(1944- ) UK writer best-known for the Duncton Chronicles, a sequence of Animal Fantasies: Duncton Wood (1980), Duncton Quest (1988), Duncton Found (1989), Duncton Tales (1991), Duncton Rising (1992) and Duncton Stone (1993). Set in rural England near Oxford, and telling the saga through many generations of a complex culture of moles, the sequence has some resemblance to Richard Adams's Watership Down (1972): the two are similar in their versimilitudinous settings, the sense of the precariousness of the lives depicted, and their underlying Quest structure, but differ profoundly in that WH's sequence is also a Beast Fable. His moles are mole-like only to a point, beyond which their intelligence, the complexity of their Religion, the ardour of their quests, the violence of their internecine disputes and the consuming intensity of their sexual activities all make them clearly allegorical (> Allegory) of human beings. The final effect although not particularly subtle, gives the sequence as a whole a sense of brooding estrangement: its protagonists, neither mole nor human, echo both conditions of being.
Most of WH's other tales deal with animals. In The Stonor Eagles (1982) the last sea-eagle in Scotland flies to Norway, where she has mystical experiences and dreams of returning home. Callanish (1984), not a sequel, deals with a golden eagle who masterminds an escape of his kin from London Zoo. The Willows in Winter * (1993) sequels Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows (1908) and has moments of surprising power, especially when the Wild Wood is seen as part of a threatening larger world (> Sequels by Other Hands). The Wolves of Time, begun with Journeys to the Heartland (1995), focuses on the wolves of Europe, who are mystically called upon to undergo a cleansing quest eastwards for the Heartland, which is dominated by an evil figure. Only one WH tale, Skallagrigg (1987), focuses primarily on humans; it deals with the eponymous Messiah figure in terms that allow and disallow his literal reality.
Writers of animal fantasies do not normally get very seriously treated by critics; WH deserves rather more attention than he has been accorded to date. [JC]