Moray Williams, Ursula 1911-
MORAY WILLIAMS, Ursula 1911-
PERSONAL: Born April 19, 1911, in Petersfield, Hampshire, England; daughter of Arthur (an archeologist and tutor in classics) and Mabel Lizzie (a teacher; maiden name, Unwin) Moray Williams; married Conrad (Peter) Southey John (an aircraft engineer), September 28, 1935 (died, 1974); children: Andrew, Hugh, Robin, James. Education: Educated privately at home by a governess; attended finishing school in Annecy, France, 1927-28, and the Winchester College of Art (Winchester, England), 1928-29. Religion: Church of England. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, sewing, traveling.
ADDRESSES: Home—Pearcroft Cottage, Conderton, Gloucestershire, England. Agent—Curtis Brown Ltd., 162-168 Regent St., London, W1R 5TA England.
CAREER: Author and illustrator of books for children. Magistrate and Justice of the Peace, Worchestershire-Evesham bench, 1958-81; chairman of Evesham Juvenile Panel, 1972-75; deputy chairman of Adult Bench, 1975-81. Former governor of County High School, Evesham, England; former governor of Vale of Evesham School for Educationally Subnormal Children; former manager of Beckford Junior School. President of Women's Royal British Legion, 1974—. Former presiding member of Mother's Union. Founder of children's writing competitions in Cheltenham, England; the Outer Hebrides; and New Zealand. Has given book talks at school libraries in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
MEMBER: National Book League, West of England Writers Association, PEN (London, England), Cheltenham Literary Festival Society.
AWARDS, HONORS: Spring Book Festival Award middle honor, New York Herald Tribune, 1971, for The Three Toymakers; Gobbolino the Witch's Cat was buried in a time capsule, 1978, in Harmondsworth, England, for the children of 2078 to discover.
SELF-ILLUSTRATED CHILDREN'S BOOKS
Jean-Pierre, A. & C. Black (London, England), 1931.
For Brownies: Stories and Games for the Pack and Everybody Else, Harrap (London, England), 1933.
Grandfather (verse), Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1933.
The Pettabomination (also see below), Archer Press (London, England), 1933, revised edition, Lane (London, England), 1948.
More for Brownies, Harrap (London, England), 1934.
(Illustrated with sister, Barbara Moray Williams) Kelpie, the Gipsies' Pony, Harrap (London, England), 1934, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1935.
Anders and Marta, Harrap (London, England), 1935.
Adventures of Anne, Harrap (London, England), 1935.
The Twins and Their Ponies, Harrap (London, England), 1936.
Sandy-on-the-Shore, Harrap (London, England), 1936.
Tales for the Sixes and Sevens, Harrap (London, England), 1936.
Dumpling: The Story of a Pony, Harrap (London, England), 1937.
(Illustrated with sister, Barbara Moray Williams) Elaine of La Signe, Harrap (London, England), 1937, published as Elaine of the Mountains, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1939.
The Good Little Christmas Tree (also see below), Harrap (London, England), 1943, illustrated by Jane Paton, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1970, illustrated by Gillian Tyler, Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.
The Three Toymakers, Harrap (London, England), 1945, revised edition, illustrated by Shirley Hughes, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1970, Thomas Nelson (Camden, NJ), 1971.
The House of Happiness (also see below), Harrap (London, England), 1946.
Malkin's Mountain, Harrap (London, England), 1948, revised edition, illustrated by Shirley Hughes, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1970, Thomas Nelson (New York, NY), 1972.
The Story of Laughing Dandino, Harrap (London, England), 1948.
The Binklebys at Home, Harrap (London, England), 1951.
The Binklebys on the Farm, Harrap (London, England), 1953.
The Secrets of the Wood, Harrap (London, England), 1955.
Grumpa, Brockhampton Press (Leicester, England), 1955.
Goodbody's Puppet Show, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1956.
Golden Horse with a Silver Tail, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1957.
Hobbie, Brockhampton Press (Leicester, England), 1958.
The Moonball, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1958, illustrated by Jane Paton, Meredith Press (New York, NY), 1967.
O for a Mouseless House!, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1964.
OTHER CHILDREN'S BOOKS
(With husband, C. S. John, as Peter John) The Adventures of Boss and Dingbatt, photographs by Peter John, Harrap (London, England), 1937.
Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse, illustrated by Joyce Lankester Brisley, Harrap (London, England), 1938, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1939, illustrated by Peggy Fortnum, Penguin (Baltimore, MD), 1959, illustrated by Paul Howard, Kingfisher (New York, NY), 2001.
Adventures of Puffin, illustrated by Mary Shillabeer, Harrap (London, England), 1939.
Peter and the Wanderlust, illustrated by Jack Matthew, Harrap (London, England), 1939, illustrated by Henry C. Pitz, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1940, revised edition published as Peter on the Road, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1963.
Pretenders' Island, illustrated by Joyce Lankester Brisley, Harrap (London, England), 1940, Knopf (New York, NY), 1942.
A Castle for John-Peter, illustrated by Eileen A. Soper, Harrap (London, England), 1941.
Gobbolino the Witch's Cat, Harrap (London, England), 1942, illustrated by Paul Howard, Kingfisher (New York, NY), 2001.
Jockin the Jester, illustrated by Barbara Moray Williams, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1951, Thomas Nelson (Nashville, TN), 1973.
The Noble Hawks, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1959, published as The Earl's Falconer, illustrated by Charles Geer, Morrow (New York, NY), 1961.
The Nine Lives of Island Mackenzie, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1959, published as Island Mackenzie, Morrow (New York, NY), 1960.
Beware of This Animal, illustrated by Jane Paton, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1964, Dial Press (New York, NY), 1965.
Johnnie Tigerskin, illustrated by Diana Johns, Harrap (London, England), 1964, Duell, Sloan, & Pearce (New York, NY), 1966.
High Adventure, illustrated by Prudence Seward, Thomas Nelson (London, England), 1965.
The Cruise of the "Happy-Go-Gay," illustrated by Gunvor Edwards, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1967, published as The Cruise of the Happy-Go-Gay, Meredith Press (New York, NY), 1968.
A Crown for a Queen, illustrated by Shirley Hughes, Meredith Press (New York, NY), 1968.
The Toymaker's Daughter, illustrated by Shirley Hughes, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1968, Meredith Press (New York, NY), 1969.
Mog, illustrated by Faith Jaques, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1969.
Boy in a Barn, illustrated by Terence Dalley, Thomas Nelson (New York, NY), 1970.
Johnnie Golightly and His Crocodile, illustrated by Faith Jaques, Chatto, Boyd, & Oliver (London, England), 1970, Harvey House (Irvington-on-Hudson, NY), 1971.
Traffic Jam, illustrated by Robert Hales, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1971.
Man on a Steeple, illustrated by Mary Dinsdale, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1971.
Mrs. Townsend's Robber, illustrated by Gavin Rowe, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1971.
Out of the Shadows, illustrated by Gavin Rowe, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1971.
Castle Merlin, Allen & Unwin (London, England), Thomas Nelson (Nashville, TN), 1972.
Children's Parties and Games for a Rainy Day, Corgi Books (London, England), 1972.
A Picnic with the Aunts, illustrated by Faith Jaques, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1972.
The Kidnapping of My Grandmother, illustrated by Mike Jackson, Heinemann (London, England), 1972.
Tiger-Nanny, illustrated by Gunvor Edwards, Brockhampton Press (Leicester, England), 1973, Thomas Nelson (Nashville, TN), 1974.
Grandpapa's Folly and the Woodworm-Bookworm, illustrated by Faith Jaques, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1974.
The Line, illustrated by Barry Wilkinson, Penguin (London, England), 1974.
No Ponies for Miss Pobjoy, illustrated by Pat Marriott, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1975, Thomas Nelson (Nashville, TN), 1976.
Bogwoppit, illustrated by Shirley Hughes, Thomas Nelson (Nashville, TN), 1978.
Jeffy the Burglar's Cat, illustrated by David McKee, Andersen Press (London, England), 1981.
Bellabelinda and the No-Good Angel, illustrated by Glenys Ambrus, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1982.
The Further Adventures of Gobbolino and the Little Wooden Horse, illustrated by Pauline Baynes, Penguin (London, England), 1984, illustrated by Paul Howard, Kingfisher (New York, NY), 2002.
