Josephine Poole Critical Essays

Introduction

Josephine Poole 1933–

British author of novels for young adults and adults, and playwright.

Poole's specialties are the juvenile mystery and horror story, genres in which authors often stop short of true intrigue or terror out of deference to the sensibilities of their young readers. Poole, however, refuses to spare her readers from any of the suspense or supernatural spine-tingling her imagination concocts, which accounts perhaps for the popular and critical success her books have enjoyed.

Thematically, Poole's novels are studies of good versus evil, and of the various forms that evil takes. Her young protagonists all confront some form of evil face to face, and are forced by circumstance to come to grips with it and, eventually, to defeat it.

Often praised for the strength of her plots and for her evocative atmospheres, Poole structures many of her works in an almost filmic fashion, due perhaps to her experience as the author of two British teleplays.

Both her novels for young people and adults mix exact, often ruthless character studies with the thrills of their plots. Emily's intellectual, permissive mother in Touch and Go and the philanthropic Mrs. Dillys in The Lillywhite Boys are examples of Poole's memorable characters.

Critics have faulted the novels for having thin or unlikely premises, for clichéd dialogue, for some unresolved denouments, and for their haunting, even nightmarish effect. However, Poole has been unanimously praised for the overall excellence of her writing, and for the inventiveness and promise she has shown as a novelist. Poole has said that she writes to recreate the kind of books that gripped her most as a young girl, and it cannot be denied that her well-written, convincing books fall well into the tradition of L. M. Boston and similar writers with whom she is often compared. Some critics feel that her works are themselves headed toward classic status; she has at least developed a reputation as an author whose works show respect for the tolerance levels of young people by always keeping them deliciously terrified. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 5.)

[There] is a real study of the nature of good and evil underlying the story [of Moon Eyes]. The only reason why it should not be called "an allegory" is that no right-minded child would then dream of reading it. This would be a pity, for it should have a strong appeal for any imaginative child of twelve and upwards. The writing is vivid, and the descriptions are clear and economical….

The only drawback to this book is that the imaginative child mentioned earlier will probably refuse to go up to bed alone in the dark for months after reading it. The climax, for instance, is pure nightmare, when the children are trying to get out of the house with the black dog-spirit prowling after them. No pandering to the young reader, in fact, either in the excellent writing or the events of the story, and this makes it a good book as well as a most unusual one.

"Firm of Purpose," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1965; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3328, December 9, 1965, p. 1133.