Robert Westall R. Greggs - Essay

R. Greggs

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Set in both today's England and Civil War England, [The Devil on the Road] describes the experiences of John Webster in each time period. The author attempts to develop the main character and to set the basis for the novel before he allows Webster to traipse back and forth in time. The results are useless….

What sustains the story is a fictionalized account of a witch hunt in Cromwell's England. Transported back to that era, Webster finds himself forced to decide whether to accept passively the obvious wrong of witch hunting like most inhabitants of that period or to resist. Factors like his ability to transcend time and knowledge of past events help him make his decision. In such instances, the reader is given a dose of suspense and morality.

Those two components rescue The Devil on the Road from the "So bad, it will never be stolen from the library" cater-gory. And even though the author treats hackneyed themes of time travel and witchcraft, he successfully deals with the themes by subordinating them to the chief personalities of the book rather than letting the themes dictate to the personalities their behavior. (Only occasionally do these primary personalities discuss anything that may serve as a catalyst to young reader's hormones, thus meriting the book a "B" rating).

R. Greggs, "Young People's Books: 'The Devil on the Road'," in Best Sellers (copyright © 1979 Helen Dwight Reid Eduacational Foundation), Vol. 39, No. 10, December, 1979, p. 356.