Spid, illustrated by David McKee, Andersen Press (London, England), 1985.
Grandma and the Ghowlies, illustrated by Susan Varley, Andersen Press (London, England), 1986.
Paddy on the Island, illustrated by Tor Morisse, Andersen Press (London, England), 1987.
PLAYS FOR CHILDREN
(Self-illustrated) The Autumn Sweepers and Other Plays (includes Mother Josephine Bakes Bread, Forfeits, Tavi of Gold, The Organ Grinder: A Mime, and A Sea Ballet), A. & C. Black (London, England), 1933.
The Good Little Christmas Tree (adapted from her play of the same name), Samuel French (London, England), 1951.
The House of Happiness (adapted from her play of the same name), Samuel French (London, England), 1951.
The Pettabomination: A Play in One Act (adapted from her play of the same name), Samuel French (London, England), 1951.
Also author of stories for reluctant readers. Contributor to numerous anthologies and to magazines, including Cricket, Lady, Marshall Cavendish Storyteller, and Puffin Post. Moray Williams's books have been translated into over thirteen languages, including Icelandic, Japanese, and Romanish.
ADAPTATIONS: Gobbolino the Witch's Cat was recorded on Delyse Records, 1967, on Storyteller Cassettes, 1982-83, and as an audiobook by Chivers Audiobooks, 1995, and BBC Audiobooks, 1996; Spid was released on audio cassette by Chivers Children's Audio Books, 1990; Grandma and the Ghowlies was released on audio cassette by Chivers Audio Books, 1991, and BBC Audio Books, 1997; Bogwoppit was released on audio cassette by Chivers Children's Audio Books, 1994; Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse was released on audio cassette by Chivers Audio Books, 1996, and BBC Audiobooks in 1999; Jeffy the Burglar's Cat was released on audio cassette by Chivers Audio Books, 1998; The Further Adventures of Gobbolino the Witch's Cat and the Little Wooden Horse was released on audio cassette by Chivers Children's Audio Books, 1998; The Good Little Christmas Tree was released on audio cassette, 2000, and CD, 2001, both by BBC Audiobooks; Bogwoppit, Gobbolino the Witch's Cat, Jeffy the Burglar's Cat, The Nine Lives of Island Mackenzie, Paddy on the Island, and The Three Toymakers were adapted for television by the British Broadcasting Company and were presented on the children's program Jackanory.
SIDELIGHTS: An English author and illustrator of books for children, Ursula Moray Williams has been popular with the young for over seventy years. She has created approximately seventy titles that are noted for their variety, imagination, charm, and incisive observations of human nature. Moray Williams has written genre books—school stories, ghost stories, and adventure tales, among others—as well as humorous stories, historical fiction, realistic fiction, picture books, fantasies, plays, verse, and books that combine fantasy and realism. She fills her works with things that appeal to children, such as animals, both real and anthropomorphic; toys; exotic settings, such as the Bavarian Alps and tropical desert islands; and the supernatural. The author perhaps is best noted as the creator of Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse, the story of a toy pony who goes into the world to earn money to support his beloved maker; originally published in 1938, the book now is considered a classic. Thematically, Moray Williams blends fantasy, humor, and adventure to address the relationship of good and evil. Her protagonists—child, toy, and animal alike—are loving and generous personages, say critics, who encounter danger, deception, violence, discrimination, and rejection. However, the characters surmount these obstacles through their courage, compassion, loyalty, and kindness.
