I’m the King of the Castle is full of frightening moments for its characters. The main character, Charles Kingshaw, spends most of the novel in a frightening new place, Warings manor, while the other main character, Edmund Hooper, torments him with nasty pranks designed to confuse and terrify him. Even as Charles becomes more familiar with life at Warings, he continues to be consumed by fear, almost as if his emotions have a life of their own. Edmund knows how to exploit these fears, and by doing so he keeps Charles under his control. In this way, the novel suggests that the most insidious power often comes from psychological manipulation, not physical force.
Fear is often an irrational and uncontrollable emotion—so it can be particularly difficult for a child to overcome it. Unable to master his fear, Charles tries to simply endure it. Throughout the book, Charles can’t prevent his own mind from racing through all the dangerous possibilities surrounding the things he fears. The list of concrete things that frighten Charles doesn’t seem like much—a tree, a stuffed bird, a moth—but in each case, the novel shows how Charles’s own imagination blows these things out of proportion, transforming them into nightmares. Elsewhere in the novel, Edmund’s mind runs wild in a similar manner. While climbing up an old English castle, he becomes so anxious about the possibility of falling that he gets dizzy and falls. Edmund doesn’t feel afraid because he is falling. Rather, he falls because he’s afraid—an excellent metaphor for the way fear often originates in the mind, rather than in an inherently “fearsome” thing or experience. Perhaps the best example of this principle arrives at the end of the novel, when Charles receives a note from Edmund, which simply says, “Something will happen to you.” Even though the note itself is extremely vague and open-ended, Charles, against his own will, allows the note to terrify him. He imagines various horrific scenarios—far more horrific than anything Edmund himself would ever do to him. Eventually, Charles drowns himself—making a self-fulfilling prophecy of Edmund’s note.
Edmund gets frightened just as easily as Charles does, if not more so. But where Charles allows his imagination to run wild, Edmund is able to muster enough confidence and self-control to suppress his fears when he isn’t being directly confronted with them. In part, he’s able to do so because he’s more comfortable in his position at Warings than Charles is—the very experience of living at Warings isn’t new and frightening for him in the way it is for Charles. But Hill also suggests that Edmund is simply a more confident, aggressive child than Charles—and he knows how to exploit Charles’s imagination. Charles, even when he understands exactly what Edmund is trying to do, is powerless to prevent himself from feeling afraid. This becomes especially clear when Edmund and Charles go into the wood together. Edmund is more frightened than Charles, but he’s nevertheless able to intimidate and maintain control over Charles, as he does in the rest of the novel, by exploiting Charles’s debilitating fears. It’s crucial to notice that Edmund doesn’t assert his power over Charles with physical force. By wielding fear as a psychological weapon rather than using physical force, Edmund very effectively manipulates Charles. It could even be argued that the central conflict in I’m the King of the Castle isn’t between Charles and Edmund—it’s between Charles and his own fears. In the end, Charles’s subconscious fears consume him. Overwhelmed by Edmund’s manipulation, but unable to control his irrational fears, Charles takes the only option he feels is left to him: suicide.
Fear and Psychological Manipulation ThemeTracker
Fear and Psychological Manipulation Quotes in I’m the King of the Castle
Perhaps I should strike him, Joseph Hooper thought, for speaking to me in that way, perhaps it is very foolish to let him get the upper hand, to allow such insolence. I do not like his supercilious expression. I should assert myself. But he knew that he would not. He deliberated too long, and then it could not be done.
He imagined the furry body of the moth against the pads of Hooper's fingers. He was ashamed of being so afraid, and could not help it, he only wanted to get out, to stop having to see the terrible moths. Hooper watched him. There was a moment when they both stood, quite still, waiting. Then, Hooper whipped around and pushed past Kingshaw without warning he was out of the door, turning the key sharply in the lock. After a moment, his footsteps went away down the hall. A door closed somewhere.
Very deliberately, Kingshaw inserted his forefingers under the string, and pulled the satchel off his back. He untied his anorak from it, and spread it out on the ground, and then sat down. Hooper stood above him, his eyes flicking about nervously, his face as pale as his limbs in the dim light.
