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November 23, 2012

Last night I went for a (very enjoyable) drink with Andy Stanton, author of the Mr Gum books, who was in fact a student in a creative writing class I taught about twelve years ago – by far my most successful ever alumnus. In the course of a conversation about children’s books, he opined that the Horrid Henry books are basically Just (sic) William books for five-year-olds. There may be something in that, though personally I find William by far the more likeable character. But the point is – although, not feeling in an argumentative mood, I didn’t bring it up at the time – that the William books should not be called the Just William books. They should be called the William books. But virtually everyone refers to them as the Just William books.

It came about like this. The first ever William book was entitled Just – William (note that dash, which seems to have been airbrushed out of literary history). All the later books had the name William in the title, but Just never reappeared; they were called such things as William the Outlaw, William the Good, William the Bad, William the Fourth, Sweet William etc etc. Yet somehow the title of the first book, minus the dash, stuck, and they came to be referred to as the Just William stories (perhaps by analogy with Kipling’s Just So stories?) When a TV series was made of these books in the 60s it was entitled Just William, and ever since that’s been the preferred term for the books and even for the character himself.

True William aficionados don’t like this, however – just as true Dr Who fans insist that their man is called The Doctor, not Doctor Who. But it’s probably too late to do anything about it now. Just William is the standard form, and whenever I refer to the William books people always say ‘Oh, you mean Just William?’ It’s easier to nod than go through all this.

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  1. Oholibamah permalink

    Hear, hear. However, there is one other title containing the word “just”: “Just William’s Luck.” Perhaps that contributed to the sense that “Just” is the Christian name and William the surname…

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  1. Five Fascinating Facts about Just William | Interesting Literature

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