As a literary stylist, Moray Williams is praised for writing clear, graceful prose that features interesting plot twists and cliffhanger chapter endings; she also is noted for adding witty, satiric undertones to several of her stories and for creating works that are perfect for reading aloud. As an illustrator, Moray Williams has provided line drawings and collage cut-outs for about a third of her works; her books also have been illustrated by artists such as Edward Ardizzone, Shirley Hughes, Gunvor Edwards, Faith Jaques, David McKee, and the author's twin sister, Barbara Moray Williams. Although she occasionally is criticized by reviewers for writing stories that are too long, too sentimental, or too old-fashioned, Moray Williams generally is considered an author whose long and remarkable career demonstrates her keen understanding of children and what appeals to them. Writing in St. James Guide to Children's Writers, Winifred Whitehead commented that Moray Williams "is an inventive as well as a prolific writer, and in their different ways her books are well-written, pleasantly intriguing, and occasionally achieve a haunting power and a delightfully sharp and witty observation of the foibles of mankind." Joanne Lewis Sears, writing in Dictionary of Literary Biography, stated that Moray Williams "has given children readable, absorbing tales, both fanciful and realistic, for more than half a century....She writes in so many modes and to such varied age levels that her work occupies no fixed niche in the history of children's literature....Her simple, forthright values and amusingly unrepentant protagonists please children far removed from the sunshine world she once shared with her twin sister, Barbara." Writing in Books for Your Children, Anne Wood concluded that the author's "quick response to everything positive, creative, beautiful, and amusing is reflected in her writing. And yet what makes her work for children stand out from the common run is the way in which her characters . . . overcome adversity, wickedness, and, above all, rejection."
Born in Petersfield, Hampshire, England, Moray Williams came into the world just ten minutes after her identical twin sister, Barbara. Their parents, Arthur and Mabel Lizzie Moray Williams, had lost their first child, a boy, to pneumonia; the twins were born on his second birthday. Writing in Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS), Moray Williams recalled that her parents "often told us how they would look on the pair of us and laugh for joy at the thought of having two babies given back to them for the one they had lost." Arthur Moray Williams was an archeologist who also tutored students in Greek and Latin, and Mabel Lizzie Moray Williams was a teacher who had trained in the Froebel method in Germany. The author wrote, "My mother gave us our first lessons, and taught us very early to read. I still remember the excitement of finding out that H-O-T spelt 'hot' and not 'hat' or 'hut' or 'hit.'"
Despite the onset of World War I, Moray recalled, "Our childhood was a happy one." At the time that war was declared, the twins had joined the Girl Guides, the British version of the Girl Scouts, and had learned to ride. Moray Williams noted that although she and Barbara "loved the Guides and worshipped our captain, nothing took the places of horses in our hearts." The author remembered that she and her sister "became horse mad, like many another girl of our age....Years later I wrote a book called The Twins and Their Ponies which described those happy days, but inevitably we grew out of that excitement, though the smell and sound of a horse still gets into my blood at times."
After the end of the war, Ursula, Barbara, and their younger brother, Alan, were told suddenly that they were going to move to an old "folly," as their parents described it, on the other side of Hampshire. While the move took place, the twins and their brother stayed with their maternal grandparents in Bromley, Kent.
Moray Williams recalled that, though she and Barbara were upset about leaving their old life, they had developed something special from which they could not be parted: "One thing that the Move and the Grown-Up World could not take away from us was our drawing and our storytelling. For years we had to go to bed so early that of course we could not sleep, so we used those precious hours for telling stories, breaking off in turn to toss the thread to one another: 'Now you!' 'Now you!' I can't remember any occasion when the other twin changed the plot too violently.
"We told about three families in turn, and later, when we stayed up longer, we wrote these stories down. . . always new ones, of course, working at a long table with a screen of books stretched across the middle, and a lot of pictures in colour to make them more interesting. These books took about three months to finish, and were presented to each other on Christmas morning, and first thing on our birthdays." Moray Williams recalled writing her first full-length book, the story of a bad little boy, at the age of seven. She gave it to a twenty-year-old man who had just finished giving the fledgling author her first ride on a horse; Moray Williams mused that the young man, who was quite embarrassed by her gift, probably fed her book to the horse.
Moray Williams and her family moved into the "Folly," a house in North Stoneham that was located between Southampton and Winchester. Built in the mid-1700s, the home originally was owned by a man who, according to Moray Williams, "wanted to parade his affluence and his self-importance, but he had not enough money to pay for the best materials, nor anything but rather shoddy workmanship." The house was enormous, filled with huge, high rooms; long, dark corridors; and a glass ceiling on which was painted a copy of Michelangelo's "Transfiguration." The house also had a huge library; however, the twins were disappointed to find that it was just a sham. Moray Williams noted, "When we rushed into the room and tore at the volumes on the shelves, there was not one book we could take down to read. Titles, yes. Beautiful bindings, maybe, and dozens of them, hundreds really. But of absolutely no use for reading. The whole library had been constructed to impress the original owner's friends.... Long afterwards I brought it to partial life in Grandpapa's Folly and the Woodworm-Bookworm, and I also built round it A Castle for John-Peter."
