Bullying in literature: I am the king of the castle

Bullying in literature: I am the king of the castle

At first impression I loved the narrative. The depictions of the old Victorian house of Warings sounded almost picture like. The accuracy of the words fleshed out the England countryside in a couple of pages, and the God like perspective let me enter in every character’s head in a fluid way.

Book cover 2014 edition, two boys on a seesaw in the middle of the forest
© Penguin Random House

I’m quite impressed by the smoothness in transitions, the change of scenes happened in an almost unnoticeable way.

A simple plot bullying plot

The story pretty much resumes in an ugly case of bullying. You have little Hooper, whose mother had died when he was a baby, moving with his dad to an old house that belonged to his grandfather.

He’s a spoiled brat because his dad had problems with his own father. So when Mrs. Kingshaw moves in as a housekeeper during summer vacations, she does so when her son. 

And another boy was coming, after all, with his mother, so that there would always be someone about the house to notice him. She would start making them play games and go on expeditions, that was how the mothers of some boys at school were.

Charles is a very nervous and insecure child, and Hooper finds every opportunity to make his stay miserable, to bully him and to threaten him. Is more a physiological warfare than actual fighting, Hooper being shorter than Kingshaw.

Movie caption. Charles Kingshaw sitting on a corner of his room while staring at a broken window
© UGCD. A. International

But messed up characters

The novel sustains itself with very few characters. Mrs. Helena Kingshaw, her son Charles Kingshaw, Joseph Hooper and his son Edmund Hooper. Later on Fielding is introduced as a means to keep the character development progressing.

All of them are very, very well written. 

Susan Hill fleshed out to perfection their fears, their mindset, and their mentality, everything! Of course, any reader, perceiving them from an external point of view, could say that they are unidimensional. Some of them borderline idiotic, namely the parents, but taking into account their background, their actions and reactions make perfect sense.

Mrs. Kingshaw is actually a widow, and her overlooking the whole pressure Hooper is putting on her son comes from her own insecurity of what to do with her life when she doesn’t have a man by her side. While Joseph Hooper regrets having a lame relationship with his father, and has no idea of how to raise his son, therefore he thinks a lady in the house would fix things on his behalf.

Mr. Hooper and Mrs. Kingshaw talking, Je suis le seigneur du chateau movie caption
© UGCD. A. International

For the moment Fledging is introduced, he seems like a breather for all the bullying little Kingshaw is suffering from Hooper. Fledging is nothing but a countryside boy with passion for nature, and surprisingly he is the most level headed character from the whole cast.

But knowing the depressing curve this twisted plot follows, Fledging’s brief apparition only serves to nourish our apprehension for something terrible about to happen. He’s a device for the calm before the storm.

There’s a lack of exposition in the whole book, the narrative is more subtle than just plain telling you why this character in particular did not act as any sensible person should.

It is more rounded by giving you hints. And that it’s precisely why this is so emotional.

You enter the head of young boy Charles Kingshaw, bullied and ignored by his mother, and you see all these fears and frustration that, even from my point of view as an independent adult, it gives you all the devices for feeling it plausible, and painfully relatable. It leads to sympathize with him.   

A detail that came a bit odd was how Susan Hill decided the children all along the story should be called by their last names, supposedly is the way children addressed each other during the 70’s. I didn’t read more into that. After a while it comes natural to name the boy protagonists Kingshaw and Hooper instead of Charles and Edmund.

Final thoughts in I Am The King Of The Castle

It is a depressing book. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who had suffered from bullying in their childhood. I was never a victim, but it brought me back to situations when my closest friend in elementary school suffered from classmates’ harassment. The hopelessness in Kingshaw is more scary thought the eyes of any child. 

Hooper pointing a cane at Kingshaw, I am the king of the castle movie caption
© UGCD. A. International

Since I read 1984, I had never felt the urge to throw away a book after finishing it. It reminded me in some way to Lord Of The Flies, where everything that may go bad goes wrong. The ending is a genuine slap on the face that makes you wonder why must the most scary monsters come from real life. 

If you are an emotional person, just stay away from it. But, if you are up for great narrative, character development, and suspenseful, real life horror, this novel from the 70’s will become a great addition to your collection. 

I Am The King Of The Castle book cover 1977 editon

Book details

224 pages

Penguin Books (February 24, 1977)

ISBN-10: 0140034919

ISBN-13: 978-0140034912

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