry Night
Hope
Humblepuppy
The Lame King
The Last Specimen
A Leg Full of Rubies
Listening
Lob’s Girl
The Man Who Had Seen the Rope Trick
The Mysterious Barricades
Old Fillikin
The People in the Castle
A Portable Elephant
A Room Full of Leaves
She Was Afraid of Upstairs
Some Music for the Wicked Countess
Sonata for Harp and Bicycle
Watkyn, Comma

Joan Aiken (1924–2004) was born in Rye, Sussex, England, into a literary family: her father was the poet and writer Conrad Aiken and her siblings, the novelists Jane Aiken Hodge and John Aiken. After her parents’ divorce her mother married the popular English writer Martin Armstrong.
Aiken began writing at the age of five and her first collection of stories, All You’ve Ever Wanted was published in 1953. After her first husband’s death, Aiken supported her family by copyediting at Argosy and working at an advertising agency before turning to writing fiction full time. She went on to write for Vogue, Good Housekeeping, Vanity Fair, Women’s Own, and many other magazines.
She wrote over a hundred books and was perhaps best known for the dozen novels in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase series. She received the Guardian and Edgar Allan Poe awards for fiction and in 1999 she was awarded an MBE.

Cover art “The Castle in the Air” by Joan Aikman, 1939. © Blue Lantern Studio/Corbis

Praise for Joan Aiken’s stories:

“Wildly inventive, darkly lyrical, and always surprising, this collection-like the mermaid in a bottle-is a literary treasure that should be cherished by fantastical fiction fans of all ages.” — Publisher’s Weekly

“Darkly whimsical stories…Aiken writes with surpassing spirit and alertness, her elegant restraint and dry wit never fail to leave their mark.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Each story has a surprise or twist. Many are ironic, go-figure pieces. They are just like real life, only more so. VERDICT: This book will appeal to readers of short stories and literary fiction. Highly recommended.” — Library Journal

“Aiken’s pastoral meadows and circus chaos, gothic grotesques and quirky romances… have a dream-like quality executed with a brevity and wit that is a testament to her skill as a story-teller.” — California Literary Review

“From a bottled mermaid brought home from a sailor’s adventures at sea to a vicar reincarnated as a malevolent cat, fantasy is combined with magic, myth and adventure to form weird, wonderful and immersive tales.” — For Book’s Sake

Best known for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken (1924-2004) wrote over a hundred books and won the Guardian and Edgar Allan Poe awards. After her first husband’s death, she supported her family by copyediting at Argosy magazine and an advertising agency before turning to fiction. She went on to write for Vogue, Good Housekeeping, Vanity Fair, Argosy, Women’s Own, and many others. Visit her online at: www.joanaiken.com | The People in the Castle.



The Monkey’s Wedding and Other Stories

by Joan Aiken

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April 19, 2011 · hardcover · 224 pp · 9781931520744 · $24 / ebook · 9781618730268

“Hair” was a Shirley Jackson Award finalist and reprinted in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror.

“It’s always the children’s book writers that you have to watch out for.”
—Jessa Crispin on Aiken—including an interview with Kelly Link—in Kirkus Reviews

“Part of a storytelling tradition that predates MFA programs and quiet epiphanies, and she concerned herself with a snappier brand of narrative entertainment.”
Review of Contemporary Fiction

“Joan Aiken’s collection of short stories The Monkey’s Wedding may sport a creepy cover illustration by artist and author Shelley Jackson, but the stories inside, which make the commonplace sinister, bear more of a resemblance to the work of another literary Jackson: the queen of the Gothic short story and author of The Lottery, Shirley Jackson. Like Shirley Jackson’s elegantly suspenseful tales, Aiken’s stories use the commonplace to show the darker truths beneath the familiar, but with a twist of humor and magic that makes the collection thought-provoking and fun, and one that begs to be shared and revisited often.”
Bookslut

“Brisk, matter-of-fact accounts of annoying mermaids, hospitable devils, unionizing mice and robot prototypes that make flipping light switches an act of menace. And the women range from self-willed wives to beautiful stunt motorcyclists to knitting spinsters. Sometimes they conform to the stereotypes of the times they were created in, but Aiken is full of surprises: Her plots and characters continually wander off the beaten track, leaving far behind what fantasist Lord Dunsany called ‘the fields we know.'”
The Seattle Times

“The entire collection is immensely enjoyable. The older stories date from the ’50s to 2002. They are short and sharp—not quite whimsical, though whimsy is a word that occurred to me—but they have a dark edge, simply a shadow sometimes (but rather more oppressive in a story like “Hair”) as well as a sense of unplannedness that somehow elevated the stories in my mind.”
—Rich Horton, Locus

Joan Aiken’s stories captivated readers for fifty years. They’re funny, smart, gentle, and occasionally very, very scary. The stories in The Monkey’s Wedding are collected here for the very first time and include seven never before published, as well as two published under the pseudonym Nicholas Dee. Here you’ll find the story of a village for sale . . . or is the village itself the story? There’s an English vicar who declares on his deathbed that he might have lived an entirely different life. After his death, a large, black, argumentative cat makes an appearance. . . .

