Griselda Heppel on BBC Radio Oxford
Once again, Heppel has created a YA winner by combining contemporary children’s school lives with an ancient legend.. The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst is based around the German stories of ‘Dr Faustus’, tales of pacting with the devil (or Mephistopheles). Old adult literary versions of Faust exist in three European languages, includeing Goethe’s German play, the English Elizabethan play of The Tragical History of Dr Faustus by Christopher Marlow, and in French, Gounod’s opera Faust.
Heppel, undaunted, tackles re-writing the story for children, as a contemporary/Elizabethan version, the modern scenes well set in a school environment where Henry Foist, from a very ordinary home, is temporarily seduced into friendship with a boy from what looks like an exotically well-off family. Henry is an able boy: his ‘friend’ wants something from him which he can’t achieve himself … In Elizabethan times, we meet John, who is favoured by a wealthy and educated man and brought in to learn alongside his son. Neatly, a discovery by Henry links his tale to John’s. And the old morality tale comes alive as young readers discover how human beings haven’t changed over history: Henry and John are locked into the same timeless problems of temptation, bribery, jealousy, and bullying.
The story moves with ease between the two centuries, and tension builds as the parallel narrations twist and turn towards the denouement, making this a real page turner, and at the same time, an encouragement to young readers to delve further into history and/or the classic tales of earlier times.
by Mari Howard
Griselda Heppel read English at Cambridge and worked in publishing before giving up full-time work to bring up her four children. She lives in Oxford with her husband. Her first book, Ante's Inferno, came out with Matador in 2012 and won the People's Book Prize and a Silver Wishing Shelf Award. This was followed by The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst (Matador, 2015). Her third children's novel, The Fall of a Sparrow, is due out in April 2021