Joan Aiken,
The Whispering Mountain
(Jonathan Cape, Ltd., 1968;
Red Fox/Random House, 1992)

Of all the books in Joan Aiken's Wolves Chronicles, The Whispering Mountain is my favorite. This title is still out of print in the United States, and it would appear that Houghton Mifflin has chosen not to reprint it, at least not soon. Fortunately, I have a copy from the UK available for review.

The story takes place in Wales and is linked tenuously with the other books. Young Owen Hughes lives with his grandfather, a starched and irascible sea captain turned museum curator; his father, also a sea captain, is missing. Mr. Hughes has recently discovered what he believes to be the legendary Harp of Teirtu, which he keeps in the museum until rightful ownership can be established.

The proud and greedy-for-gold Lord Malyn thinks the Harp should belong to him, and to that end, hires two thieves to acquire it for him. They acquire Owen as well, and a chain of events is set into motion toward the fulfillment of a prophecy.

Entangled in the fast-paced and complex plot are Owen's friend Arabis, a traveling herbalist, and her father, Tom Dando, a sometimes barber and absent-minded poet. They encounter a tribe of people living in the warren of caves honeycombing Fig Hat Ben -- the whispering mountain -- as well as the verbose but pleasant Seljuk of Rum, Brother Iannto, the remaining monk of the Order of St. Ennodawg, and a crew of Owen's schoolmates. The characters are exceptionally well-drawn; whether hero or villain, the characterizations are vivid.

Aiken laces the text with Welsh words and provides a glossary (but no pronunciation guide) in the back. When I reread it, I wondered whether the many Welsh words and phrases might have been why it has never gone back into print. Still, I read the book as a child, and I remember enjoying the Welsh language incorporated into the narrative. Even so, I almost dreaded rereading it, for I feared that the spell The Whispering Mountain cast on me would not re-occur. I should not have worried; Owen and Arabis and their friends were every bit as appealing as they ever were. As before, I was left with a sense that I wanted to know more about them -- that there should be more.

The Whispering Mountain is well worth tracking down in used book stores or ordering from overseas, regardless of whether you are reading the rest of the Wolves Chronicles.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]