This hugely imaginative collection of incongruous, light, and unexpected stories features Shelley Jackson’s spooky and eyecatching cover painting inspired by the story “A Mermaid Too Many” and includes introductions by Joan Aiken as well by her daughter, Lizza Aiken.

“Hair” was reprinted in the July/August issue of F&SF.
“Spur of the Moment” was reprinted in the eleventh issue of the journal Eleven Eleven.

Reviews

* “This imaginative posthumous collection includes among others six never before published short stories and two originally published under a pseudonym…. Wildly inventive, darkly lyrical, and always surprising, this collection—like the mermaid in a bottle—is a literary treasure that should be cherished by fantastical fiction fans of all ages.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Each story has a surprise or twist. Many are ironic, go-figure pieces. They are just like real life, only more so. VERDICT: This book will appeal to readers of short stories and literary fiction. Highly recommended.”
Library Journal

“Aiken writes with surpassing spirit and alertness, never ceasing to find interest or amazement in the traps people set for themselves. Some of the stories are slight, but Aiken’s elegant restraint and dry wit never fail to leave their mark.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A writer of great skill and charm.”
Booklist

“Almost all the stories assembled in The Monkey’s Wedding—except for the devastating title story itself, from 1996, and “The Fluttering Thing” from 2002, which is set on a journey towards Final Solution; it is even more terrifying than The Scream, also 2002—flow with a porcelain lucidity and gaiety that manifests the high energy of Aiken’s early prime.”
—John Clute, Strange Horizons

“William Powell and Myrna Loy needed only ninety minutes to sparkle in The Thin Man, and the good-natured, prevaricating, meet-cute stars of “Spur of the Moment” require just twelve pages to showcase their equally impressive bantering skills.”
—James Crossley, Weird Fiction Review

“From a bottled mermaid brought home from a sailor’s adventures at sea to a vicar reincarnated as a malevolent cat, fantasy is combined with magic, myth and adventure to form weird, wonderful and immersive tales.”
For Book’s Sake

“In the author’s introduction, Aiken claims that many of her stories are inspired by dreams. I only wish my dreams were half as entertaining as Aiken’s tales.”
New Pages

“Perhaps one reason Aiken’s stories have weathered the decades so well is that they are concerned with the lives of ordinary people–they just happen to be ordinary people who live in a world where a mermaid or other such mythical or supernatural being might suddenly appear in order to play mischief with one’s well-maintained schedule.”
Green Man Review

“Aiken’s vivid descriptions move nimbly through pastoral meadows and circus chaos, gothic grotesques and quirky romances. In the end, all of her narratives tease the reader by rejecting our desire for neatness or closure. No didacticism here. As Aiken’s narrator sweetly laments, ‘No moral to this story, you will be saying, and I am afraid it is true.'”
California Literary Review

Things You Might Like

  • Aiken’s brilliant characterization
  • The fantastic mix of fantasy and realism
  • Incredibly visual writing
  • The ease with which the author skips from twee to slightly disturbing
    Bullet Reviews

“A fine introduction to her work – and may very well ensnare you forever.”
—Aishwarya Subramian, Practically Marzipan The Sunday Guardian

Table of Contents

Introduction by Joan Aiken
Introduction by Lizza Aiken
Girl in a Whirl

Hair
Harp Music
Honeymaroon
Octopi in the Sky
Reading in Bed
Red-Hot Favourite
Second Thoughts
Spur of the Moment
The Fluttering Thing
The Magnesia Tree
The Monkey’s Wedding
The Paper Queen
The Sale of Midsummer
Water of Youth
Wee Robin
A Mermaid Too Many
Model Wife
The Helper

Praise for Joan Aiken:

“Aiken writes with the genius of a born storyteller, with mother wit expanded and embellished by civilized learning, and with the brilliance of an avenging angel.”
The New Yorker

“The wit is irrepressible, the invention wild. . . . Such delicious lightness, paradoxically, is the fiction’s raison d’être.”
—Ed Park, Los Angeles Times

“An extremely active and creative mind, in all ways dedicated to the enjoyment of the reader.”
The Short Review

“Admirable stories for any age because they are dug from a delightful mind. Many will drop into their readers lives like those enriching stones which break the surfaces of still pools and leave rings long after their splash.”
Times Literary Supplement

“A consummate story-teller.”
The Times

“Joan Aiken’s invention seemed inexhaustible, her high spirits a blessing, her sheer storytelling zest a phenomenon. She was a literary treasure, and her books will continue to delight for many years to come.”
—Philip Pullman

“The best kind of writer, strange and spooky and surprising, never sentimental or whimsical.”
—Kelly Link (Magic for Beginners)

“Distinguished and sometimes beautiful writing.”
—Naomi Mitchison, New Statesman

About the Author

Best known for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken (1924-2004) wrote over a hundred books (including The Serial Garden) and won the Guardian and Edgar Allan Poe awards. After her first husband’s death, she supported her family by copyediting at Argosy magazine and an advertising agency before turning to fiction. She went on to write for Vogue, Good Housekeeping, Vanity Fair, Argosy, Women’s Own, and many others. Visit her online at: www.joanaiken.com.