Thinking of the phrase “I”m the king of the castle” brings back memories of childish games and friendly dominance. As a child you have vanquished your foe and gained superiority over the rest of your kingdom. The plight for this feeling of control is the main theme of Susan Hill’s “I”m the king of the castle,” and is the fuel which drives this tragic tale of two isolated children’s exploration into the nature of cruelty and the power of evil. The book is set in the 1960’s in the town of Derne, Dorset, but the main focus lies in “Warings”, an estate where Edmund Hooper and his father live.
Warings is an isolated country house with great grounds surrounding it, including a vast wood known as “Hang Wood”. The different settings show off the two main characters” strengths and weaknesses, and definitely are a huge part of the quest for superiority, with Edmund having the immediate home advantage. Edmund Hooper and Charles Kingshaw are eleven-year-old boys. Charles” mother Helena has been hired at the Warings estate as an informal housekeeper, but deep down it seems that she is just there to give Joseph Hooper his desired companionship.
Both Helena and Joseph are widowed, have recovered from their loss, and now are in search for what they used to have. It looks like their falling in love is inevitable. Charles” arrival was vastly unwelcome for Edmund from the start, as Edmund made obvious by dropping him a note when he first arrives, reading “I Didn”T Want You To Come HerE. ” This short sentence makes it perfectly clear that the boys wouldn”t be friends immediately, and are most likely to be enemies. This concept of invading someone’s home and trying to take it over has connotations with medieval times of castles and knights.
Edmund feels threatened by the new arrivals; “It’s my house”, he thinks, “it is private, I got here first. Nobody should come here. ” Edmund liked his way of life before, Warings was the castle, and he was king, now there are intruders which he just can”t accept. Edmund appears to be a natural born leader; one of his hobbies is drawing up battle plans. When he’s on his home ground, “Everything is mine, and nothing is yours,” he believes, in a rather spoilt “Kingly” manner. Edmund knows his castle “back-to-front,” he sees all and knows all, making Kingshaw desperate. How could he compete with that?
Kingshaw is a very determined person. He is very proud, he refuses to just be the “dirty rascal”, he wants to be king. When his father died he lost the crown, in his view he has to reclaim his rightful place on the throne. He will be king or at least die trying. He knows that he can”t surrender to Hooper, at any costs. In the worst of times he tries to hide his despair and disbelief, not letting Edmund see his weakness, but Edmund can see through him. He knows how to manipulate a situation to his advantage, in his castle he has no weakness, here he is a natural born bully.
Edmund uses his knowledge of Warings as a means of torture. For example the eerie “red room” shows how he has grown used to everything that an outsider may be scared of. Mrs. Helena Kingshaw does not help her son’s case. She is staying in a castle and wants this to remain a long-term job; she wants to be queen, and she wants a better life for herself. She has to side with her future king, Joseph Hooper. Everyone is allied with Edmund against Charles. Within the castle Edmund’s power faces no serious opposition, but once removed he quickly loses self-control and therefore control over everything around him.
He is not used to being away from his castle, his fort, and does not know how to react. His kingdom slips away as he becomes hysterical in the unfamiliar territory of Hang Wood, and later Leydell Castle. “They”ll never find us,” he says when lost, “even if they send a hundred people, they might not ever find us. ” Charles takes advantage of Edmund’s extreme weakness and seizes power. This does not last long though, as they do get rescued and return to Warings. It is as if the whole scene had never happened; Edmund has regained his throne and gathered an even greater advantage.
Charles experienced what he may never get again; he was built-up to be knocked down. On the trip to Leydell Castle Hooper was vulnerable again. Kingshaw could see his chance. When climbing up a wall Edmund got scared and could not move: “I”ll fall off, I”ll fall off, Kingshaw my hands”ll slip I don”t like it, I don”t like it. I don”t want to see down. ” This is contrary to what you”d expect from the title of the novel, which suggests surety and confidence in one’s position. Hooper for a moment does not want to be “the king of the castle. ” The title infers pride and dominance, not cowardice and subservience.
Charles knew that Edmund was depending on him to get down, he had complete control. “I could kill him, I could make him fall just by looking at him There is nothing I can”t ask him for, nothing he won”t promise me. Up here, I”m the king. ” This is Charles Kingshaw’s climax; the greatest feeling for him is summarised in the title of the novel, he has the potential to change everything at this point. The title of Hill’s novel reflects the ultimate aim of the two main characters. They are so consumed by the task of achieving and retaining their kingdom that they are blind to anything else.
Having reached his peak Kingshaw is forced back into complete inferiority. After all he’s been through, this is too much for him to bear. Charles just can”t accept his given role. He has reached his low, but still sees things getting worse; any ray of hope has disappeared. Susan Hill leaves Charles Kingshaw with only way to escape Edmund’s tyranny: to take his own life. It is only through this tragedy that he can finally be free. “When he saw Kingshaw’s body, upside-down in the water, Hooper thought suddenly, it was because of me, I did that, it was because of me, and a spurt of triumph went through him. “