Since they lived on a large, wild park, the twins were permitted to have a pony of their own. They worked to earn the money for it by selling goat's milk, flowers, nuts, blackberries, and other things. Finally, they made enough money to buy their first pony, Puss, which Moray Williams called "the gentlest thing we ever met. In time we had larger ponies, one after another, and we were given a pony cart by a generous friend, which gave us hours of pleasure."
Arthur Moray Williams decided that his children should have a governess, and so the family hired Miss Rattray, a woman of Scottish descent whom they called Tchat. Of Tchat, the author wrote, "She taught us a lot. . . Tchat taught us to love English and French classics....In'lessons'TchataddedJane Austen, [Alexandre] Dumas, Victor Hugo, and set us subjects for English essays that we found entrancing. We also drew and painted with her, and continued writing our anniversary books that went on for years and years." The twins' parents gave them many books that they had owned as children as well as more contemporary books for Christmas and their birthdays. Their mother also read aloud to the girls from such authors as Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, and Mark Twain. At a children's party, Ursula received a copy of Frances Hodgson Burnett's story The Secret Garden, which, she confided in SAAS, "became my favorite book of all time." She continued, "I remain so grateful to Tchat and my parents for their emphasis on books and reading aloud. I am sure I would not have become a writer without their encouragement."
When the twins were almost seventeen, they were sent to live with a French pastor and his family, the Noyers, in Annecy, Haute-Savoie, France. The pair spent what Moray Williams called "an idyllic year," where they attended school, swam in the lake, rowed, hiked, skied, climbed mountains, played tennis, and did many other things that previously they had only read about. Moray Williams noted, "The scenery and countryside were so beautiful they made a great impression on me, and I slowly began to write independently." Later, Moray Williams would use the background of Annecy for several of her books, including three volumes of her "Toymaker" series, The Three Toymakers, Malkin's Mountain, and The Toymaker's Daughter.
After returning home from France, the twins went to the Winchester College of Art, a school nine miles from the "Folly." Moray Williams commented, "My sister enjoyed this, but I did not. After a year, I broke away to write books for children, while Barbara went on to London to study at the Royal College of Art under Sir William Rothenstein. My parents very generously allowed me to stay at home and write." In 1931, twenty-year-old Moray Williams produced her first book, Jean-Pierre, a story set in the mountains of Annecy. In this work, which the author illustrated with bright colors on a black background, a small boy and his goat are forbidden to climb alone in the mountains, but do so anyway. Her second and fourth books, For Brownies: Stories and Games for the Pack and Everybody Else and More for Brownies, were inspired by the author's experience as Brown Owl, or den mother, to a Brownie troop in the village where she lived. Moray Williams's uncle, Sir Stanley Unwin, headed the prestigious publishing firm of Allen and Unwin. He helped his niece to get her early books published but, when he began to complain that he was her unpaid agent, she soon found herself a professional.
In 1935, Moray Williams married Conrad Southey John, called Peter, an aircraft engineer and former Royal Air Force pilot who was the great-grandson of Robert Southey, a Poet Laureate of England. The couple had four sons, Andrew, Hugh, Robin, and James. As Peter John, Southey collaborated with his wife on and provided the photographs for The Adventures of Boss and Dingbatt; he passed away in 1974.
The first of Moray Williams's books to win her international acclaim was Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse. While pregnant with her first son, Andrew, she crafted the tale of a quiet but brave horse, a carved push-along toy on wheels, whose unconditional love for Uncle Peder, an old toy maker, inspires him to leave home in order to save his master from poverty. The horse finds work with a cruel farmer before escaping on a canal barge. Taken across the sea on a trading ship, he works in a coal mine, takes the place of a royal coach horse, walks the high-wire in a circus, and rescues ponies that are trapped in a mine, among other adventures. Finally, the horse swims home across the ocean with the money that he has earned tucked inside his hollow body. Since the publication of this story, which has never been out of print, critics generally have called Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse an exciting and moving tale.
