Troubador The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst

Griselda Heppel on BBC Radio Oxford

Released: 28/08/2015

ISBN: 9781784623043

eISBN: 9781784625740

Format: Paperback/eBook

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The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst


In the shadows of Walton Hall a demon lurks. His name: Mephistopheles. In 1586, young John Striven struck a bargain with him in return for help against his murderous foster brother. Nice work for a demon – or it should have been. Because somehow, his plan to trap the 12-year-old went wrong. All he needs now is another soul, in similar desperation, to call on him. Enter 13 year-old Henry Fowst. A pupil at Northwell School, Henry longs to win the Northwell History Essay Prize. Exploring the school’s sixteenth century library, he stumbles across the diary of a boy his own age beginning this 20th day of Januarie, 1586... Soon Henry is absorbed in John Striven’s struggles with his jealous foster-brother, Thomas Walton, who, it seems, will stop at nothing to be rid of him. Then matters take a darker turn. Battling to escape his own enemy, Henry finds his life beginning to imitate John’s and when the diary shows John summoning ‘an Angellick Spirit’ to his aid, Henry eagerly tries the same. Unfortunately, calling up Mephistopheles lands both boys in greater danger than they’d ever bargained for...

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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

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

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