The/The Book of Silence Duncton Chronicles Critical Essays

William Horwood


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The subgenre of animal fantasy owes its recent popularity to Watership Down by Richard Adams (1972). Adams’ rabbits are simple creatures, with limited intelligence and lacking institutions. Horwood’s moles are almost human, possessing great intelligence, a full range of emotions, religious and political hierarchies, and complex written records. They are still wild animals, however, capable of killing other moles with their talons (which they often do in these novels) and mating in response to seasonal urges. Such contradictions add to the fascination of the Duncton books, though they render them more suitable for adults. Occasional scenes of torture and extreme violence are harrowing to read. Followers of the Word frequently “snout” dissenting moles; that is, they impale them by the snout on barbed wire and leave them to die a terribly painful and lingering death.

Other animals are scarcely mentioned. The moles are careful to avoid owls, humans (referred to as “two-feet”), and motor vehicles (“roaring owls”). They generally ignore other woodland creatures, and fortunately Horwood is sensible enough not to have his moles chatting with them. It seems odd that these intelligent moles have not developed the means of driving off owls or of communicating with humans.

Although the moles speak standard English, Horwood creates an odd tweeness by referring (in narration as well as dialogue) to “paw” instead of “hand” or “foot,” to “stance” instead of “stand,” and to “nomole” and “some-mole” for “nobody” and “somebody.” More thoughtful is his indication of an evolving language. Some old written records are in an old mole language, and Feverfew (in Duncton Quest) speaks an antiquated form because her group of moles in London has been cut off from the rest of moledom for many generations. Their written records are scribed with the talons...

(The entire section is 783 words.)