Writing in Books for Keeps, Margery Fisher remarked that the author's "shrewd understanding of the way people treat outsiders gives depth to a nursery tale with an abiding faith in the values of courage and loyalty." Fisher concluded that Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse "is as fresh as it ever was." Writing in her Who's Who in Children's Books: A Treasury of the Familiar Characters of Childhood, Fisher stated, "Beside familiar characters like [Rachel Field's] Hitty and [Richard Henry Horne's] Maria Poppet, the Little Wooden Horse must take his place as one of those seemingly simple characters whose behaviour and exploits carry deeper meanings and touch unexpected depths of feeling in the reader. Staunch, loyal, unselfish, the Little Wooden Horse is all the more appealing because he is a reluctant hero....Affection and security are as important to the character, and the story, as the variety and colour of the adventures which the little horse survives." Describing the books as "highly moral and deeply emotional," Victor Watson, writing in The Cambridge Guide to Children's Books in English, called Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse "a heartbreaking but happily resolved episodic tale."
In 1942, Moray Williams created another of her most popular works with Gobbolino the Witch's Cat. In this story, which she wrote for two of her sons, a kitten that is the son of Graymalkin, the famous witch's cat from William Shakespeare's play Macbeth, wants only to be a kitchen cat. Rather than being all black, as witch's cats are supposed to be, Gobbolino is a tabby, with blue eyes and a white paw. Deserted by his mother and sister, and despised for his goodness by the witch whom he serves, Gobbolino sets out to find a place with a warm fire and a kind family to take care of him. However, Gobbolino's ability to do magic brings him trouble, and his reputation as a witch's cat follows him on his adventures, which include acting as Dog Toby in a Punch and Judy puppet show. More than once, he is betrayed by people whom he thought were his friends. Despite his disappointments, Gobbolino eventually finds the home that he has dreamed of: a farm full of children. Writing in Books for Your Children Anne Wood remarked, "Of all Ursula's creations, it is probably Gobbolino the Witch's Cat who is her best known character. He is certainly endearing, wishing only for a quiet fireside life but despite himself, beset at every turn by his inherited magic powers."
In 1984, Moray Williams brought her two most popular characters together in The Further Adventures of Gobbolino and the Little Wooden Horse. In this work, Gobbolino answers a desperate cry for help from his sister Sootica, who begs him to rescue her from the witch who owns her. On his journey, Gobbolino meets the little wooden horse, who offers to accompany him. After arriving at the home of the old witch in the Hurricane Mountains, Gobbolino is asked by his sister, a crafty kitty, to take her place with the witch so that she can escape, a plan to which he agrees. In order for the witch to believe this ruse, Gobbolino must hide his tabby markings and white paw. When the witch discovers his true identity, she casts a spell that prevents the cat and horse from leaving the Hurricane Mountains. At great personal risk, the two friends finally get the village priest to break the witch's spell with a blessing. The pair escape, but the horse loses an ear. He and the cat travel towards home but go back to the witch when they hear that she has become ill. Gobbolino nurses the witch back to health. Finally, both she and Sootica, who has returned after being mistreated in the outside world for her status as a witch's cat, vow that they will stop casting spells. As her last hurrah as a sorcerer, the witch allows Gobbolino and the little wooden horse to fly home, where they are met by both Uncle Peder and the children from Gobbolino's farm.
Calling The Further Adventures of Gobbolino and the Little Wooden Horse "a pleasantly alarming and adventurous sequel," Winifred Whitehead of St. James Guide to Children's Writers noted that the title characters demonstrate "the values of a kind heart and faithfulness and that even witches deserve loyalty and compassion." Margery Fisher in Growing Point stated that this sequel to "two well-loved stories. . . will be welcomed with pleasurable anticipation by two generations. Nobody will be disappointed. Ursula Moray Williams writes in the tradition of George MacDonald and E. Nesbit, using a measure of unalarming, even homely magic to carry to the young the essential message that conflicts of good and evil rest partly in their hands." Fisher concluded that "this third book worthily extends the exploits of two inimitable nursery heroes." In her foreword to The Further Adventures of Gobbolino and the Little Wooden Horse, Philippa Pearce called the coming together of the main characters a "rarity in literature, I believe, and, in this instance, a treasure." Calling the two friends equals, "or rather, complementaries," Pearce continued, "A nearer approximation might be the first encounter of [Kenneth Grahame's] Ratty and Mole on the riverbank." Pearce concluded, "The enterprise to which our two heroes dedicate themselves leads to frightening adventures, and so the two of them—how like us!—are often frightened. But they never, ever give up.... Above all, they both believe—they know—that they are doing the right thing, the good thing."
