The novellas take place in ancient Greece during the Persian Wars (500 to 449 B.C.). Because most schools no longer require a course in ancient Greek history, the historical setting of Children of the Fox may be very unfamiliar. Fortunately the afterword to the tales includes an explanation of the different governing systems of the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta and the intense rivalry between them. Athens is threatened by an invasion of the army of the Great King of Persia and must rely on help from Sparta and the other Greek cities to throw off the invasion. But because of their rivalries, the Greek generals cannot agree to fight as a united army or navy, and so Themistokles, the Athenian general, treacherously sends a message to the enemy Persians to trick them into attacking the Greek armies before quarrels split them apart. The stories revolve around Themistokles's political maneuvers in Athens, his flight to Asia Minor, and his involvement with the kings of Persia and Mollossia. The afterword also contains an excellent map so that readers can follow the action of the stories.
Of the three incidents depicted in Children of the Fox, the one described in the third tale, "Persian Gold," is the most probable historically but the least convincing emotionally, evoking less of a sense of involvement with real children than the other two stories do. The author compensates for this problem somewhat by framing Lala's experiences with Themistokles within the story of her later relating these events to the Athenian who documents her account; this device lends authenticity to the tale. The enigmatic character of Themistokles comes alive, and readers are able to decide if he was truly a hero or an opportunist.
Paton Walsh is a powerful writer whose work is demanding to read, but very rewarding. She always chooses complex subjects and plots but relates her stories in graceful language. Through action, description, and, most significantly, realistic dialogue, she evokes a tactile sense of the scenery and develops engaging characters. Although the use of natural manners of speech is often problematic in historical writing, Paton Walsh manages to convey the speech patterns of the past without resorting to artificial or archaic language. The first-person narrations make especially effective use of internal dialogue or soliloquy, where a character argues within himself, revealing his feelings and the process of coming to a decision.
For Further Reference
Paton Walsh, Jill. "History Is Fiction." Horn Book 48 (February 1972): 17-23. Discusses the nature of historical fiction.
"The Rainbow Surface." Times Literary Supplement (December 3, 1971). Reprinted in The Cool Web: The Pattern of Children's Reading, edited by Margaret Meek, Aidan Warlow, and Griselda Barton. New York: Atheneum, 1978. Paton Walsh's reflection on the difference between writing for children and writing for adults.
Townsend, John Rowe. "Jill Paton Walsh." In A Sounding of Storytellers: New and Revised Essays on Contemporary Writers for Children. New York: Lippincott, 1979. An analytical essay about Paton Walsh intended for critics and teachers. Includes autobiographical note.