Kingshaw knew that he was the loser. His momentary burst of exultation, and his feeling of superiority over Hooper counted for nothing, they were always short-lived. It was really only a question of which of them walked in front, for a while. Kingshaw was used to lacking any confidence in himself, to knowing that he could do nothing very well. Until now, he had not much cared he'd got by. Now, he cared, his pride had risen, he could no longer be docile about himself. Everything was unfair.
Oh, don't, don’t . . . Mummy! Mummy! Mummy! . . .'His voice rose suddenly to a scream, and he sat up, still asleep, drumming his legs. His eyes were screwed tight shut. 'Mummy! Mummy! Mummy! . . .'
‘I want an aspirin. My head hurts again.'
'You shall have one, dear.' Mrs Helena Kingshaw jumped up. I shall not make a favourite of my own child, she thought, especially when all the blame for this lies with him.
Last year, someone had been strangled to death twenty miles away. Hooper had told him that. Twenty miles wasn't far.
He imagined tramps and murderers, and the cowman at Barr Farm, with bad teeth and hands like raw red meat. Anybody might have been hanging about behind the shed, and locked him in. Later, they might come back.
'I'm Head of Dorm for next term.'
Kingshaw went cold. He knew that it was sure to be true, and that it would be the worst of all things that were coming. Hooper had power now, here. He would have power there, too, then.
I am the King, I am the King, there is nothing I can't ask him for, nothing he won't promise me, nothing I can't do to him. Up here, I'm the King.
But he had learned enough, over the past few weeks, to know that any power he acquired would only be temporary. Like the thunderstorm in the wood, and the time when Hooper had fallen into the water and bashed his head, and then when he had had the nightmares. As soon as the situation had changed, everything went back to what Kingshaw had come to think of as normal.
But he did not think it likely that he could ever be believed, nothing could change, because he had meant what he thought and said about Hooper, and still meant it. It was only being afraid of this empty church, and of the white marble warrior lying on his tombstone in the side chapel, that made him kneel down and tell lies. It was no good. He had wanted Hooper to be dead, because then things would have been better. His punishment was that Hooper was not dead, that everything was the same, and the thought of that was worse than anything. He acknowledged that he feared Hooper more than he feared anything in the world.
Kingshaw nodded, numb before this battery of experience, bewildered by so many sights and smells and terrible truths, but still willing to be led by Fielding, to be shown everything at once.
His terror of Crawford had been absolute. Afterwards, he had not dared to tell anyone. Hooper wasn't like Crawford, the things he did were different, his threats were in many ways worse. His reign was one of terror, Crawford's had been one of simple brutality.
From the doorway, watching them, Kingshaw thought, Hooper believes him, he isn't going to make him open the case and put his hand on one, he isn't going to make him prove it, he just believes him. That's the way Fielding is, that's the way you should be, It had been different with him. Hooper had known, from the very first moment he had looked into Fielding’s face, that it would all be easy, that he would always be able to make him afraid. Why, thought Kingshaw, why? His eyes suddenly pricked with tears, at the unfairness of it. WHY?
'Something will happen to you, Kingshaw.'
The letters were printed in thick, black felt pen, and under- lined again and again. In spite of the fear that had gone on and on for so long, it was suddenly worse again now, as he read Hooper’s message, it darted through like a fresh toothache, and he screwed up the paper and sent it as far away from him as he could across the room, and then flung himself into his bed, pushing his face under the covers and trembling.
The nightmares began.
For a second, he hesitated, part of his mind starting to come awake. And then he thought of everything, of what else would happen, he thought of the things Hooper had done and what he was going to do, of the new school and the wedding of his mother. He began to splash and stumble forwards, into the middle of the stream, where the water was deepest. When it had reached up to his thighs, he lay down slowly and put his face full into it and breathed in a long, careful breath.
When he saw Kingshaw’s body, upside down in the water, Hooper thought suddenly, it was because of me, I did that, it was because of me, and a spurt of triumph went through him.