Moray Williams's series of "Toymaker" books, a multi-volume set of fantasies set in Drussl in the Bavarian Alps, are considered among her best works. These stories feature Marta, a beautiful, ageless mechanical doll that possesses both magical powers and a malicious nature. The series, which began in 1935 with Anders and Marta and was published out of sequence, uses the form of the traditional folktale to examine the nature of evil. In The Three Toymakers, a volume published in 1945, the author introduces Marta, who is made by the amoral toy maker Malkin as an entry in a contest with wood-carvers from around the world. The artisans are competing for a thousand gold pieces, awarded by the king to the craftsman who can create the most perfect toy. Malkin, who previously has created ugly, scowling playthings, fashions Marta, a doll with white skin, black hair, and silky lashes. Though lovely to look at, Marta is endowed with her maker's nasty streak. Her bad behavior causes Malkin to lose the contest, and he takes Marta and moves to the dark side of the mountain. Writing in Horn Book, Virginia Haviland commented, "Told with swiftness, the story rises in suspense through the final hours when all is set straight in fine folk-tale manner." A critic in Publishers Weekly noted that "justice triumphs in a most satisfying ending."
In Malkin's Mountains, a volume published in 1948, Malkin tries to prevent his chief rival, Peter the Toymaker, from harvesting the wood that he needs to create his marvelous toys. Malkin uses magic to move the mountain where Peter harvests his wood, and he protects himself with an army of corrupt wooden soldiers, who threaten to destroy the people of Peter's village. Peter's protégé Rudi and his twins try to save the toy maker and are captured by Malkin and Marta, who is now Malkin's queen. Marta tries to seduce Rudi and his sons with offers of power; however, their faith and persistence come to the fore, and eventually they defeat the evil toy maker and his doll-queen.
In 1969, Moray Williams completed her "Toymaker" series with The Toymaker's Daughter. In this work, Marta, who remembers the kindness shown to her by Rudi and his younger brother Anders, escapes from Malkin and goes to live with Anders and his family. Marta longs to be a real girl, and for a while it looks as though she might achieve her goal. Although she tries hard to be good, Marta cannot help herself, and she uses her magic to play mean-spirited tricks. Finally, she decides that it is better to be known as Malkin's most wonderful creation than to remain a half-doll, half-child. She returns to the dark side of the mountain to take care of Malkin, who has been trying to get her to come back. Writing in Library Journal, Arlene Ruthenberg commented that "the well-developed plot . . . and appealing story will win this title fans among girls not yet solidly into the mystery story phase." Ruth Hill Viguers of Horn Book noted, "The book has the mountain atmosphere so much loved in Heidi and will give delight to little girls who enjoy tales of dolls who come alive." Writing in Saturday Review, Zena Sutherland remarked, "The characters live and breathe, both real and doll-girl being made of spice as well as sugar." In assessing the series, Sears wrote in the Dictionary of Literary Biography that the "Toymaker" books "represent Williams's most complex and thematically interesting work." Sears concluded that, to Williams's credit, the series "engages problems of absolute evil through an unselfconscious, absorbing narrative—one that retains shades of moral complexity without damaging the pace of the plot."
In addition to her works for younger children, Moray Williams has written well-received titles for young people. One of the most well received is The Noble Hawks, a book that was published in 1959, appearing in the United States as The Earl's Falconer. Historical fiction set in medieval times, the story outlines what happens when young Dickon, the son of a yeoman, rescues an injured falcon from the top of a tree. Although only those of noble birth were allowed to own or to fly falcons in those days, Dickon's bravery and his genuine love for the birds impress his liege lord, the Earl of Alden, who allows him to become a falconer. Calling the book "a most valuable work," a reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement stated, "Accuracy in an unfamiliar subject is the hallmark of The Noble Hawks." Writing in the Spectator about the same book, Geoffrey Nicholson commented, "The conversation is a little precious, but the action is tense and vigorous enough." Viguers of Horn Book concluded in a review of The Earl's Falconer, "Boys and girls interested in falconry will find almost everything to satisfy them in this well-written story."
