The Scarecrows won Robert Westall his second Carnegie Medal (the first being for The Machine-Gunners, 1975) and confirmed his position as a leading British children’s author. His initial image for the book came from seeing three scarecrows while driving across Salisbury Plain, a male and female being stalked by a second male figure. There also are autobiographical elements in the novel: Like Simon’s father, Westall served in the Middle East in the British Army, and like Joe, he was an artist. He lived for a while in Cheshire, teaching art at a high school there.
All these elements anchor the novel as basically realistic in terms of setting, plot, characterization, and voice. The scarecrows, the uncanny element of the fantasy, do not acquire importance until two-thirds of the way through the novel, when the realistic mode has been well established. Westall keeps the intrusive nature of the supernatural in fine balance with the projection of Simon’s pathological hatred of his stepfather. In fact, the only unbelievable elements in the novel stem from the supposedly realistic depiction of a national press corps sensationally interested in the discovery of an ancient water mill. The supernatural/psychological projection plot closely parallels that of Catherine Storr’s Marianne Dreams (1958).
It has been claimed that the psychology is Oedipal, a domesticated Hamlet plot that narrowly avoids final tragedy....
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