Among Moray Williams's most popular works is Bogwoppit, a humorous fantasy for middle graders. Published in 1978, the story describes how Samantha Millett, an eleven-year-old orphan, goes to live with her reclusive, cranky aunt, Daisy Clandorris. Aunt Daisy, who lives in a mansion on a country estate called the Park, does not like children; in fact, she intends to let Samantha stay with her only until she can make other arrangements. The Park is overrun with bogwoppits, rat-like creatures with short wings and long tails that are thought to be extinct. The bogwoppits have infested the house through its drains. When Samantha arrives at the manor, Daisy is attempting to disinfect it in order to destroy the bogwoppits; however, Samantha becomes fond of one of the creatures, even taking it to school with her. When an army of bogwoppits kidnap Daisy to prevent their extermination, Samantha goes under the house to find her. Daisy is rescued, though reluctantly as she has found the bogwoppits to be less irritating than people. When Daisy's husband, the long-absent Lord Ernest Clandorris, turns up suddenly, he announces that he has been in South America studying bogwoppits. Finally, Daisy decides to accompany her husband back to the jungle; before she leaves, she bequeaths the Park, which will be turned into a bogwoppit sanctuary, to Samantha, whom she has learned to love. Calling the tale "suspenseful and fantastic," a reviewer in Publishers Weekly admitted that Moray Williams imbued her imaginary creatures "with so much personality that one hates to think that they are only make-believe." Victor Watson, writing in The Cambridge Guide to Children's Books in English called Bogwoppit "deliciously absurd."
Moray Williams once told CA: "My ideas just come. I never plan them, and always find something inside me trying to get out! I still write better when time is just a little short! And [I] still deeply love the country and the isolation bred of our early life in that strange old house we lived in." Regarding her writing, she told Anne Wood of Books for Your Children, "It's very exciting. I have no idea in the morning what will happen to it when I sit down to write at five o'clock that evening." She once remarked, "Children's books have changed a bit since the 1930s in that violence, divorce, and, to a certain extent, sex are now tolerated—but children respond eternally to sincerity, a proportion of emotion or sentiment, excitement, and kindness—which makes them feel less vulnerable!" In assessing her career, Moray Williams wrote in St. James Guide to Children's Writers, "I've no idea why I write or wrote what I did. Ask a hen why it lays an egg."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 160: British Children's Writers, 1914-1960, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995.
Doyle, Brian, editor, The Who's Who of Children's Literature, Schocken Books (New York, NY), 1971.
Fisher, Margery, Who's Who in Children's Books: A Treasury of the Familiar Characters of Childhood, Holt, Rinehart, & Winston (New York, NY), 1975.
Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 9, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990.
St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, St.James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Watson, Victor, The Cambridge Guide to Children's Books in English, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 2001.
Williams, Ursula Moray, The Further Adventures of Gobbolino and the Little Wooden Horse, foreword by Philippa Pearce, Kingfisher (New York, NY), 2002.
Books for Keeps, November, 1991, Margery Fisher, review of Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse, p. 30.
Books for Your Children, autumn, 1986, Anne Wood, "A Taste for a Feeling Book?," p. 2.
Growing Point, January, 1985, Margery Fisher, review of The Further Adventures of Gobbolino and the Little Wooden Horse, pp. 4358-4359.
Horn Book, June, 1961, Ruth Hill Viguers, review of The Earl's Falconer, p. 267; October, 1969, Ruth Hill Viguers, review of The Toymaker's Daughter, p. 638; August, 1971, Virginia Haviland, review of The Three Toymakers, p. 387.
Library Journal, September 18, 1969, Arlene Ruthenberg, review of The Toymaker's Daughter, pp. 3209-3210.
Publishers Weekly, May 31, 1971, review of The Three Toymakers, p. 135; May 8, 1978, review of Bogwoppit, p. 75.
Saturday Review, August 16, 1969, Zena Sutherland, review of The Toymaker's Daughter, p. 37.
Spectator, June 12, 1959, Geoffrey Nicholson, review of The Noble Hawks, p. 849.
Times Literary Supplement, May 29, 1959, review of The Noble Hawks, p. xi.*